On-line Book
Book Cover
Cover Page



National Park System





Mount Rainier

Crater Lake


Wind Cave

Mesa Verde


Rocky Mountain


Lassen Volcanic

Mount McKinley

Grand Canyon



Hot Springs

Bryce Canyon

Grand Teton

Carlsbad Caverns

Great Smoky Mountains


Mammoth Cave


Isle Royale

Kings Canyon

Former Parks

Historical Parks

Military Parks

Glimpses of Our
National Parks

clip art XVIII clip art



Special Characteristic: Vividly Colored and Fantastically Carved Sandstone Cliffs Bordering a Deep Valley

Zion National Park
Great White Throne—Zion National Park

NOT many miles north of the Grand Canyon National Park the desert of southern Utah finds its most gorgeous expression in a canyon Country of vivid coloring and erosional formations of great height and spectacular carving.

Where the massive Navajo sandstone beds, overlying a region of many thousands of square miles, reach their greatest thickness, the turbulent Virgin River, cutting down vertically for a half mile or more, has excavated a spectacular gorge known as Zion Canyon. Sandstones and shales of many hues form the slopes and low cliffs of the base, on which rests the massive Navajo sandstone forming vertical cliffs. The vertical walls have been cut into many majestic and fantastically modeled masses.

The gorge has been known to the Mormons since the late fifties, and was first explored in 1858. The early pioneers, being deeply religious, named it Little Zion Canyon. In 1872 it was explored and described by members of the Powell survey. In 1909 the area was reserved for scientific reasons as the Mukuntuweap National Monument. It was not until 1916 that its great scenic beauty became known outside the immediate locality. In 1918 the monument was enlarged and the name changed to Zion. Finally, on November 19, 1919, it was created the Zion National Park by act of Congress.

The valley of Zion Canyon has about the same dimensions as the famous Yosemite Valley. Extraordinary as are the sandstone forms, the color is what most amazes. The base slopes and cliffs are a deep red; the lower two-thirds of the Navajo sandstone cliffs are rich reds and browns, and the upper one-third is white, tinted with buffs, grays, and reds. Sometimes the white is surmounted by a cap of vivid red, remains of another red stratum which once overlay all. These colors change remarkably under changing light conditions of clouds or of shadows cast by the cliffs. The colors are deepest and most glowing when illuminated by brilliant sunlight reflected from opposite cliffs.

Moonlight effects in the canyon are among the most remarkable to be found anywhere in the world.

Zion National Park is reached by an automobile ride of 62 miles from the railroad through a vividly colored sandstone country. Motorists driving their own cars can visit the park by a side trip of 28 miles from the Arrowhead Trail (U. S. 91), or 25 miles from Mount Carmel Junction on U. S. 89, over excellent highways. The entrance is between two gigantic stone masses of complicated architectural proportions which are appropriately named the East and West Temples.

The West Temple is the greatest of the mountains forming the walls of Zion Canyon, and is also one of the great monoliths of the world. From a stairway of many colors it springs abruptly 2,500 feet. Its lower two-thirds is red, surmounted by white. The East Temple, which rises directly opposite, stands as a sky line sentinel on the east side of the gorge.

Passing the gates the traveler stands in a canyon of nearly perpendicular sides more than half a mile deep, half a mile wide at the bottom, a mile wide from crest to crest, whose walls glow with color. On the west the Streaked Wall, carved from the White Cliff, is wonderfully eroded. Opposite is the Brown Wall, rich of hue, supporting three stupendous structures of gorgeous color, the Twin Brothers and Mountains of the Sun. Opposite these rise on the west the Three Patriarchs, Yosemitelike in form, height, and bulk but not in personality or color.

A mile beyond stands the Great White Throne, the most remarkable monolith of the region. This mighty rock is a colossal truncated dome, mostly white or gray in color, with streaks of red throughout. The white crown is heavily marked in two directions, suggesting the web and woof of drapery. Directly opposite, a lesser monolith, nevertheless gigantic, is called Angels Landing.

North of the Great White Throne the chiseling stream makes a great swing, past a projecting rock formation on the left known as the Great Organ. Farther on, the mystic temple of Sinawava is entered. This is a great natural amphitheater, encircled with walls that appear to close behind as one enters. The floor is lined with deciduous trees accompanied by a remarkable assortment of other vegetation. In the center of the circle stand two large stone pillars. The larger is the altar, the smaller one the pulpit. The south side of the altar bears the profile view of a great stone face known as the Guardian of the Temple, and is chiefly remarkable for the change of expression which takes place as one enters the sacred confines which he guards.

Zion National Park
The Three Patriarchs—Zion National Park


The Zion-Mount Carmel Highway is famous for two reasons—it was built inside a solid cliff when there seemed no practicable way of getting around the great canyon walls and, from six galleries broken out through the face of the cliff in its tunnel of more than a mile in length, it affords amazingly beautiful views of southern Utah. So precipitous are the cliffs through which the tunnel runs that the galleries had to be excavated first and the tunnels completed between these points. Nearly half of the 24-mile-long highway is within the park. The Zion-Mount Carmel Highway was the first road in a national park to involve tunnel construction.


Cliff dwellings have been discovered in Zion Park and its vicinity, proving that long before Little Zion gave sanctuary to the Mormons it was the home of a prehistoric people. It is believed that these ancients farmed down near the creek while living up in the face of the cliffs at places that would be almost inaccessible to hostile tribes unfamiliar with the region. Many interesting relics have been found in these ruins.


As though it were not enough to have been a place of refuge in prehistoric and modern times, and now a thing of beauty that gladdens and thrills and inspires all who see it, this area is also a workshop of nature where new wonders are being formed, for here are natural bridges in the making. The most interesting of these is the Great Arch of Zion, located in Pine Creek Canyon, which is 720 feet long, 580 feet high, and is cut back into the supporting cliff a distance of 90 feet.


Last Modified: Fri, Sep 1 2000 07:08:48 pm PDT

National Park Service's ParkNet Home