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Zion National Park

229 square miles of colorful canyons, some of which are extremely narrow and have deep, plunging walls

location of Zion (yellow dot)
location of Zion National Park

Zion Canyon, the main feature of the park, is about 15 miles long, from 1/2 mile to less than 50 feet wide, and up to a 1/2 mile deep. The canyon was cut by the North Fork of the Virgin River. Its walls tower as high as 3,000 feet, in some places almost straight up and down. The canyon contains many unusual rock formations. These formations range in color from dark red and orange to light purple and pink, and the colors change continuously with the reflection of light. The lowest elevation in the park is 3,666 feet at Coalpits Wash, and the highest elevation is 8,726 feet at Horse Ranch Mountain.

Zion Canyon
Zion Canyon

Horse Ranch Mountain
Horse Ranch Mountain

Four distinct biomes (life zones) exist within the park -- desert, riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest. The park is home to 289 species of birds, including golden eagles, red-tailed hawks, peregrine falcons, white-throated swifts, and California condors; 79 mammals, including 19 species of bat, mule deer, rock squirrels, desert cottontails, jackrabbits, and bighorn sheep; 28 reptiles; 6 amphibians; and, 7 fish. Plants found within the park include sagebrush, prickly pear cactus, rabbitbrush, pinyon pine, juniper, mazanita, yucca, Ponderosa pine, Gambel oak, aspen, boxelder, Fremont cottonwood, maple, and willow.

The area now encompassed by Zion National Park was first inhabited by semi-nomadic family groups of Native Americans about 8,000 years ago. The Basketmaker Anasazi had settled the area and built permanent dwellings by about 300 A.D., and they were replaced by the Virgin Anasazi and Parowan Fremont by about 500; several Southern Paiute subtribes had "taken over" the region by about 1300.

Zion Canyon was discovered by Mormons from the Salt Lake area in 1858, and Mormon farmers began settling the canyon floor in 1863. Naturalist John Wesley Powell visited the canyon in 1872; he called it Mukuntuweap because he mistakenly believed that that was the Native American name for the canyon. Powell's description of the canyon, along with pictures published in travel and other magazines, led to a public call for protection of the canyon, and President William Howard Taft established Mukuntuweap National Monument on July 31, 1909. The monument's name was changed to Zion in 1918 because local residents disliked the name Mukuntuweap, and it became Zion National Park on November 19, 1919. An adjacent area encompassing the Kolob Canyons was proclaimed Zion National Monument on January 22, 1937, and was added to the park on July 11, 1956.

Golden Eagle
Peregrine Falcon
President William Howard Taft

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: Local History and Description >> The New Southwest >> Utah

This page was last updated on November 18, 2017.