Zion Canyon

Updated September, 2000

We made two trips to Zion National Park from our campground in Kanab. The first trip was to give Deb a chance to see what we would be photographing when we did the full day trip. It was cloudy that day. The second trip was in bright sunlight.

We stopped just inside the entrance Zion formationswhere we took upclose pictures of some the sandstone and flowers. The formations were all very interesting, with layered sandstone remains of sand dunes all over the place.

This cactus was blooming in one of the arroyos. cactus flowerIt seemed quite happy. There were several beds of cactuses scattered around the area, where ever the sand would collect and form a mound. The rest of the surface was hard sandstone and nothing grew there.

The sand varied from red to pink, just as the rock formations did in the surrounding hills. It yielded quite a variety in color.

white flowerIn the same area were these white flowers. I am not sure what they are but they were pretty and added to the beauty of the surroundings.

One of the first stops on the second trip was at Checkerboard Mesa. Checkerboard MesaFossilized sand dunes and present day erosion produced this strange configuration of cross hatching on the surface of the rock. Deb went off to take some photos and it was almost an hour before she came back. We were getting worried but she was happy with her hike. She got some great shots of the checkerboard surface.

After exploring the Checkerboard region quite thoroughly, we headed on into the park. We came in from the east and there is tunnel that is almost a mile long cut through one of the sandstone mountains. Any vehicle higher than 11 feet 4 inches or wider than 7 feet 10 inches requires the entire tunnel and must have an escort through the tunnel. It costs $10 for a two way ticket. Any vehicle over 13 feet 1 inch or 50,000 pounds can't make it through the tunnel.

We had to wait about 10 minutes at the east side of the tunnel for a large RV to make it through.

Zion from aboveAs you come out of the tunnel there is a great opening view of the canyon. You are still a couple of thousand feet above the canyon floor, so you are looking at the monoliths more head on. When you get to the bottom you are looking up at them.

The Great Arch is just north of the tunnel. Great ArchYou have to go around a couple of switchbacks before you get a chance to see it. There is an overlook trail from the east side of the tunnel, but you cannot see the arch, you are standing on top of it.

yucca in ZionWe found more flowers alongside the switchback, like this yucca. As it turned out, we took more pictures of flowers than we did of the rock walls. At least they were small enough to get them in the view finder.

And there were yellow flowers. yellow flower in ZionI'm not sure what this is, but it was pretty. This too was up around the switchbacks.

Zion is located along the edge of the Colorado Plateau. The rock layers have been uplifted, tilted, and eroded, forming what is called the Grand Staircase. It runs from around Bryce Canyon south towards the Grand Canyon. Bryce Canyon is part of the Pink Cliffs, Zion is part of the White Cliffs. The bottom layer of rock at Zion corresponds to the top layer of rock at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

Zion wallsIn the major canyon of Zion National Park you drive at the bottom of the canyon on the Kayenta Formation. You look up at towering monoliths of red Navajo Formation sandstone. These steep cliffs range from 1,600 to 2,200 feet in height, and in places they are almost vertical. On top of the Navajo is the white Temple Cap Formation that forms the crowns of some of the more magnificant peaks surrounding the valley.

Down the main valley runs the North Fork of the Virgin River. It is a pleasant stream so long as there is not some thunderstorm dumping rain in the headwaters. Then it can become a raging torrent.

The upper part of the park is closed to private cars without permits. We parked at the Visitor Center and took the shuttle. Weeping RockThis was fine with us. It kept cars off the roads and gave everyone in our party a chance to see the sights.

Our first stop was Weeping Rock. We got off the shuttle, knowing another would come along to take us further up the canyon when we needed it.

Weeping Rock is an arch with a spring above it and in it coming out of the side of the sandstone moutain. In fact, it is the spring that has formed the arch. You climb up the path about 200 feet to reach the arch itself. You can walk around inside and enjoy the cool breezes flowing through the dripping waters.

dragon fly at Weeping RockThe damp rocks provided habitat for many things, including dragon flies. This one was nice enough to pose for me and I got several good shots.

The spring also supports a profusion of flowers. ColumbineThis yellow columbine was in evidence all round. We found other columbines later in different places. They are definitely native to the area.

After climbing over the trail, we headed back down to the shuttle stop for the next bus. The weather was warm and we were glad to have our water bottles along. There are few facilities along the way along the Zion road.

Back on the bus we enjoyed the ride along the Virgin River.

rock climbersThere were several rock climbing crews out. People with permits are allowed to climb the walls in certain places. There are several designated routes. The climbers who were not so high could be seen hanging on the side of the canyon walls. Others were very high and hard to see.

The Peregrine Falcon is making a comeback in the park, and some of the climbing routes are closed during nesting season. The concern is not for the falcon but for the climbers. The birds get testy when they have young and have no qualms about attacking the climbers.

Once in a while on the shuttle bus Zion cliffswe got a good view of some features of the canyon. Here you can see the red of the Navajo formation and the white of the Temple Cap formation.

Virgin RiverBeside the road was the Virgin River. It runs mostly clear and there are some fish in it. Once it leaves the National Park it becomes the water source for Hurricane and other towns downstream.


At the end of the road is the trailhead for a trail. that goesZion trail up about 1.5 miles along the river up to the narrows. At various places the trail had to find the best way around or through the blockages. At least this spot would be out of the rain if it were falling.

more columbinesAlong the way were many flowers. Deb and I stopped and stopped to take pictures. It was nice to have the flowers at eye level so we did not have to get down on the ground to get our photo shots.

We were both incensed when a woman came along and picked a beautiful wild orchad we had just photographed. Some people just don't understand how to leave nature alone and let everyone enjoy it. Looking back, I am sorry one or the other of us didn't have the guts to say something to the woman. Maybe it would have made a difference in the future.

There are places where near top of river trailthe river shows signs of some major flooding. The rocks are piled around and there is driftwood scattered about. At one site there was a placque that talked about a rock fall that had recently happened. A huge slab fell off the side of the cliffs into the river. Nothing fell while we were there.

narrowsFinally we reached to narrows at the end of the trail. We were so deep in the canyon and the canyon was so narrow it was much darker than the surrounding mountains.

We all walked around in the water, but there were many more people who were walking on up the river. The trail continues, but much of it requires walking through water. It was mostly ankle deep at the time we were there, but we didn't want to get our feet wet.

We did collect proof that we made it. Sam and Alice at end of trailYou can see the river in the background with some of the river hikers heading out.

It had been a long day, and the temperature in the sun was up in the 90s. We sat in the shade for quite a while before we headed back. It was just peaceful.

and more columbinesComing back we saw flowers we had missed. I was especially taken with this columbine with the pink outer petals. It was very delicate.

You might have noticed there have been few pictures of the sides of Zion. I found I was just too close to the mountains to get a good shot of them. That is the way it is some of the time. But if you get a chance to go visit this canyon, do it. It is a beautiful place in which to walk and linger.