Zion National Park
On the edge of the Colorado Plateau, in South Western Utah lies a refuge of trickling waterfalls, forging rivers, gardens, and canyons. It is located along the same string of colorful cliffs as the Grand Canyon. The lowest layer of Zion is actually the top layer of the Grand Canyon, as the land slowly inches and dips downwards. Zion is known primarily for its bright red cliffs, and for its sense of an oasis in the middle of a desert. Although the land in and around Zion is arid, hot, and generally dry, there are pockets in Zion that are surprisingly lush and green. The canyon forms a perfect place for flash floods, which bring with them life and greenery. The general trickling of water in the canyon gives rise to hanging gardens, waterfalls, ferns, and large, established cottonwood trees. This area truly was an oasis for the prehistoric peoples, the native farmers, the Spanish explorers, and the Mormon ranchers. The name Zion implies its use as a refuge, and indeed, this land has been a help to travelers and farmers alike. Unlike much of the desert area, the park has some unusual features that make farming a lucrative proposition. There are flat, wide spaces, a river to water crops with, and a reasonable growing season. After the prehistoric big game died out, the natives sought farming as a way to survive in the area and it worked! Mormon’s moved in after the natives left the area, and continued to farm and create cities and towns.
Zion National Park was founded in 1935, in the middle of the Great Depression. As the country was trying to figure out how to support the millions of Americans who were finding it hard to survive, President Franklin Roosevelt initiated the Civilian Conservation Corps, as a way to both help struggling families and preserve America’s precious land. Men would sign up to work in the park and would be paid $25 a month- a reasonable sum in the 1930s. These men were responsible for clearing trails, opening up roads, building park buildings, parking lots, fighting fires, and reducing flooding in the Virgin River. The back breaking work of these men are what made Zion National Park so accessible and enjoyable to visitors then and today.
The ecosystems of Zion National Park center around water. Although the Virgin River is relatively small, it runs through the park and carves out the shapes and designs in the sandstone canyon walls. This river moves into the Emerald Pools, which are characterized by a waterfall and the famous hanging gardens, and lush cottonwood trees. In the park there is a wide range of biodiversity. Interestingly, there are many toads and frog species, which are adapted to both the desert aridness and the wet pools. Cacti are also a common sight in the park, as they are the most dedicated and skilled plants to thrive in a desert.
What should I do in the park?
Backpacking, hiking, tours, and cycling are all popular pastimes in the park. Wading through the the Narrows, a strip of canyon with shallow river water flowing through, is a an enjoyable and original hiking experience as your feet are submerged the entire time. Rock climbers can also find a niche in the park, but must first request a climbing permit before attempting to scour the canyon walls. For those who enjoy boating more, it is possible to get a free Wilderness permit that will allow you to kayak through parts of the canyon.
How much does it cost to get into the park?
Private vehicles are $30 for a weekly pass, and individual persons without a car are $15. Children under 15 can enter for free. For other fee questions, follow this helpful link: https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/fees.htm
Where should I stay when visiting the park?
Within the park, there is one lodging option, the Zion Lodge, which is three miles north of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. There is more lodging in the nearby towns of Springdale, Rockville, Mt. Carmel Junction, St. George and Kanab.
What will the weather be like?
As a desert, the temperatures vary wildly. In the summer, temperatures frequently exceed 100 degreed Fahrenheit. The Fall is the best season to go hiking through the park, but be aware of flash flood warnings. Winter is chilly, and can dip below freezing at night. Come prepared based on the season in which you are visiting.