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Zion National Park
by Patrick S. Cater

Zion National Park CentennialFeeling the need to escape the hustle and bustle of life in Las Vegas (Pat used to live in Cleveland and still considers it home), I, along with my fiance, spent 3 days in Zion National Park.

Located just a 3 hour drive from Vegas, Zion (meaning "a place of refuge") is located just outside the town of Springdale, Utah. The park truly lived up to its meaning.

We were both overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of our surroundings. The Virgin River runs through the park, and provides water to the vegetation and the various wildlife that call Zion home.

The human history of the park dates back approximately 12,000 years when those tracking mammoth and camel first arrived in the area. As time progressed, both the Pauite and Anasazi Indians arrived and settled in the canyon. The area then became home to Mormon pioneers in the 1860's.

Historic Crawford Arc at Zion National Park

Historic Crawford Arc

Shortly after the Mormon's arrived, John Wesley Powell arrived for the first scientific exploration of the area. In 1909, President William Taft declared the area Mukuntuweap National Monument, and in 1919 the area was declared a National Park, and given its current name.

Historians estimate that the rock formations that line either side of the canyon have been in place for several million years, and were formed by water filtering through massive sand dunes. The water acted as a "glue" for the sand, binding it together and creating the formations.

Visitors to the park can start their visit at the Visitors center. There, they can obtain maps of the area, speak with a ranger, and obtain information about the various trails located throughout the park. From there, visitors board a propane powered shuttle bus that makes its way through the park.

Great White Throne at Zion National Park

Great White Throne at Zion National Park

The shuttle busses debuted in 2000 in an effort to reduce the carbon footprint in the area, and to aleeve traffic congestion. Private vehicles are permitted, but only for Zion Lodge guests (who must obtain a special pass) and those taking the cut off to US route 89. The shuttle bus takes visitors on a 7 mile journey to the end of the canyon, with various stops along the way to allow guests to sightsee.

The trails located in the canyon vary in length and degree of difficulty, but allow for fantastic views of the park as well as the various wildlife. During our visit, we saw wild turkey, deer, bull frogs, and lizards.

I found 2 areas of the park to be very interesting. The first is a grouping of 3 cliffs called "The Court of the Patriarchs".

Court of the Patriarchs in Zion National Park

Court of the Patriarchs

The cliffs bear the names of the 3 Old Testament figures-Abraham, Issaac, and Jacob. Best viewed from an observation area at the end of a short trail, the area offers a fantastic photo opportunity.

The second area that was awe inspiring is Weeping Rock. A mile trail, which is steep at times, dead ends at an observation area lush with vegetation. Water continuously "weeps" from the center of the rock formation. This is caused by water that has been seeping through softer areas of the rock hitting shale like rock, causing the water to flow out rather than down.

It was on this trail we observed a wild turkey (who better thank his lucky stars he was on federal property) and a very pregnant doe feasting on greenery.

Angels Landing at Zion National Park

Angels Landing at Zion National Park

We stayed at a fantastic hotel in Springdale, just from the entrance to the park. The Desert Pearl Inn offered fantastic views of the surrounding mountains, with large rooms and well kept grounds. We had a second floor "pool view" room which had a nice balcony, complete with wood recliners.

The staff of the hotel was great, despite a Pittsburgh Steelers fan manning the front desk upon our check in. The town of Springdale is serviced by a free shuttle bus system that will take you to the pedestrian entrance of Zion. The town offers a variety of dining opportunities for visitors, ranging from small diners to upscale establishments.

Hoodoo Arch at Zion National Park

Hoodoo Arch

We were sorry to have to leave Zion, and the surrounding areas, in our rearview mirror after a short 48 hours. But a return trip is definitely in our future.

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