My First Visit to Zion
Although I grew up in Utah, my first visit to Zion National Park did not occur until I was in my early 60’s.
We were an outdoorsy family, and our vacations usually revolved around camping, fishing and boating. But our destination was always in the north and/or northeast part of the state, and it wasn’t until October of 2017 that I finally visited Utah’s first national park.
I was in Southern Utah to visit family, and when I realized that they lived about 25 miles from Zion’s southern entrance I decided to make the drive and spend a few hours there. (I arrived at 3:00 p.m., which only gave me about three hours of daylight there. Next time – and there will definitely be a next time – I will arrive much earlier in the day!)
As a photographer, a nature-lover, and a spiritual seeker, I was amazed at what I saw!
Lucky for me, I had recently turned 62 and purchased a lifetime Senior Pass to all of the National Parks, allowing me entrance into Zion without reaching for my wallet. (Getting older does have its perks!)
Click on this link for more information about Zion’s entrance fees.
A Little History about Zion National Park
Located near Springdale, Utah, Zion Canyon is a spectacular gorge carved by the Virgin River as it travels through sandstone and shale to create massive cliffs in shades of red and pink and cream.
“About half a mile deep and half a mile wide at its mouth, the canyon narrows to about 300 feet at the Temple of Sinawava, the narrowest portion accessible by car and about 8 miles from the park entrance.” (AAA Tour Book, 2017 edition, pg. 313)
According to Wikipedia, in 1909 U.S. President William Howard Taft named the area a National Monument to protect the canyon, under the name of Mukuntuweap National Monument. In 1918, however, the acting director of the newly created National Park Service changed the park’s name to Zion, the name used by the Mormons.
According to historian Hal Rothman: “The name change played to a prevalent bias of the time. Many believed that Spanish and Indian names would deter visitors who, if they could not pronounce the name of a place, might not bother to visit it. The new name, Zion, had greater appeal to an ethnocentric audience.”
The United States Congress established the monument as a National Park on November 19, 1919.
How Do You Pronounce “Zion”?
With all due respect to the Southern Paiute Indians who called the canyon Mukuntuweap, meaning “straight canyon,” I have to agree with historian Rothman. “Zion” is much easier to say.
But let’s make sure we pronounce that name correctly: Zion. (Zī-әn) It rhymes with Lion. (There’s no “yawn” sound in the name.)
Saying it correctly may seem like a small thing, but just imagine how you would feel if half – or more – of the people you met mispronounced your name. And trust me, if you say it wrong the locals will cringe and consider you to be uninformed.
Just remember: It rhymes with Lion. And when you see how majestic Zion National Park is, you should have no trouble thinking of a proud and majestic lion – and saying “Zion” correctly.
Accessibility at Zion
My first stop was the Visitor Center, where I inquired about accessibility within the Park.
There are two accessible trails, the Pa’rus Trail near the Visitor Center, and the Riverside Walk near Temple of Sinawava.
Because personal vehicles are not allowed* along the 8-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, visitors must either walk the trails or take the Zion Canyon Shuttle. The shuttle not only has a hydraulic lift to make it accessible for wheelchair users, but it also has an audio presentation at each of the 9 shuttle stops, making it an easy way to learn about the canyon while enjoying the spectacular views. Guests may exit at any of the shuttle stops, knowing that another shuttle – going either direction – will come by within 15 minutes
* There is one important exception to the no-personal-vehicles rule. According to the website, and confirmed by personnel at the Information Desk:
“Use of personal vehicles is restricted to those individuals requiring additional vehicle supported medical devices or when the shuttle bus cannot accommodate the individual due to weight or size restrictions. A special permit for personal vehicle use can be obtained from the visitor center or museum information desks by providing documentation of the medical condition. “
The park visitor centers, museum, restrooms, shuttle buses, picnic areas, and the Zion Lodge are accessible. Service dogs are permitted on a leash throughout the park.
A Few Other Considerations
People with breathing issues may find the elevation at Zion challenging: Zion Canyon Visitor Center is 4,000 feet and Zion Lodge is 4,300 feet.
In spite of the higher elevation and beautiful trees, Zion is a desert terrain and during the summer temperatures can reach 100° F. Carrying water and staying hydrated is essential. (There are many accessible water stations throughout the park.)
Monsoons are common from mid-July into September, and may bring flash floods, so it’s important to check the weather forecast daily and stay aware of potential storms.
For further details, check out this Accessibility link.
My Brief Hiking Experience at Zion
I boarded the shuttle at the Visitor Center and stayed on until we reached the last stop (Temple of Sinawava). This allowed me to get an initial view of the canyon and decide where I would like to disembark on the way back to the Visitor Center.
At the Temple of Sinawava I spent a little time following the Riverside Walk, a paved trail that follows the Virgin River along the bottom of a narrow canyon. (Frequent visitors will know that this is where “The Narrows” begins – a non-accessible hike that includes traveling through the river itself.)
I then hopped back on the bus and traveled to the Weeping Rock stop, where I followed a fairly steep paved path to the hanging gardens at Weeping Rock.
It was beautiful, clearly not accessible, and a little too wet for the safety of my camera gear. Still, it was worth the hike to experience this view:
Knowing that the daylight was waning, I took the shuttle to Canyon Junction (shuttle stop #3) where I exited and followed the paved and accessible Pa’rus Trail to shuttle stop #2 at the Zion Human History Museum.
This easy walk included spectacular scenery, and if I had started earlier in the day I could have continued following the trail to the main Visitor Center.
My Visit to Zion Was Too Brief
I only spent three hours at Zion National Park, and that was certainly not long enough.
I’m sure I could spend days here and not feel as though I had seen and experienced enough. Next time I will plan my time more wisely.
Because there certainly must be a “next time.”
PS: In my opinion the end of October is an ideal time to visit. The crowds were small and the colors were spectacular!