Zion National Park

Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert, this park contains sandstone features such as mesas, rock towers, and canyons, including the Virgin River Narrows. The various sandstone formations and the forks of the Virgin River create a wilderness divided into four ecosystems: desert, riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest.


Zion National Park is a geological wonderland

Zion National Park is located along the edge of a region known as the Colorado Plateau. The rock layers have been uplifted, tilted, and eroded, forming a feature called the Grand Staircase, a series of colorful cliffs stretching between Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon. The bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon is the top layer at Zion, and the bottom layer at Zion is the top layer at the Grand Canyon.

Zion was a relatively flat basin near sea level 240 million years ago. As sands, gravels, and muds eroded from surrounding mountains, streams carried these materials into the basin and deposited them in layers. The sheer weight of these accumulated layers caused the basin to sink, so that the top surface always remained near sea level. As the land rose and fell and as the climate changed, the depositional environment fluctuated from shallow seas to coastal plains to a desert of massive windblown sand. This process of sedimentation continued until over 10,000 feet of material accumulated.

Mineral-laden waters slowly filtered through the compacted sediments. Iron oxide, calcium carbonate, and silica acted as cementing agents, and with pressure from overlying layers over long periods of time, transformed the deposits into stone. Ancient seabeds became limestone; mud and clay became mudstones and shale; and desert sand became sandstone. Each layer originated from a distinct source and so differs in thickness, mineral content, color, and eroded appearance.

Learn more about Zion’s sedimentary rock layers

In an area from Zion to the Rocky Mountains, forces deep within the earth started to push the surface up. This was not chaotic uplift, but very slow vertical hoisting of huge blocks of the crust. Zion’s elevation rose from near sea level to as high as 10,000 feet above sea level.

Uplift is still occurring. In 1992 a magnitude 5.8 earthquake caused a landslide visible just outside the south entrance of the park in Springdale.

This uplift gave the streams greater cutting force in their descent to the sea. Zion’s location on the western edge of this uplift caused the streams to tumble off the plateau, flowing rapidly down a steep gradient. A fast-moving stream carries more sediment and larger boulders than a slow-moving river. These streams began eroding and cutting into the rock layers, forming deep and narrow canyons. Since the uplift began, the North Fork of the Virgin River has carried away several thousand feet of rock that once lay above the highest layers visible today.

The Virgin River is still excavating. Upstream from the Temple of Sinawava the river cuts through Navajo Sandstone, creating a slot canyon. At the Temple, the river has reached the softer Kayenta Formation below. Water erodes the shale, undermining the overlaying sandstone and causing it to collapse, widening the canyon.

A landslide once dammed the Virgin River forming a lake. Sediments settled out of the quiet waters, covering the lake bottom. When the river breached the dam and the lake drained, it left behind a flat-bottomed valley. This change in the character of the canyon can be seen from the scenic drive south of the Zion Lodge near the Sentinel Slide. This slide was active again in 1995, damaging the road.

Flash floods occur when sudden thunderstorms dump water on exposed rock. With little soil to absorb the rain, water runs downhill, gathering volume as it goes. These floods often occur without warning and can increase water flow by over 100 times. In 1998 a flash flood increased the volume of the Virgin River from 200 cubic feet per second to 4,500 cubic feet per second, again damaging the scenic drive at the Sentinel Slide.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/nature/geology.htm


Native American History

Home of the Paiute and Anasazi peoples

Almost 12,000 years ago Zion’s first peoples, who are now almost invisible, tracked mammoth, giant sloth, and camel across southern Utah. Due to climate change and overhunting these animals died out about 8,000 years ago. Humans adapted by focusing on mid-sized animals and gathered foods. As resources dwindled 2,600 years ago, people tuned lifeways to the specifics of place. Such a culture, centered on Zion, differentiated over the next 1,500 years into a farming tradition archeologists call Virgin Anasazi.

