Cornforth Images

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is located near Springdale, and is the oldest National Park in Utah. Due to its close proximity to Las Vegas, NV, Zion is Utah’s most heavily used park with nearly three million visitors per year. Other nearby attractions include Utah’s Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park and Bryce Canyon National Park. In 1909, the area became a National Monument to protect the canyon, under the name of Mukuntuweap National Monument. In 1918, the National Park Service changed the park’s name to Zion, an ancient Hebrew word meaning a place of refuge or sanctuary. The Zion Canyon is a prominent feature, 15 miles (9 km) long and up to half a mile deep, cutting through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. The Kolob Canyons and Kolob Terrace sections are good choices for travelers who want to see the park’s backcountry. All three areas feature Zion’s trademark soaring towers and monoliths. The park is also known for its incredible canyons, including The Narrows, which attract canyoneers from around the world.

The geology of the Zion and Kolob Canyons area includes nine formations that together represent 150 million years of mostly Mesozoic-aged sedimentation. At various periods in that time, warm, shallow seas, streams, ponds and lakes, vast deserts and dry near-shore environments covered the area. Uplift associated with the creation of the Colorado Plateaus lifted the region 10,000 ft (3,000 m) starting 13 million years ago. Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions, this unique geography and variety of life zones allow for unusual plant and animal diversity. A total of 289 birdmammals, 32 reptiles and numerous plant species inhabit the park’s four life zones: desert, riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest. Notable megafauna include mountain lions, mule deer and golden eagles, along with reintroduced California condors and bighorn sheep.

Zion National Park offers the photographer many roadside opportunities to create spectacular images. The bridge over the entrance to the park offers a classic late afternoon image of the Virgin River. In the fall, the maple and cottonwood trees scattered throughout Zion turn spectacular shades of red, orange, and yellow. A very difficult canyon hike to the Subway formation is best done in the early morning to take advantage of the afternoon reflected light.