Utah’s First National Park
Follow the paths where ancient native people and pioneers walked. Gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky. Experience wilderness in a narrow slot canyon. Zion’s unique array of plants and animals will enchant you as you absorb the rich history of the past and enjoy the excitement of present day adventures.
In a Haven of Habitats
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.
Explore Five More
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (50 min)
Changed by winds, these mountains and hills of sand can move as much as 50 feet per year. With areas for off-highway vehicle enthusiasts and those with non-motorized pursuits, the dunes offer adventures for all.
Red Cliffs Recreation Area (50 min)
The Red Cliffs Recreation Area is located just off Interstate 15, 14 miles northeast of St. George, Utah. Tucked up against red sandstone cliffs and straddling Quail Creek, this recreation area is a pleasant surprise for most visitors. The backdrop of the looming cliffs and the voluminous riparian habitat is an unexpected if not welcome relief in the desert.
Pipe Spring National Monument (1 hour)
Pipe Spring National Monument preserves the history of human settlement on the Arizona Strip; for centuries the Ancestral Puebloans, Kaibab Paiute Indians, and Mormon settlers have depended on the water found at Pipe Spring.
Snow Canyon State Park (1 hour)
Snow Canyon State Park is a 7,400-acre scenic park quietly tucked amid lava flows and soaring sandstone cliffs in a strikingly colorful and fragile desert environment. Majestic views and the subtle interplay of light, shadow, and color dancing across canyon walls evoke strong emotional responses from visitors.
Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument (1.5 hours)
Grand Canyon Parashant’s natural splendor provides a sense of solitude to those who venture into its isolated domain. Located on the edge of one of the most beautiful places on earth, the Grand Canyon, the Monument’s expansive landscape encompasses a chronicle of natural and cultural history.