Zion’s geology provided these and later pioneer farmers a combination rare in the desert: a wide, level place to grow food, a river to water it, and an adequate growing season. On the Colorado Plateau crops grow best between 5,000 and 7,000 feet, making Zion’s elevations — 3,666 to 8,726 feet — almost ideal. Differences in elevation also encourage diverse plants and animals; mule deer and turkey wander forested plateaus; bighorn sheep and juniper prosper in canyons.

The Anasazi moved southeast 800 years ago, due probably to drought and overuse. Soon after, Paiute peoples brought a lifeway fine-tuned to desert seasons and thrived. In the 1860s, just after settlement by Mormon pioneers, John Wesley Powell visited Zion on the first scientific exploration of southern Utah. By hard work and faith pioneers endured in a landscape that hardly warranted such persistence. Flash floods destroyed towns and drought burned the crops. Only the will to survive saw Paiute, Anasazi, and European descendants through great difficulties. Perhaps today Zion is again a sanctuary, a place of life and hope.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/historyculture/index.htm

Park History

How Zion became a National Park

The area known today as Zion National Park has a long and rich cultural heritage. Many different groups, with their own unique traditions, called Zion home and made their lives from the bounty of the land. For almost all of the approximately 10,000 years humans have lived in and around Zion, there is no written record to recount their rich cultures and daily lives. To know about the people of the past, we turn to archeologists and anthropologists who can illuminate the stories of past peoples by reading the clues those groups have left behind on the land.

In and around Zion National Park, archeological evidence is found from Native American and European American cultures. Archeologists have identified sites and artifacts from the Archaic culture, dating from about 7,000 BC to 300 BC, from Ancestral Puebloan (Anasazi) and Fremont cultures, dating from 300 BC to AD 1225, and from Southern Paiute culture, dating from AD 1250 to present day. Mormon pioneers settled in southern Utah and began farming in the 1850s. Both the Paiute and Mormon groups are still much in evidence, as both still reside in the area. The living descendents of these groups that lived in Zion have special ties to the park and provide meaning and context for artifacts and historical documents that remain. All of the groups who lived here left traces of their cultures behind, clues that might be studied to gain insights into their remarkable civilizations. Working with the remnants of past human occupations, archeologists, historians, and other researchers have collected artifacts and historic documents to study the ways each of these cultural groups worked, traveled, traded, and survived in Zion. These artifacts and archives are preserved in the museum collection of Zion National Park for current and future research.

Ben Wetherill conducted the first archeological investigations for Zion National Park in 1933 and 1934 through funding from the Civil Works Administration (CWA). The CWA, along with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), was established under the New Deal during the Great Depression to create jobs for millions of unemployed men. The CWA expedition in Zion made history because the artifacts, physical sites, and information found established the initial definition of Virgin Anasazi culture. The items and structures found became the “type” examples for future investigations. Archeologists still rely on this baseline data today. Prehistoric ceramics from his expedition were used by Harold S. Colton of the Museum of Northern Arizona in the late 1940s to establish the prehistoric Ceramic Taxonomy for the entire region. This taxonomy was a foundational work that described how to identify the myriad types of Native American pottery and which regions they came from.

Sporadic archeological investigations have continued since Wetherill’s day. In the last 20 years, excavation of sites has become less common. Today, archeologists typically only excavate if a site is threatened and cannot realistically be protected. Threats to a site range from human impacts, such as a prescribed fire or trail construction, to natural impacts, such as riverbank erosion. Using modern techniques, an excavation of a site before it is lost can yield a great deal of information that could not have previously been obtained. This includes data on the diet, lifestyle, tools, architecture, time period, and the environment of people who once lived here.

