A Photo Journey Through Zion National Park
We have many attractions we’ve visited largely in need of a “do-over” due to lack of time or weather. In honor of National Parks Week here in the US, this is our re-visit to Zion National Park in Utah. Our trip last month was a stark contrast to our visit a few years ago when it was covered with snow and we practically had the park to ourselves. Zion is popular among hikers and outdoor enthusiasts and a natural spectacle of canyons and cliffs.
It was designated as a National Park in 1919. Zion is Utah’s oldest and most visited park.The Mormon pioneers who settled in the area in the late 1800s called the canyon “Zion” which was a Hebrew word for refuge or sanctuary. We entered the park this time through the East Gate along Mt. Carmel Highway after our trip from Lake Powell and the Lower Antelope Canyon in Arizona. Our last trip was through the South Gate and the town of Springdale. The reddish-brown paved road was a welcome sight. It almost seemed natural and blended in nicely with the surrounding red rocks.
Zion is famous for its colossal canyon walls and monoliths. Unlike many of the Southwest National Parks, Zion is viewed best from below and not on viewpoints looking down. It’s a different perspective but just as spectacular. Driving here made us feel infinitely small. We were immediately greeted with orange, red and beige cliffs and rocks.
It took a million years of flowing water to carve through the Navajo sandstone to form Zion’s huge cliff walls. The varying layers of sandstone showed how forces of nature carved and molded these formations into these extraordinary rock formations.
This was one of the most scenic highways we’ve ever driven. The towering cliffs and red canyons were enough to make us drive slowly and stop at almost every turnout along the road to admire what Mother Nature has created.
Another contrast during our visits was the crowd. It was the last day visitors could take private vehicles into the park. April 1 was the start of the shuttle system that transports visitors throughout the park’s main road. We also didn’t realize that most of the nearby cities’ Spring Break coincided with our kids’ school break. People were everywhere on a Monday afternoon. Can you see some in this picture?
It was hard not to miss one of the park’s landmarks known as Checkerboard Mesa. This 900 feet cone-shaped mountain’s façade looked like the criss-cross patterns of a checkerboard. It made for an interesting stop and added diversity to the landscape.
Nearby was Crazy Quilt Mesa which also had the criss-cross patterns on its surface. We didn’t see these types of formations anywhere else in the park. Wind, weather and pressure contributed to the unusual patterns and cracks to these mesas.
One of the highlights for my kids has always been going through the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel. This 1.1 mile tunnel was completed in 1930. Its main purpose was to provide an easier way to access neighboring Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon National Park.
It was an incredible achievement and an engineering marvel on how they were able to cut and blast this tunnel through the 2,000 foot thick Navajo sandstone. Cars cannot stop inside the tunnel but we’ve always driven slow enough to look out into the tunnels’ “windows”. These openings gave the tunnel some light and glimpses of the rock formations and were such wonderful bonuses.
This stunning view of the heart of Zion greeted us when we emerged from the tunnel. The majestic peaks certainly knew how to command visitors’ attention.
The road down to Zion Canyon from the tunnel was curvy with a lot of switchbacks and blind spots. It helps to drive slowly with an added benefit of enjoying the panoramic views. Each turn produced one dramatic view after another.
This was how one of the tunnel windows looked from below. Pretty amazing, isn’t it?
The Zion Canyon scenic drive winds through canyon and cliff walls alongside the Virgin River on some areas. This was one of the rock formation groupings known as Court of the Patriarchs, aptly named Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The six mile scenic drive ended at the natural amphitheater known as the Temple of Sinawava. Sinawava was the coyote god and spirit of the Paiute Indians. This was probably the most crowded area of the park with the small parking lot surrounded by huge sandstone walls. It was also the entrance to the Riverside Walk which is the park’s most popular trail.
The Altar and the Pulpit were two rock formations by the river that stood out within the temple. I imagine their shapes have changed over the years. It is one of the most photographed landmarks of the park.
I actually like our winter picture of the Altar and the Pulpit more with the contrasting red rocks against the blanket of snow. Or maybe it was because we got to enjoy the serenity of this area more during our winter visit.
We were disappointed that we couldn’t do any of the hikes since we hard a time finding parking at most of the trails. There were so many people going into the trails we decided not to join the masses and go back here during Fall instead. This just reinforced my desire and recommendation to visit the parks during the off-season.
Zion National Park is one of America’s gems. It’s no wonder that visitors repeatedly visit this park and made it one of the most popular in the park system. It’s hard not to enjoy and be amazed at the soaring sandstone cliffs and red canyons. Despite two visits, there’s so much to Zion we stll haven’t seen hidden in its hiking trails and canyons. I guess this looks like another “do-over” attraction to add to that list.
Visiting Zion National Park Basics and Tips
- Park Admission: $25 per car for 7 days; It’s also covered by the America the Beautiful Pass and Lifetime passes. Free admission during Fee Free Days.
- The 6-mile Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is only accessible via a free shuttle system from April through October. Check the website for the shuttle system schedule.
- Bring binoculars. You never know what you may spot on those cliff walls.
- Food and lodging services are available at the Zion Lodge (open year-round) which is on the halfway point of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive. The town of Springdale is outside with many lodging and restaurant options.
Have you explored Zion National Park?
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