Those lucky enough to visit Zion National Park will have the chance to learn about the deep history of the area and immerse themselves in all that makes Zion so special. Over millions of years, this area has been formed and changed by nature as well as the people and wildlife that have called it home. Today, visitors can still see the influence these forces have had on the land. Connecting to the rich history of Zion National Park is a life-changing experience.
For years, people have been infatuated with dinosaurs and other prehistoric species. Children and adults alike love to learn about how the dinosaurs came to be, became extinct, and everything in between. Evidence of the dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures that roamed the earth can be seen today in Zion.
In areas like the Moenave and Kayenta formations, visitors can see prehistoric footprints and fossils of plant and animal life. In addition to these formations, visitors who are interested in the prehistoric period of Zion National Park will be delighted to find many pieces of preserved prehistoric evidence in places like the Dinosaur Discovery Site in nearby St. George, along with the walls of The Subway, and in many other rocky surfaces throughout the park and in nearby areas. In Zion, visitors can discover 200-million-year-old history everywhere they turn. Being able to experience this evidence of life from millions of years ago is just one of the many exciting historical treats in Zion National Park.
Zion’s Resilient Natives
After the extinction of the dinosaurs, groups of people began utilizing the area for hunting and building communities. As far back as 6,000 BC, possibly even earlier, early people hunted and traveled across present-day Zion. During the Archaic period, which consists of the years 6,000 BC to 500 AD, small communities of people hunted and gathered in the area, living off seeds, nuts, animals, and other foods provided by the land.
The first documented communities to inhabit the Zion area were the Virgin Anasazi and the Parowan Fremont. These groups grew small patches of food by the river banks and created baskets and other tools using natural materials. Evidence of their food storage facilities in the cliffsides can still be seen today in nearby parks. By 1,300 AD, these native people no longer inhabited the area and native groups, such as the Paiute, only used the area sporadically during the next few hundred years.
By 1700s, Euro-Americans began exploring the area and passing through Zion. Individuals came to the area to survey the land and assess its ability to be settled. However, it wasn’t until 1847 that the group responsible for the settling and development of Zion would arrive.
Brigham Young, the leader of the Church of Jesus Christ of Ladder-day Saints, also known as the Mormon church, led church members to the Utah territory. They went to different parts of the territory to settle several areas. Those sent to the southern part of Utah were instructed to grow cotton as they developed the land.
It is during this time that the towns of Grafton, Springdale, Paradise, and others were developed. Also, during this time, the first cabin was built in Zion Canyon. Throughout the rest of the century, these small communities struggled to survive after being affected by flooding and other natural disasters. Nevertheless, they persevered and, today, the majority of people living in Zion and the surrounding areas are Mormon. These courageous settlers, who came to the area to flee religious persecution and other injustices in the east, are responsible for making Zion and the surrounding areas what they are today.
Geology and the Zion Landscape
Throughout Zion National Park, visitors can see a variety of formations and natural wonders. These formations are part of what made Zion, especially in early history, such a difficult place to live. Among the most popular formations in the park are Angels Landing, The Narrows, The Subway, and The Watchman. These incredible formations are responsible for the massive numbers of tourists that flock to the park because they provide a unique, beautiful landscape and exciting hiking opportunities unlike anywhere else in the country.
Angels Landing, which can be reached via Angels Landing Trail, the most popular and difficult trail in Zion, is a narrow rock formation that climbs 1,488 feet in the air. It’s so incredibly high that its name comes from early explorers believing that only an angel could land on its surface.
The Subway is a uniquely shaped slot canyon, with curved walls and a low ceiling that resembles a subway tunnel. Sections of this slot canyon have small waterfalls, crystal-clear pools, and other beautiful natural sites.
The Narrows is a more traditional-looking slot canyon, where visitors can see the incredible history of the rock formations and sediment layering along the walls. This narrow canyon allows visitors to literally walk through Zion’s geological history.
Another popular geological formation in Zion, The Watchman, is a towering mountain formation that juts up from the ground and peaks at an elevation of over 6,545 feet. Adventurous visitors may choose to climb The Watchman, giving them the chance to see its incredible geology up close.
Whether exploring the canyons, cliffs, mountains, or other geological and natural sites in Zion, guests will feel a deep connection with the natural history of the land.
Establishing Zion National Park
Despite that fact that people had been living in the area for nearly half a century, it wasn’t until around 1900 that Zion was recognized for its potential to be a tourist hot spot. Though a presidential executive order declared the area a national monument, then known as Mukuntuweap National Monument, the rough terrain and lack of accommodations made traveling to the area nearly impossible. However, after a few years of development by the Utah State Road Commission, a highway system was developed to make access to the area easier. In addition to the Utah State Road Commission, Union Pacific Railroad also worked to develop railways, transportation options, and tourism facilities across southern Utah.
Once these modes of transportation were finished in 1917, tourists could reach Camp Wiley, the first lodging option for tourists in Zion Canyon. The ability for more people to access this region of Utah led to the rapid development of the area. In 1919, a Congressional bill designated Zion National Park as an official national park. After advancements in local transportation, various tours were offered to visitors, making Zion National Park and the surrounding areas a popular tourist destination.
Present Day Zion National Park
Between nature’s forces, resilient natives, and courageous settlers, Zion National Park has had many historical influences that have made it the incredible area that people from around the world flock to each year. At every corner of the park and in the surrounding areas, the deep, unique history of the area can be seen. Without these influences, Zion National Park wouldn’t be the popular tourist destination that it is today.
Today, Zion National Park is one of the most popular parks in the entire country. Each year, attendance grows dramatically, and in 2017, a record-breaking 4.5 million visitors experienced Zion National Park. As the park’s popularity grows, officials are finding ways to preserve the authentic park experience while still allowing many visitors to enjoy the park. For over 100 years, Zion National Park and the surrounding areas have been an oasis of scenic beauty in southern Utah. Whether guests come to the park to enjoy exciting outdoor activities, view the scenic landscape, or discover the history of the land, they will find that every moment spent at this beautiful, historical location will be a moment they never forget.