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Mukuntuweap National Monument and Zion National Monument (now part of Zion National Park), Utah

Mukuntuweap (Library of Congress).

The red and white sandstone cliffs of southwestern Utah tower hundreds of feet above the Virgin River, which meanders through their network of narrow canyons. The heart of Zion National Park is a secluded valley that lies amidst this striking landscape. It includes lands originally protected by Mukuntuweap National Monument and Zion National Monument. The soaring sandstone cliffs, the deep ravines, and the seemingly hidden river valleys have been important to both Native people and white settlers for thousands of years.

Approximately 7,000 years ago, nomadic Indian groups first frequented the Mukuntuweap/Zion region. As people slowly adopted more sedentary lifestyles, both the Virgin Branch Puebloan and Fremont Indian groups settled in this area. The Southern Paiute called this place Mukuntuweap, which means “straight canyon.” By AD 1,100, these groups migrated out of the region as Southern Paiute tribes moved in. The first white settlers, Mormon pioneers, arrived in the area in the late 1800s. They named the area Zion, which is ancient Hebrew for “sanctuary” or “refuge.” The deep and spectacular canyons of this protected portion of the Virgin River Valley truly offer a safe haven to wildlife and humans alike.

Few outsiders visited the region until a federal land survey in 1908 first exposed the area to the general public. The natural splendor of the region so struck the surveyors, that they encouraged President Taft to protect this unique locale. In 1909, Taft set aside approximately 16,000 acres for Mukuntuweap National Monument to preserve its “many natural features of unusual archaeologic, geologic, and geographic interest” (Proc No. 877). In his proclamation, the President notes the “labyrinth of remarkable canyons with highly ornate and beautifully colored walls, in which are plainly recorded the geological events of past ages.” In 1918 Munkutuweap National Monument became Zion National Monument and in 1919 the named changed again to Zion National Park. On January 22, 1937 President Roosevelt established a second Zion National Monument, preserving over 36,000 acres (Proc. No. 2221). The second Zion National Monument was incorporated with Zion National Park in 1956.

Cut from the surrounding sandstone, the Virgin River canyons provide a refuge for a variety of plant and animal species. Visitors can experience these natural resources on numerous hiking and backcountry trails. In particular, the Angels Landing trail takes visitors to the tip of one of the tallest sandstone cliff faces in the valley. Intrepid hikers can also wade in the Virgin River through a meandering slot canyon called the Narrows. True to its name, in parts of the Narrows, canyon walls are only slightly wider than two outstretched arms.

Although Zion National Park offers unparalleled natural beauty, its priceless cultural resources are also very important. The Zion Human History Museum in the National Park houses interpretive displays of the ancient and historic human occupation of the region. The nearly 3 million visitors that come to Zion National Park every year are testament to the lure of this protected land, which today encompasses 146,597 acres.

Recent visitors described their feelings about the significance of Zion National Park:

  • “An outstanding area our country should be very proud of.”
  • “The opportunity to hike, explore, and seek solitude is priceless.”
  • “This was the first time visiting your park-- what a wonderful experience! We definitely will come back and enjoy your piece of heaven.”



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