The state of Utah is home to five major national parks. They are among the most famous parks in the United States. This week, our national parks journey brings us to the southwestern part of the state. Here, you will find narrow canyons, steep cliffs, and hidden river valleys.
Welcome to Zion National Park!
Zion sits within a desert landscape. The 260-kilometer-long Virgin River runs through it. It provides water for more than 1,000 kinds of plants to grow and 100 kinds of animals to live, including the desert tortoise, desert bighorn sheep, and mountain lions.
River water has also carved out the area’s spectacular canyons and gorges.
One of them, called Zion Canyon, stretches more than 20 kilometers through the park. In some places, it is more than 600 meters deep. At its most narrow point, it is just 6 meters across.
Zion is one of the 10 most visited parks in the country. Travelers from America and around the world come here to explore its canyons, climb its steep walls, and walk its dramatic trails.
Zion’s extraordinary beauty affected early Mormon settlers. Members of the religious group came to the area beginning in the 1850s. They thought it looked like heaven. They named the land after a place from the Bible – Zion.
“Zion” means “sanctuary” or “refuge” in ancient Hebrew.
Mormons were not, of course, the first people to explore the area. Experts say humans first arrived around 12,000 years ago. They hunted very large animals like mammoths, giant sloths and camels. Climate change and overhunting caused these animals to die out about 8,000 years ago. Humans changed their methods. They hunted smaller animals and gathered other food.
Some 2,000 years ago, a culture centered on what we now call Zion began to form. Scientists know these people as the Virgin Anasazi. They settled in the area and grew crops. They used the water from the Virgin River and depended on the rich diversity of native plants and animals.
Over time, many Native American groups called the area home, including the Southern Paiute. The Southern Paiutes called the area “Mukuntuweap.” In their language, the name meant “straight canyon.”
The United States Congress moved to protect the area beginning in the early 1900s. In 1909, it became a national monument. It was called Mukuntuweap National Monument.
President William Taft established the national monument. He described the land as a “labyrinth of remarkable canyons with highly ornate and beautifully colored walls, in which are plainly recorded the geological events of past ages.”
In 1918, the national monument became a national park. And in 1919, Congress changed its name to “Zion,” the name used by the Mormons.