Zion Canyon is full of amazing wildlife, history, and geology. As you ride the shuttle up Zion Canyon, the shuttle narration tells you about some of these wonders. However, when the shuttles are not in operation, you can still follow along! In this first "pilot" episode of Canyon Conversations, we have taken the narration found on the Zion Canyon shuttles and made it accessible for anyone who would like to listen. You'll hear from park biologists, rock climbers, and artists, as well as moments of silence so you can appreciate the incredible beauty of Zion National Park.
Zion Canyon Visitor Center to Zion Human History Museum
Welcome to Zion National Park, one of the greatest geologic wonders in the world. Zion National Park is a place of outstanding scenery, a sanctuary for wildlife, an oasis in the desert, and a homeland for generations of native people and pioneers. Zion National Park is a place for you and future generations to make lasting memories.
Here’s what you need to know about the shuttle bus system. You can get on or off at each of the eight stops between the Zion Canyon Visitor Center and the Temple of Sinawava. The shuttle bus schedule is posted at every shuttle stop. You’ll never wait longer than 15 minutes. It takes about 40 minutes to ride from the visitor center to the last stop at the end of Zion Canyon.
Your safety is important to us, so keep your arms, head, camera, phone, and walking stick inside the shuttle bus at all times. It is okay to drink water on the bus, but please do not eat or smoke. If you want to take your bicycle into the canyon, put it on the rack in the front of the bus. Each shuttle bus can carry three bikes. Please stop and wait for shuttle buses to pass if you are riding your bike in the canyon.
Whether you’re here for a few hours or several days, refer to the park newspaper to make the most of your visit. It has useful information for planning your trip, including a park map, shuttle bus schedule, and descriptions of hiking trails, points of interest, ranger programs, and youth programs. To enjoy Zion and help us care for your national park, please stay on the trails and don’t feed the wildlife. Be careful, drink plenty of water, and remember that your safety is your responsibility. Enjoy your time here in this very special national park!
::Silence for 1:00::
The next stop is the Zion Human History Museum. This is where you can watch the park’s 22-minute Orientation Film. Ranger talks occur regularly on the shaded patio. Check the park newspaper or visitor center for the ranger program schedule.
Look behind the museum as the shuttle bus turns into the parking lot for one of the most dramatic views in the park: the Towers of the Virgin. The tallest peak in the group is called the West Temple. It stands at 7,810 feet, nearly 4,000 feet above us.
Zion Human History Museum to Canyon Junction
In Paiute: Hello. My name is Benn Pikyavit and I’m a member of the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians.
There are many places in Zion with Paiute names. We call this canyon Mukuntuweap, meaning “straight up land.” Zion is part of a larger area known as our traditional homeland. This area includes parts of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. Our creators placed us here to care for and protect this land, especially places where water, medicinal plants, animals, and minerals are found. There are songs and stories here that remind us of who we are and where we come from. Listen for them as you hike the trails or walk along the river. Perhaps they are there in the sound of the wind or the rush of the water.
Zion remains a place of importance to Southern Paiute people today as much as it did historically. Our elders play an important part in passing on our traditional knowledge. They teach our children about our culture, our songs and stories, our religion and practices. We are taught that everything has a purpose, including water, rocks, plants, and animals, and that we have a responsibility to care for the land.
For centuries humans have come to, lived in, and found sanctuary in Zion Canyon. We hope you find the same sense of awe and wonder in Mukuntuweap that they found. Treat this place with respect by staying on trails, packing out your trash, and leaving it as you found it.
::Silence for 1:10::
This is Canyon Junction. You can get off here and walk back to the Zion Human History Museum, the campgrounds, or the visitor center along the Pa’rus Trail. Pa’rus is Paiute for “bubbling water.” The Pa’rus Trail follows the Virgin River and has some of the best views of the Watchman. The trail begins across the road just under the bridge. It is accessible for wheelchairs, pets on leashes, and bicycles. The next stop is the Court of the Patriarchs.
Canyon Junction to Court of the Patriarchs
::Silence for 1:45::
Hello, my name is Bryanna Plog. I’m an interpretive ranger here. I’m going to tell you a little bit about how Zion Canyon was created, but first look to your left to see the peak with a bit of red at its top called The Sentinel. To your right, another peak with a reddish top is the East Temple. Zion’s amazing colors come from different minerals in the rocks, especially iron, which makes the rocks look red.
