Our last national park in Utah is Zion National Park. We stayed about thirty minutes from the park in the town of Hurricane, a larger town than previous towns with a Walmart, restaurants and a movie theater. Unfortunately we were back in hot weather with no shade at our campsite so we shortened our stay from seven to four nights.
Legend has it the town was named one windy day in the 1860’s by Mormon leader Erastus Snow when a gust of wind blew the top off his buggy. He said it was a hurricane and decided to name the area Hurricane Hill. Because of Hurricane’s 2,000 acres of excellent farmland, orchards and vineyards, this area is nicknamed “The Fruit Basket of Southern Utah”. While we were there they had their annual “Peach Days”, a local celebration with street vendors, farmers markets and fireworks.
Zion National Park was first designated a national monument in 1909 by President William Howard Taft and later became a national park in 1919. Zion was named by Isaac Behunin, the first permanent European-American settler in the canyon. Behunin built a one room log cabin in the canyon in 1861. Behunin said, “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as in any man-made-church this is Zion”.
Zion is known for having some of the most scenic canyon views in the United States with high plateaus, narrow, deep sandstone canyons with 2,000 feet high walls in some places, and huge rock towers and mesas.
One of the park’s most impressive construction projects and considered an engineering marvel is the 1.1 mile tunnel which was blasted through solid sandstone between 1927 and 1930. A really neat feature of the tunnel are lookout galleries cut like windows into the tunnel rock so drivers can have views of the canyon as they drive through the tunnel. There is no stopping allowed in the tunnel so it was hard to get good pictures of the canyon from the windows. We drove the twelve mile scenic Zion-Mt Carmel Highway which took us up six steep switchbacks and through the tunnel to the east side of the park. We stopped at various overlooks including one of a large checkerboard mesa, a naturally sculpted rock art. The horizontal lines are evidence of ancient sand dunes and the vertical lines are from erosion due to rain and melting snow.
In May, 2000 the park began operating a mandatory shuttle bus on the 6.5 mile long Zion Canyon Scenic Drive in one part of the park, making this part of the park accessible by shuttle bus only. We rode the bus and found it very enjoyable with enough buses running so there was never a long wait. Our only complaint would be the windows on the bus only partially opened making it really hard to take pictures from the bus windows. The park instituted the mandatory shuttle bus to
- eliminate air and noise pollution
- eliminate visitor stress from traffic backups and limited parking spaces
- to preserve the area and vegetation from being damaged and eroded by cars parked on the road shoulders
Research shows that 150 years of farming, grazing and recreation has changed Zion’s environment. The park is working to restore some of the ecological diversity in the park.
We rode the shuttle to the last stop, the Temple of Sinawava, a huge natural amphitheater which is the narrowest part of the canyon accessible by vehicle.
Visit this link for a 360 view video: https://youtu.be/stzCNHsVTkM
There we enjoyed the Riverside Walk which followed the Virgin River. Along the way we saw rock walls with dripping springs and lush vegetation. At the end of the trail you could enter the river and follow the river up to “The Narrows” where the canyon walls narrow in around you. The ranger told us earlier that the water level up the river to the Narrows would go from your knees to your thighs to your waist before eventually reaching the Narrows. Since the water temperature was 60 degrees and we did not have a change of clothes or shoes for the bus ride back to the car, we decided not to hike to the Narrows.
On the way back to the car we saw four climbers scaling the canyon wall. They looked like tiny ants in the distance.
Tomorrow we plan to take a hike recommended to us by a ranger and take another scenic drive in another part of the park.