Washington Black-on-gray bowl sherd found in one of the storage cists at the Watchman Site. This ceramic design style dates approximately A.D. 700 to 900.
Zion Museum Collection ZION 14000
Washington Black-on-gray bowl sherd found in one of the storage cists at the Watchman Site. This ceramic design style dates approximately A.D. 700 to 900.
Zion Museum Collection ZION 14000
One recent excavation was of an Ancestral Puebloan food storage location threatened by construction of the shuttle bus facility. The Watchman Archeological Site is open to the public and accessible from the Visitor Center. Approximately one thousand years ago, people used this area to process food – such as drying, hulling, and grinding corn and wild seeds. Then they stored the precious food that would nourish them through the winter in stone bins sealed with mud. These storage cists were generally protected from hungry animals and flood waters on the canyon floor. Archeologists found two storage rooms, three storage cists, two fire hearths, stone tools for grinding and other types of food processing, and 11 different styles of prehistoric ceramics at this site. Overall, the Zion museum collection contains more than 1,600 artifacts from this site.

Most recent archeological work in the park includes large archeological inventories. Only about 14 percent of the park has been examined for archeological sites. Inventory projects allow us to find all of the sites that are located in a specific area and then devise strategies to preserve these sites and evaluate their significance. Archeologists collect information on site characteristics, time period and culture, and site condition. During a recent inventory, archeologists found artifacts associated with one of the earliest eras of human occupation in the park (including a 5,000 year-old knife blade). Site information and artifacts collected by archeologists are permanently stored in the park museum collection and archives for current and future research. Through this work, park archeologists are finding more than ever just how rich Zion’s cultural heritage is. The information that is recovered is not only improving the understanding of the resource, but is also helping to ensure these resources and stories of the past are protected for the future.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/historyculture/people-of-the-past.htm



The best things to do in Zion National Park

Get trail and campsite descriptions and conditions, and find out how to obtain a backpacking permit in Zion.

The Pa’rus Trail and Zion Canyon Scenic Drive are accessible to bicycles. The shuttles have bike racks.
Zion is home to 291 species of birds. Bird checklists are available at the visitor centers.

Zion has three campgrounds. Watchman Campground takes reservations from March through late November.

Learn about canyoneering in Zion and how to obtain a permit.

Find out about climbing in Zion and how to obtain a permit for overnight bivouacs.

Zion offers many trails ranging from short walks to strenuous adventures.

Horseback riding
Guided trips are available March through October. Call
1-435-679-8665 or visit www.canyonrides.com

Kolob Canyons
Explore the wilderness and solitude of the northwest corner of Zion National Park. Kolob Canyons has something special for everyone to experience.

The Narrows
Learn about what to expect and how to prepare for hiking The Narrows.

Ranger-led Activities
Join a park ranger and learn more about Zion. Check the Park Map and Guide for times, places, and subjects.

River Trips
Find out about boating in the Virgin River. Permits are issued when the flow rate is over 150 CFS.

Stock Use
Learn about bringing your stock animals into Zion. Stock animals permitted are horses, mules, and burros.

Sunset and Stargazing
Where to view sunset and the night sky, plus tips for nighttime safety.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/things2do.htm


Zion National Park offers a rich and diverse plant life

With elevations ranging from roughly 3,700 to 8,700 feet, Zion National Park has a diversity of plant communities, supporting more than 1,000 species of plants. Changing elevations, temperature ranges, and varying amounts of sun and water create a mosaic of habitats within the park. The species that can be found here are influenced by nearby areas, including the Colorado Plateau, Basin and Range, and Mojave Desert.

Phenology is the study of the timing of plant and animal life cycle events. Monitoring these events helps us better understand how the timing of these events are related to climate. You can help park scientists with a plant phenology study.

Riparian and Aquatic
Visitors are often surprised by the relative lushness found in Zion Canyon. The riparian area of the Virgin River supports enormous cottonwood trees and a diversity of herbaceous plants and grasses. Nearby, saturated wetlands make nice habitat for cattails, willows, aquatic plants, and rushes. Water seeping out of the Navajo sandstone creates tranquil springs and the unique “hanging gardens” for which Zion is famous, full of ferns, wildflowers, and mosses.

Arid Grasslands and Desert Shrubs
At the lower elevations in the park, the drought tolerant plants thrive. Desert shrubs, well adapted to high temperatures, are right at home. Throughout the summer, grasses bloom and go to seed before drying in the sun to wait for the next growing season. By utilizing many different habitats, and developing ingenious ways to find shade, store water, and collect nutrients, cacti are desert specialists, abundant throughout the park.

