History of Zion National Park, Utah
Courtesy of Utah History Encyclopedia. (Links Added)

Utah's oldest and *most visited national park, Zion National Park is located in southwestern Utah. Most of the park's 147,000 acres are located within Washington County; however, the extreme eastern section of the park is in Kane County, while the park's northern tip extends into Iron County. Zion Canyon is located on the southern part of the Markagunt Plateau. It is cut by tributaries of the Virgin River which have left eroded canyon walls and monoliths that are beautiful and overpowering.

Zion Canyon presents a diverse collection of nature's wonders that include such features as the towering and magnificent 2,200-foot Great White Throne, the park's most famous landmark; the Court of the Patriarchs; the Sentinel; the Watchman; Checkerboard Mesa; Kolob Arch, at 310 feet the world's largest known natural span; and the Narrows of the Virgin River, where a person can walk upstream to places so narrow that both sides of the canyon walls can almost be touched with one's outstretched hands.

One early visitor to Zion Canyon, Frederick S. Dellenbaugh, an artist who had been with John Wesley Powell on his second trip down the Grand Canyon in 1872, spent part of the summer of 1903 painting in Zion Canyon. The paintings were exhibited at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair and an article about Zion Canyon, "A New Valley of Wonders," was published by Dellenbaugh in the January 1904 issue of Scribner's Magazine. In the article, Dellenbaugh described his first view of the Great Temple, which stands at the entrance to Zion Canyon: "One hardly knows just how to think of it. Never before has such a naked mountain of rock entered our minds. Without a shred of disguise it transcendent form rises pre-eminent. There is almost nothing to compare to it. Niagara has the beauty of energy; the Grand Canyon of immensity; the Yellowstone of singularity; the Yosemite of altitude; the ocean of power; this Great Temple of eternity."

Zion Canyon was occupied by the Anasazi people from about 1,500 to 800 year ago. Their abandoned cliff houses, rock art, and chipping sites are scattered throughout the park. The Paiute Indians occupied the canyon when Nephi Johnson arrived in 1858. The first Mormon occupant of Zion Canyon was Isaac Behunin, who built a one-room log cabin at a site near the location of Zions Lodge. Behunin named his new home Zion Canyon. He was soon joined by a few other settlers who established farms along the narrow valley floor. Later, in 1900, David Flanigan began to build a system of cable works which would provide the means to lower virgin timber to the valley floor from the high mountain forests nearly two thousand feet above the canyon.

In 1872 ZzionJohn Wesley Powell surveyed the area and recorded the canyon's Indian name, Mukuntuweap. It was under this name that the canyon was designated a national monument on 31 July 1909 by a proclamation signed by President William Howard Taft. In 1918 it was renamed Zion National Monument; a year later, 1919, it became a national park. The first automobile road was constructed into the canyon in 1917 and the first lodge was built in 1925. The original lodge was destroyed by fire in 1966 and a new building was constructed that year. During the winter of 1989-90 the exterior of the lodge was restored to its historic architectural look.

The park's most impressive construction project, the 1.1-mile-long tunnel cut through solid sandstone, was begun in 1927 and completed in 1930 at a cost of $2,000,000. At that time many of the hiking trails within the park were undertaken, including the famous "Walter's Wiggles" section of the trail to Angels Landing, completed in 1926. Other trails and improvements in the park were undertaken by Civilian Conservation Corps crews during the 1930s. In 1937 the Kolob Canyon region was designated as a national monument, and it was incorporated into Zion National park in 1956.

Zion Canyon is especially popular with hikers and drivers, who follow the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to its terminus at the Temple of Sinawava and the Gateway to the Narrows, and then return to take the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, with its tunnel, to the top of the canyon. The park has two visitor centers, one at the entrance to Kolob Canyon and the main visitor center at the south entrance to the park.

The beauty of Zion Canyon has gained worldwide recognition, with over three million visitors coming to the park in 1993. However, because of the severe and growing automobile congestion inside the park, the National Park Service recently announced plans to limit private vehicles in Zion Canyon by providing a public transportation system that would restrict private vehicles to areas outside the park.

Allan Kent Powell

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