This canyon was created by erosion; its formation has taken a few million years. Canyon cutting is still happening today. For example, across the river is the Sentinel Slide, an active landslide where tons of rock and sediment have fallen and slid again and again over centuries. The massive slides can block the river and force it to find a new course. This happened as recently as 1995 and several hundred people were stranded at the Zion Lodge a few extra nights because the river moved to this side and collapsed the road. Another road collapse occurred in 1998, and there was a close call in 2010 when heavy rain increased the water in the Virgin River by more than 20 times and created a flash flood that
undercut the road. The Virgin River may not appear impressive when compared to some of America’s largest rivers, like the Columbia, the Potomac, or the Mississippi, but think about this: Over centuries the Virgin River sliced through seven layers of sedimentary rock, including 2,000 feet of solid sandstone, to create this canyon. The Virgin River is still working hard in Zion Canyon. It carries away an average of one million tons of sediment a year—mostly during flash floods that are so powerful they move boulders and rip tall trees from the riverbank. Look along the riverbank for signs of flash floods: trees bent and pointing downstream, and grasses and reeds wrapped around tree trunks and rocks. Keep an eye on the weather and make sure that you are not in the river when there is a possibility of a flash food. Flash floods can kill; don’t let it happen to you.
::Silence for 1:00::
This is the Court of the Patriarchs. Depart the bus here for a trail to a scenic viewpoint. It is paved and about 150 feet long. It starts on the right side. Be sure to take your camera and other belongings. The next stop is Zion Lodge.
Court of the Patriarchs to Zion Lodge
::Silence for 0:10::
I’m Michael Plyler, a photographer and director of the Zion Canyon Field Institute. If you’re like me, you’ve been taking a lot of photographs. The scenery here has inspired millions of people. There’s a great example of this out the windows on the left. Look for the three high peaks in the white and pink sandstone. A Methodist minister and two local boys named these peaks the Court of the Patriarchs, after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob from the Old Testament of the Bible.
In 1903, before the world knew much about Zion Canyon, an American artist and writer named Frederick Dellenbaugh spent the summer here. He showed his paintings a year later at the St. Louis World’s Fair, and people didn’t believe that the steep canyons and colorful rock could possibly be real. That same year, he wrote these words in a national magazine:
“The spectator is instantly enveloped in the maze of cliffs and color, a double line of majestic sculptures—domes, pyramids, pinnacles, temples, sweeping away to the north, dazzling with vermillion, orange, pink, and white…”
Dellenbaugh’s words and paintings made Americans aware of this place. A few years later, in 1909, Mukuntuweap National Monument was created here. In 1918, the name was changed to Zion National Monument before it was re-designated a national park in 1919. Artists help preserve places like Zion. Our words and images tell the world why landscapes like these must be enjoyed, but also why they must be protected.
::Silence for 1:25::
The next stop is Zion Lodge, where food, restrooms, and a gift shop are available. Depart the bus here for the Lower Emerald Pools Trail and Canyon Trail Rides. As you exit the shuttle bus, turn right and follow the sidewalk past the shuttle stops and along the edge of the lawn to the crosswalk. Cross the road, and then go left for the horse corral or over the bridge for the Lower Emerald Pools Trail.
It’s one mile round trip to the small waterfall at Lower Emerald Pool, with 80 feet of elevation gain. It is a moderate three-mile round trip hike to the Upper Emerald Pool, with 360 feet of elevation gain. The pools are fragile and an essential water source for wildlife. Do not go into the water. Do your part to protect Zion National Park.
Zion Lodge to The Grotto
I’m Cassie Waters, a wildlife biologist for the park. Keep your eyes and ears open, and you may notice wildlife like a mule deer foraging in the meadows along the canyon floor, wild turkeys roaming around Zion Lodge, or a gray fox dashing into bushes in The Grotto. Look in the sky for owls, eagles, hawks, and ravens. Zion is home to hundreds of species of wildlife and provides protected habitat for them. Other animals you may see are rock squirrels, chipmunks, and bighorn sheep. Remember, never feed wildlife, keep a safe distance away from them, and only look or take pictures. Check the park newspaper for youth and ranger programs about wildlife.
Zion is also home to many plants adapted to hot and dry, or cool and wet environments. Back at the visitor center, you likely saw cacti because it’s hot and sunny there. Along the Virgin River in this section of the park, you’ll see cottonwoods and box elder trees because they grow close to water. And in even wetter places in the park, like near waterfalls and springs, you may see water-loving plants such as watercress and maidenhair ferns. These types of plants need a very moist environment and lots of shade. Each plant is adapted to its neighborhood and how much water it finds there. Even the plants in Zion tell the story of water.
::Silence for 0:16::
The next stop is The Grotto. Depart the bus here for the trail to Angels Landing, which starts across the road. The trail is 5.4 miles round trip and is rated strenuous. It is steep and narrow, with 1,000-foot drop-offs on both sides at the top. Use caution: people have died falling from the cliffs along this route. Small children and people with balance, pulmonary, or cardiac problems may have difficulty on this hike. Use the bathroom here before hiking.
