Zion National Park Turns 100

November 19, 2019

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Photographer: Ray Boren 
Summary Author: Ray Boren 

As has happened repeatedly throughout a lifetime, I decided recently to make an autumn dash to southwestern Utah’s Zion National Park, a mere 300 or so miles (480 km) from my home. In fall, the desert heat of summer gives way to pleasant, cooler temperatures, and the changing colors of leaves on riparian trees nicely complement the park’s scenic and geologic wonders. Only belatedly, during a stop at the visitor center, did I realize that Zion is celebrating the 100th anniversary of its designation — on November. 19, 1919 — as a national park.

The photo here, taken on November 4, 2019, illustrates fall’s flamboyance in the heart of the 229-square-mile (590-square-km) park’s centerpiece, Zion Canyon. The scene presents what I sometimes describe to friends as a stained-glass effect among the maples, oaks and other deciduous trees along the Riverwalk trail leading to the park’s Virgin River Narrows. The southern-trending Sun is back-lighting the autumn leaves, revealing other pigments as they cease producing green chlorophyll. The park’s towering red and off-white sandstone cliffs — lithified evidence of Mesozoic Era sediments and sand dunes — rise in the background.

Parts of today’s Zion first received federal protection in 1909, when President William Howard Taft designated Mukuntuweap National Monument. He set aside awe-inspiring sandstone canyons and monoliths, with names like the Great White Throne, Angels Landing and the Patriarchs, via the then-new Antiquities Act of 1906. (That centennial was celebrated, as well, in 2009.) Almost a decade later, in 1918, the Paiute-based name of Mukuntuweap (meaning straight canyon) gave way to Zion, as the area was called by some pioneer settlers and visitors. The next year, the U.S. Congress and President Woodrow Wilson approved its expansion and designation as Zion National Park.