About the author
Welcome to Zion, a land of sheer cliffs, ancient sand dunes, amazing vistas, and verdant garden alcoves. How did Zion come to be named Zion? Pioneer Isaac Behunin, leafing through the Book of Isaiah one evening, was struck by the way the setting sun’s last ruddy light hit Red Arch Mountain. The name came to him by epiphany as he skimmed through Isaiah chapter 2 verse 3: “And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up the mountain of the Lord … and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law.”
Mormon pioneers believed that Zion meant “sanctuary” and its rugged beauty was proof that God wanted them to settle there. However, in the early 1900's, visiting photographers, artists, and a surveyor named Leo Snow argued that Zion was far too beautiful to keep secret from the rest of the world. In 1909, President Howard Taft elevated Zion to national monument status under the Paiute name Mukuntuweap, meaning “straight canyon.” However, like the Paiute American Indians themselves, the name, which had existed here for over 800 years, was already fading from the region. In 1919, when the United States Congress upgraded Mukuntuweap from monument to national park status, they renamed it “Zion” at the urging of the new Utahans.
Now about 2.5 million pilgrims from around the world are drawn here each year. Some come to gaze in awe at the majesty of Zion’s grandeur with pedestals of stone so tall and massive they seem to support the sky. Rock climbers pit their muscle against these mighty walls, inching upward on ascents that can last days. Geologists work in the opposite direction. Descending the walls and tracking changes in the rock, they can almost travel back through time, learning how our planet works by understanding the changes it has undergone. Others come to celebrate the diversity of life housed here. Reminiscent of Eden, Zion sustains an impressive species list of 800 plants, 75 mammals, 271 birds, 32 reptiles and amphibians, and 6 native fish.
Zion is also nirvana for the hiker. The park’s trails offer a full spectrum of hiking challenges. Following these paths can mean anything from a leisurely riverside stroll, to a multi-night backpack, to a white-knuckled, chain-assisted ascent over 1000 feet above the ground.
Zion is also a crown jewel of the National Park Service, a shining result of the dedication of men and women who strive to leave these works of nature clean, beautiful, and natural, for the enjoyment of future generations. As you begin your own Zion experience, be prepared as you will soon understand exactly the grandeur that overcame Isaac Behunin when he named this place, Zion.
These canyons are one of the best-kept secrets in all of Zion. This northern Kolob Canyon region of Zion boasts some of the most impressive and beautiful walls of rock in the entire park, and arguably, one of the best places for viewing sunsets in all of southern Utah.
Inside the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center, there is a small bookstore and an informative exhibit that explains how the famous Kolob Arch was formed. A scenic drive, paralleling the Hurricane Fault, extends from the visitor center. Along this fault, the rocks to the east have lurched upwards, a few feet at a time with each earthquake, until after 15 million years, they arrived at their current height. It has even offset relatively recent, geologically speaking, basaltic lava flows near the town of La Verkin. Now 4000 feet higher than where they began, the rock layers of the Kolob reveal 600 million years of earth history. When you round the corner and get your first look at the red walls and roads of the Kolob, you know why the expression “God’s Country” applies here. Kolob is the name of the star in Mormon theology that is believed to be “closest to the throne of God.”
The 5.4-mile moderate Taylor Creek Trail follows a small creek up past two historic cabins to Double Arch Alcove, which is an alcove topped with a blind arch. The 14-mile round trip hike to Kolob Arch begins at Lee Pass, named for John D. Lee, who hid in the Kolob Canyons for 20 years, eluding authorities after the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre, where he led a mob to ambush a California-bound wagon train, murdering all but the young children.
With each bend in the road, the panorama of the Kolob Canyons grows until it dominates the entire eastern horizon from north to south. From the vantage of the Kolob Canyons Viewpoint and Timber Creek Overlooks, one can observe that Kolob is not one canyon, but several that merge to become Timber Creek. Some of the tributaries cut slot canyons obscured in their own shadows, while others, being hanging canyons, dump their contents over the edge of towering cliffs.
How long does it take these little creeks to carve so much grandeur? By using the relative age of lava flows, geologists have determined that the Virgin River was able to carve most of Zion Canyon in only 2 million years. Because the Kolob Canyons are farther away from the main channel of the Colorado River watershed, these must be even younger, perhaps only a million years?
Why are the Kolob cliffs so much redder than those of Zion Canyon? Geologists are undecided. Both are Navajo sandstone, composed of ancient sand dunes. The amount of iron in the rock determines the degree of redness. Some geologists feel that because the Zion Canyon rock has been eroding longer than the Kolob, the iron in the highest levels of the Zion Navajo sandstone has already leached out. Others suggest that since the Kolob rock was the western edge of the ancient desert, floods from mountains to the west mixed more iron in with these sand dunes. What do you think?
If you are like most people, Kolob will be the conclusion of your Zion experience. Absorb as much of the undefined energy of this national park as you can. Is it spiritual power? Scientific curiosity? Intoxicating beauty? Compelling history? Adventurous vibes? Or something else entirely? Perhaps there are no words that do it justice. But maybe, just maybe, we can all agree that the four letters: Z, I, O, N say enough.