May 04

Zion National Park

The Virgin River carves intricate rock formations in "the narrows" in Zion National Park, Utah. Photo by Paul Caputo.

The Virgin River carves intricate rock formations in “the narrows” in Zion National Park, Utah. Photo by Paul Caputo.

In the northwestern section of Utah there is a region that offers terrain like no other. Zion National Park provides some of the most dramatic and variable scenery anywhere within the entire system. From creek-laded narrow canyons to golden sandstone cliffs high over the land, Zion is one of the Earth’s finest outdoor ‘sculpture gardens’.

Through the center flows the Virgin River, continuing its slow process of carving still deeper chasms into the already 2000-foot deep Markagunt Plateau. Flowing 16 miles through sandstone arches and well-treed gorges, it ultimately empties into Lake Mead 200 miles to the southeast.

Visitors to the 229 square mile park are the beneficiaries of its work.

Some of the best hiking in the world is within the park. Sandstone cliffs 2,000 feet high top trails that lead down through narrow canyons topped with high arches. The Great Arch of Zion, carved in a high, vertical cliff-face is one of the more spectacular. The Kolob Arch Trail leads to the Kolob Arch, spanning 310 feet (94 m), one of the largest in the world.

The Watchtower at Sunset - Zion National Park

The Watchtower at Sunset – Zion National Park

Along the way, hikers can follow Timber Creek and look up to see the massive red canyons above. Gradually, the trail descends 1,000 feet to La Verkin Creek. The route provides an excellent opportunity to explore Hop Valley or Beartrap Canyon.

Cyclists can get in on the adventure, too. Pa’rus Trail offers a paved route free of cars that’s full of outstanding scenery. Here, visitors can get a great view of the Moenave or Kayenta rock formations. They can stop for a drink and check out some of the fascinating plant life that struggles for existence in this rocky land.

Horseback riding is another transportation option in Zion. Overnight excursions take you from the canyons to the peaks, where you can see firsthand views of the bright moon over the shadow-strewn cliffs. For novice riders, an easy trot travels to Checkboard Mesa, one of the park’s most interesting sights.

Either way, tourists will have no trouble spotting some of the distinctive wildlife that calls the park home. The Ringtail, the Chuckwalla Lizard and beavers are easy to find. Less common but occasionally hovering overhead are ravens, Peregrine Falcons and the odd Golden Eagle here and there. The sharp-eyed may even spot a roadrunner dashing across the trail near Weeping Rock.

Several national monuments are on view in Zion and each has fully earned the designation. Grand Staircase Escalante, Cedar Breaks and others are here. Also in the park are notable sights like the Temple of Sinawava and the Great White Throne, natural features whose appearances have inspired their names.

Because the river and its tributaries act as run-off canals for melting snows and spring rains, flash flooding is a common risk. Anyone wanting to explore the park should check for warnings at http://www.nps.gov/zion/ before entering.

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