Pinyon-Juniper Forest
Moving up in elevation, the arid grassland and desert shrub communities give way to the pinyon-juniper community, a desert forest full of life. These slow growing evergreens are both cold and drought tolerant, supporting a diversity of wildlife to rival the riparian areas. Juniper trees, being more drought tolerant, dominate the transition zone between the lowland communities and the pinyon-juniper forests.

Ponderosa Pine
High on the sandstone cliffs, ponderosa pines cling to cracks and ledges. These massive trees push powerful roots into the Navajo Sandstone, adding to the slow process of erosion that is constantly changing the face of Zion.

Mixed Conifer and Aspen Forest
On the high plateaus, the ponderosa pines blend into the mixed conifer forest of douglas fir and white pine, as well as nearby aspen communities. On the Kolob Terrace, high elevation plant species grow in soils that are both sedimentary and volcanic. On Zion’s east side, they may sprout from no more than a tiny windswept crevice in the slickrock.

Providing food, shelter and even water to Zion’s wildlife, these plants add to the richness of the desert community and delight visitors with their wild beauty and brilliant color.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/nature/plants.htm


Animal Life

There is an abundance of wildlife in Zion National Park

The morning sun pours red light onto the western walls of Zion Canyon. The song of a yellow warbler greets the day. As the sun rises in the sky, plateau lizards scurry frantically about over sandy trails, soaking up the heat of a desert day to keep their bodies warm. Mule deer and wild turkeys coexist up canyon where they graze the surface of an ancient lake bed for forage. A Western rattlesnake coils up in the shade of sagebrush, avoiding the sun’s unforgiving rays. Afternoon gives way to evening and gray foxes emerge to hunt for rodents for their young. Canyon tree frogs begin to call as dusk approaches, leaving swifts and Western pipistrelles to play in the dimming light. It is only after the sun has sunk in the west, leaving the canyon walls dark and silent, that the chores and mischief of the ringtail begins, to be accompanied by the mountain lions, red spotted toads, porcupines and other nocturnal creatures of Zion Canyon.

Collared Lizard
A collared lizard basks on sandstone in the hot, desert sun.
Sitting at the boundaries and meeting points of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, Basin and Range, and Mojave Desert physio-geographic zones, animal life in Zion National Park is vast and varied. With elevations ranging from roughly 3,700 feet to 8,700 feet, the park encompasses 5,000 feet of elevation change in 148,000 acres. With so many varying heights and resultant microclimates and habitats, it is no surprise that Zion is home to over 78 species of mammals, 291 species of birds, 37 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 8 species of fish. Masters in the art of desert heat evasion, many animals take to burrows or dens in the heat of the day, or choose to be nocturnal and use the night to live upon the landscape in cooler temperatures.

Though all the animals in Zion are protected by the National Park designation, some animals are of special note. Zion is critical habitat for the Mexican spotted owl, a species classified as threatened at the federal level. A small population of Mojave desert tortoises is being monitored, along with the endangered Southwestern willow flycatcher.

All throughout Zion, a rich diversity of desert fauna can be seen and experienced.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/nature/animals.htm

hiking trails

The best hiking trails in Zion National Park

Hiking in Zion, even short hikes, requires advance planning. Review the trail information linked below to choose a trail that is right for your group. Your safety is your responsibility.

Group Size Limits
The group size limit for all wilderness trails, including The Narrows beyond Orderville Canyon, is 12 people.

Print out your Zion National Park Hiking Guide.

Zion Canyon
Some of the most popular trails in the national park are located in Zion Canyon. Zion Canyon Trail Descriptions.

Kolob Canyons
Several hiking options are located at Kolob Canyons, the northwest corner of Zion National Park. Kolob Canyons Trail Descriptions.

Much longer hikes are located in the Zion Wilderness. Overnight trips require a wilderness permit. Wilderness Trail Descriptions.

see original article here: https://www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/hiking-in-zion.htm

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