Zion National Park, Utah

Have you ever wished you could travel to Mars, to enjoy the astonishing canyons that look like exotic temples reaching out into the night sky and the sheer contrast of light and dark in tranquil silence? Traveling to Mars is still a bit of science fiction for most people, and the practicalities of it involves more time and science than most people are willing to expend, so here’s the next best option.

The mystical majesty of Zion National Park in Utah seems utterly otherworldly and it’s something you’ll certainly never forget.

»History

History

It is the distinctive reddish Navajo sandstone canyon which looks pinkish in certain lights and like yellow butter in other that gives Zion National Park its sense of the extraordinary. Scholars estimate that people first came to live in this area some 8,000 years ago, but they were nomadic people who were hunting and gathering what food they could find, and didn’t used the place as a fixed abode.

It took another 6,000 years before evidence of human agriculture was discovered: people were planting corn. And if you’re planning corn, chances are, you’re settling down into a place which you’re calling home, which is precisely what was happening. People were setting up villages in the area, and we know this because archaeologists have found traces of tools, fishing nets and the likes in this region, dating up until about 500 AD.

Some 200 years after that, so-called pithouses, where the semi-nomadic people known as the Anasazi took shelter from the elements, were found. Part shallow caves, part improvised shelters; these pithouses demonstrate how people were making a plan to make a life in a place that to all intents and purposes seemed overwhelmingly hostile. Just think of it: vast tracts of reddish stone, which are wide as they are deep, hard as they are slippery, little natural vegetation and a tendency to develop catastrophic weather – this area of the world is not your average Joe’s comfort zone and a place to call home.

»More Zion National Park History

More Zion National Park History

It was the woodlands which first attracted farmers associated with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – also known as the Mormon community – in the 19th century. They began to tame the land, use the wood, and one thing led to another. So, when some of these farmers intrepidly made their way to the bottom of the canyon, they discovered the soil to have fertile potential and they began to set up their communities, planting corn – like their ancient forebears had, as well as tobacco and fruit. One of these farmers, a chap by the name of Isaac Behunin, is credited with having named the park “Zion”, drawing from a tractate in the bible and his Mormon heritage. This canyon floor was farmed by Behunin and several other families until 1909, when the park was declared a heritage site and a protected monument.

Jump ahead to the dire time of the Great Depression in the 1930s, and to United States President Franklin D Roosevelt’s idea to start the Civilian Conservation Corps, which effectively got young unemployed men out there into the world, and put them to use by getting them to help refine public land. By the sweat of their brows and strength of their bodies these young men reigned in the rivers, built the camp grounds and contained the occasional wildfires, thus making Zion National Park the oasis of beauty it is today. Indeed, many of the paths, campsites and protected canyon walls that you will still see there today, are the fruit of these men’s labor.

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»Facilities

Facilities

Hiking is probably one of the most popular pastimes in Zion National Park – and variations on that idea of hiking – whether you’re exploring the ground by foot, climbing a canyon or kayaking on the rivers around the area, let’s face it, it’s a form of hiking, just with different equipment. Either way, however you’re planning to get around, if you’re out for a day or less, you do not need a permit. But if you’re out in the wild exploring the park for longer than a day, even over one night, you do. It’s a good system that keeps the park authorities alerted in case you get into trouble.

Be warned, however, there’s a three month booking period and a tight roster as to where you can meander and when: you need to plan your time with great attention to detail and your own safety. The Zion National Park is magnificent, but it can be treacherous – particularly with regard to the weather. If you’re planning on canyoneering, be aware that the area is often subject to flash floods, which, in literally seconds could wash you away.

If you wish to cycle in the Zion National Park, you must head toward the Par’us Trail. It’s the only one in the park which is bicycle friendly. And it’s also one of the few areas in Zion National Park that are pet friendly too. But if you’re bringing your pup along, make sure you know all the rules about pet care in the vicinity.

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»More Things to Do

More Things to Do

And then, there are the rivers. Only if you’re a really expert paddler, should you even attempt getting into the rivers. It’s only recommended that you kayak in Zion National Park’s rivers when the water is flowing in excess of 150 cubic feet per second. This is white water rafting at its very best, but also most professional. Don’t even think about it if you’ve never done it before.

But day hikes seem truly to be the thing to do, particularly if you’re not a hardened white water rafter with tons of experience. The day hikes in the Zion National Park hold lots of delights – be it the Kolob Canyons, Timber Creek, Taylor Creek or Kolob Arch, these walks will generally take up to half an hour. They’re plotted trails with a length of about 1.5 miles and are at an elevation of 300 feet that will give you and your group – no more than 12 people are allowed to take part in any one of these trails at a time – some truly awesome sights, without your having to suspend yourself from the wall of a canyon.

Before you come to the Zion National Park in Utah, you must do your homework – and your shopping. Getting all the gear and maps that you need and establishing exactly when and where you will stay is very important. All the other variables with regard to unexpected weather or footholds will feel less stressful and frightening if you can orient yourself sensibly in a base camp and know where your next meal is.

There is an excellent video which offers an overview of the park in the Zion Human History Museum, which is located one half of a mile north of the park’s south entrance. It’s an important museum which will orient you to the functioning and history of the park, and reinforce your understanding of how important it is to honor the rules in place protecting the natural surrounds.

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»Plan Your Visit

Plan Your Visit

Are you eligible for a fee waiver to the park? If you’re traveling with a group for educational or research purposes, or are coming to explore the park for specific reasons, you may well be. Check with the local authorities before you make your commitment to the park’s fees.

In spite of the seemingly hostile environment, this park, considerably smaller, as it is, than a lot of America’s other Grand National parks, is a popular visiting place, and an estimate 3-million people visit it on a regular basis, each year – a number which has raised remarkably in the last several years. This is something to take into consideration while you are planning your trip: will you find parking readily? Will you need to travel in a shuttle? These elements are all available, but between March and October, the legal parking for private cars is normally completely full by 10am.

But there are a few possible solutions to the parking situation, which might open a whole different vista of experience for you. There is a small town embraced by the Zion National Park, called Springdale. It’s a proper residential town with all the normal amenities that you can expect in a modern environment. It’s a fair hike to the park proper, but it is worth it, to know that your vehicle is legally parked and is safe, while you meander through one of the world’s most unusual landscapes. It might also even be a good idea to base yourself at Springdale, even though Zion National Park has three camping grounds, as well as a lodge and several visitors centers, including the East Zion Tourism Council, the Zion Canyon Visitors Bureau, the St George Area Visitor Bureau and the visitors’ bureau at Kane County, Utah are there to give you all the help and support you might need.

Back to: Best Places to Visit in Utah

1 Zion Park Blvd. State Route, 9 Springdale, UT 84767, website, Phone: 435-772-3256

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Zion National Park, Utah