Shortly before noon, we reached Springdale, Utah, the small town just outside of Zion National Park – the gateway to the park. They had lots of cute rock shops and places to sign up for tours and rent bikes and climbing equipment. They even have an IMAX Theater that shows IMAX movies on Zion. It would be a great place to spend some time, but we wanted to maximize our time in Zion National Park.
The entrance fee for one car and its occupants for one week is $25, but since we were going to visit several parks during our vacation it made sense to buy an $80 annual pass. There are discounted or free passes for seniors, military personnel and disabled people too. We stopped by the Visitor Center and got my National Parks Passport stamp – the first of many for the trip! And, some postcards. Because a trip to a National Park Visitor Center wouldn’t be complete without postcards… they even had those cool wooden ones!
The History of Zion National Park
Zion National Park began as Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909, designated by proclamation of President William Howard Taft on July 31. At that time, the area was virtually inaccessible to tourists, as passable roads did not exist and the nearest rail line was nearly 100 miles away. Improvements were made to the roads to make the area more accessible, and tourists began to visit within a decade.
Zion’s designation as a National Park came on November 19, 1919; at that time the name was changed to Zion. It was believed at the time that tourists would not bother to visit a park with a Native American name they could not pronounce – it was a general bias at that time. The Kolob Canyons section of the park was established as a separate National Monument – Zion National Monument – in 1937, but was incorporated into Zion National Park in 1956.
The first human presence in the park was about 12,000 years ago; they hunted mammoth, camels and sloth in the area. When these large animals began to die off, they began hunting smaller mammals before gradually changing to a farming culture between 2,600 and 1,100 years ago. These Anasazi people, as they became known, had left the area by about 800 years ago, probably due to drought. The Paiute people moved to Zion shortly after and thrived. Mormon settlers arrived in 1847, and began farming the area – the Canyon floor was farmed until the park’s designation as a National Monument in 1909.
The park has a significant elevation change within its boundaries, with the lowest point at Coal Pits Wash – elevation 3,666 feet and the highest point at the 8,726 foot Horse Ranch Mountain. The park consists of several sections; the Zion Canyon area, the Kolob Terrace area, and the Kolob Canyons area. Zion Canyon is the most visited section; it is a 15 mile canyon on the North Fork of the Virgin River, and the canyon has depths of up to 1/2 mile. Horse Ranch Mountain is in the Kolob Canyons section of the park.
One of the most popular features of the park is the Zion–Mount Carmel Highway, a scenic drive that provides a direct route from Zion National Park to both Bryce Canyon National Park and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The highway has a 1.1 mile long tunnel carved through the sandstone. The tunnel was constructed beginning in the late 1920s and it was completed in 1930. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
You could spend days in the park, visiting the Human History Museum, hiking the numerous hikes within each section of the park; anywhere from 1/2 hour to 4 hours for each hike, driving the scenic highway, and just relaxing. I’m not a big fan of camping, but I think it would be pretty awesome to camp here. I’ll post next about our adventures at Zion!