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Zion’s National Park

From his rock bed the lost conquistador
Rises to rub sand from his sun-struck eyes
And sees, rising above the desert floor,
Familiar landmarks under the strange skies.
Awake in the lost homeland of his sleep,
Traveler returned, no longer vagabond,
He treads a red world, sights a castle keep,
Walled cities, men, but always just beyond.

Boots tattered, cape flapping, his back cold
He halts. Tears or late shadows turn him blind.
In this one day’s long march he has grown old,
Squandered his light in wandering to find
Figures are faceless, cities solid stone.
The night takes him as the day did. Alone.

Luise Putcamp jr., ca. 1982

Zion National Monument
United States Railroad Administration
Chicago: Rathbun-Grant-Heller Co., 1919
F832 Z8 U54 1919

On November 20, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson and the United States Congress re-designated Zion National Monument as Zion National Park and, in celebration of its 100-year anniversary, we bring to you Zion National Monument, This pamphlet, written especially for the United States Railroad Administration, includes an essay by Jack Lait, who marvels at the sights and history of the unique landscape we now call Zion National Park. 

The earliest recorded human presence in the area is said to date back to 8,000 years ago. During this time, small family groups moved through the region camping, hunting, and collecting plants and seeds. Over the course of 6,000 years, agricultural communities began to settle into the valley, where they grew crops and eventually began living in permanent villages. Indigenous tribes, such as the Anasazi, Parowan Fremont, and Southern Paiute and Ute, migrated up and down the Virgin River valleys, leaving traces of their experience which can still be found today. 

European exploration of the valley began in the late 18th century,  with Franciscan missionaries Silvestre Vélez de Escalante and Francisco Atanasio Domínguez. By 1847, Mormon farmers from the Salt Lake area became the first people of European descent to permanently settle in the Virgin River region. The settlers named the area Kolob which, in Mormon scripture, was known as the heavenly place nearest the residence of God. The floor of the canyon was settled by Isaac Behunin and his family in 1863. There, along with other families, they farmed corn, tobacco, and fruit trees. Behunin is credited with naming the canyon “Zion” — in reference to the place of peace mentioned in the Bible. In addition to wild game, native plants and seeds, the surrounding canyons were also used for timber, livestock grazing, mining and irrigation. But most of all, the canyon became well-known for its inspiring beauty.

After the Powell Geographic Expedition of 1869, led by John Wesley Powell, the secluded area of southern Utah gained national recognition. Powell gave the region yet another name: Mukuntuweap, a word he believed was used by the Paiutes. Powell’s survey photographer, John K. Hillers, presented to the public series of photographs highlighting the Virgin River, and  by the turn of the century, paintings of the canyon by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh were exhibited at the Saint Louis World’s Fair. The following year, Scribner’s Magazine featured an article which presented a majestic account of the region, adding to the photographs and paintings which inspired President William Taft to designate the area as Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909.

Due to its remote location and lack of roads, travel to the area was rare. However, increased interest in the canyon created the need to upgrade old wagon roads, and by 1910, automobile roads provided new access to self-proclaimed explorers near and far. In the summer of 1917, touring cars led visitors straight into the Grotto, stopping short of the present road which ends at the Temple of Sinawava. With its popularity growing, Horace Albright, the acting director of the newly created National Park Service, submitted a proposal to expand the monument and change the name to Zion National Monument, as this was the popular local term and the one most commonly used by the Mormon settlers. 

Zion National Park, along with Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef — Utah’s Big Five — has increased in popularity over the last hundred years. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Zion National Park set visitor records this last summer, averaging more than half-million visitors per month. 

“… This didn’t faintly prepare me for the reality…”
— Horace Albright

Contributed by Lyuba Basin, Rare Books Curator

1 Comment
  • Lauraine Stephen
    Posted at 23:54h, 02 December Reply

    “Open your eyes and behold creation. And you shall need the tongues of angels to tell the wonders that you have seen.”

    Origin unknown to me.

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