The Kayenta Trail also starts across the road. It goes back toward the Emerald Pools. It is two miles round trip and is rated moderate. From this stop, you can also walk back to Zion Lodge along The Grotto Trail, which starts behind the restrooms. The trail is one-half mile one way and is rated easy. The next stop is Weeping Rock.
The Grotto to Weeping Rock
Hi, I’m Jin Prugsawan, a park ranger/interpreter here at Zion National Park. One of the most popular hikes, and one that I am frequently asked about, is Angels Landing. It’s across the river just ahead, out the windows on the left. The trail to Angels Landing cuts back and forth along the canyon wall. You might be able to spot hikers over there on their way up to Walter’s Wiggles, which are a series of 21 steep switchbacks. Walter Ruesch, the first park manager at Zion, designed the Wiggles as part of the Angels Landing trail. He wanted to allow visitors to reach the viewpoint overlooking the canyon, which someone once said was so high only angels could land there. This amazing trail is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Just one more reason Zion is an important place to care for and protect.
::Silence for 1:40::
We’re getting close to Weeping Rock. What makes rocks weep in Zion? This is a desert after all. But high on the plateaus, rain and melting snow seep into the Navajo sandstone and slowly filter down until the water reaches a less permeable layer it can’t move through. The water is forced laterally out of the rock, creating a spring. Springs at Weeping Rock constantly drip water that nourishes delicate ferns and flowers hanging on the rocks. There are also hanging gardens at the Emerald Pools and along the Riverside Walk. These green gardens add to the uniqueness of Zion and make you forget for a moment that we are in a desert.
Depart the bus here to take a walk to Weeping Rock. The trail is a little steep, but only one-half mile round trip. There are also longer, steeper, and more strenuous hikes from here to Hidden Canyon and Observation Point. More information about these hikes is in the park newspaper.
Weeping Rock to Big Bend
I’m Seth Walker and I’m a rock climber. If you look up on the canyon walls, you might see me and other rock climbers appearing to defy gravity. We’re sometimes hard to see since we’re so small on these big sandstone walls. But look carefully and you might spot us in a big crack moving up to the rim of the canyon.
Zion has some of the most prized climbing terrain in the world. These “big wall” climbs, as they’re known, are not for beginners. We use ropes, harnesses, and other special gear to get up the walls. The challenge and the scenery are great rewards and keep us coming back.
Climbers are not the only creatures that like these canyon walls. If you’re really lucky, you could see a peregrine falcon flying near the canyon rim. Falcons prefer to nest in cliffs, so the National Park Service closes some rock climbing routes in the spring when peregrines nest. These falcons were almost extinct at one time, but now they have recovered in places like Zion, where they are protected.
The canyon walls are also the kind of habitat favored by the endangered California condor. Condors take advantage of thermals (rising columns of air) to help them reach soaring heights. In 1982, there were only 22 California condors in the world, but a rescue effort saved them from extinction. Now there are about 400 in the world and about 70 wild ones living in Arizona and Utah.
::Silence for 0:25::
This is Big Bend. This is a good place to enjoy views of the Great White Throne and Angels Landing. The next and last stop is the Temple of Sinawava.
Big Bend to the Temple of Sinawava
::Silence for 2:06::
The Temple of Sinawava is the name for the wide, natural amphitheater created by the river. The name comes from the Southern Paiutes, who call their twin creator gods Tabuts and Sinawava.
The Riverside Walk starts here and follows the river. The trail is two miles round trip and takes about one hour. It is rated easy and is mostly paved. It is accessible—with some assistance—for wheelchairs. The Riverside Walk takes you to the beginning of the most famous feature of Zion—The Narrows. Explore the river, see a hanging garden, look closely at sandstone, and enjoy the birds and wildlife while you are here.
You can walk up The Narrows a little way, or for miles. Go around one bend to understand what it’s like and take some photos. Or, hike farther and experience an adventure. If you go into The Narrows, take water, food, and a jacket. There is no trail; you will always be hiking in the water. Wear closed-toe shoes that can get wet. The water is not warm and there’s not much sun so it can be a cold hike, even in summer.
Check the weather and the possibility of a flash flood before you go. Rain and thunderstorms up-stream can create flash floods, even when there are blue skies overhead. Be very careful and remember that you must take responsibility for your own safe-ty in The Narrows. More information about hiking The Narrows is in the park newspaper.
Restrooms and water are available here. Remember to stay on the trail, drink plenty of water, and don’t feed the wildlife. Check the shuttle schedule at this stop or in the park newspaper for the time of the last evening shuttle if you plan to spend the rest of the day here.
This is the Temple of Sinawava. Shuttle buses leave every few minutes. It takes about 40 minutes to get back to the visitor center.