Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Zion National Park

Welcome to Zion National Park! It is a rugged and beautiful place in, like so many others locations in southern Utah. Yet Zion has a beauty and majesty all of its own on a gigantic scale which makes it truly a unique treasure.

Established as a National Monument in 1909 by President Taft, the park has been slowly gaining ground, legally speaking. The Kolob Canyon was incorporated into the park boundaries in 1956. Plus, in March of 2009 President Obama added over one-hundred twenty thousand acres of surrounding wilderness to further protect this national treasure.

The region's beauty attracted Native American settlers and nomads thousands of years before European explorers would set foot there. However, a period of droughts and floods in the 11th and 12th century made sustaining life in the valley extremely difficult, and resulted in the Native Americans leaving the scenic valleys for a while. Eventually, the Native Americans returned, and who could blame them?

The age of exploration brought some Europeans, and European-Americans, through the area, but the area wasn't really settled by those of European ancestry until the Mormons moved into the region around 1847. The Mormons had headed west to escape religious persecution, and ended up settling some of the most beautiful lands in the United States. Beautiful, but rather harsh at times. That harsh living may have helped to preserve these lands to be the jewels to us that they are today.

Above, I am posed in front of Timber Top Mountain and Shuntavi Butte (that somewhat cylindrical formation at the end of the range) which is part of the Kolob canyon system. The name Kolob comes from Mormonism, the Book of Abraham, where Kolob is described as being the star closest to God's throne. That gives you an indication of how heavenly beautiful the Mormon settlers considered this place to be!

I started my two day journey in Zion National Park in Kolob Canyon, where sheer Navajo sandstone cliff jutted proudly out of the ground in reddish-brown hues.

The Taylor Creek Valley had a nice interpretive trail, if you could interpret it, and maybe if you had a machete!

A scenic drive took you to most of the prominent highlights of Kolob canyon, but there were also several trails available to explore in detail, many of which that did not require trailblazing skills!

There was more than just Navajo sandstone to gawk at, such as the Kayenta formation, which formed as flood plain deposits, trapping basal conglomerates, siltstone, and mudstone into diverse striations. Zion surely has a rich geological history!

I used the La Verkin Creek trail to stretch out my little legs, and to get a different perspective on these giant mountains.

As you can see, this was a very easy trail to follow. It was quite enjoyable too.

That lovely piny smell of juniper often passed through the air.

From the Timber Creek Overlook trail, you could see a mountain off to the west which was steadily burning, and occasionally you could smell a little smoke mixed with that juniper. The dry, arid climate makes the region subject to periodic forest fires.

The next day I explored the Zion canyon part of Zion national park. The name Zion comes from the Bible, where it is often used in connection with Jerusalem in prophesy. The Mormons weren't the only religious groups moving through the area. Many of the formations in Zion canyon were named with their present names by a Methodist missionary by the name of Frederick Fisher.

Highway 9 runs through part of the park, making it one very scenic highway.

As with the Kolob canyon, Zion canyon had monumental mountain peaks with sheer faces.

As you continue on Highway 9, you go through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel, which is over a mile long! When it was dedicated on July 4, 1930, it was the longest tunnel in the U.S.A. After you exit the tunnel, the landscape seems magically transformed into a rocky wonderland. Strange formations, such as Checkerboard Mesa below, treat the eye around every turn.

Back down in Zion Canyon, I took a hike to the Emerald Pools. It turns out that they were "emerald" because they were full of algae. Ha!

Algae pools aside, the Emerald Pools hike was still fun, partly because of spectacular views of the canyon, like this one. Check out that arch in the rock.

Another memorable hike in the Zion canyon is called the Narrows. I was glad that I was laminated, because I had to walk through the water many, many times on this hike. And it was c-c-cold water! Of course, you don't really notice it after the tenth or eleventh time you cross. :-)

In some stretches along the river, there were no banks on either side, for footsteps or vegetation. Of course, that didn't stop me, and it didn't stop the more persistent plants which would gain a foothold in the nooks and crannies of the rock wall, like this flower.

The walls were towering hundred of feet above my head, making the passage seem even more narrow, but that didn't prevent interesting formations at ground level from being there.

In several spots the walls looking like they had been painted like zebras! In places where the water seeped through the rock wall, it would carry with it dissolved lime, some of which would be redeposited on the face of the wall upon exiting, thus forming the white marks. In those same spots, plants would often grow and their root systems would catch some dirt and organic matter, forming a sort of soil. Not all of the soil gets kept in place, and so you get these black stains running down the walls as well.

Awk! The walls are closing in on me! I guess it's time for me to go. See you next time!

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