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7 Surprising Animals You May Not Expect to See in Zion

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

Zion National Park has something for just about everyone. And I’m not just talking about humans.

From its arid desert to its lushly vegetated forests, Zion boasts an eclectic mix of animals. There are four different life zones within the park (coniferous forest, woodland, riparian and desert), and each zone contains its own microclimates and habitats for a broad range of animals.

To give you an understanding of what types of animals live in the park, let’s take a look at some of Zion’s full-time residents.

bighorn sheep

Big Horn Sheep

As you look at the side of a dry, rocky cliff, you might notice something moving. Don’t change your contact lenses – you’re looking at a small herd of big horn sheep. Big horn sheep have the ability to navigate seemingly impossible terrain, and they can go for days without water. They are most common on the rocky slopes of the east side of the park (by Zion Ponderosa).

Mexican spotted owl

Mexican spotted owls

All animals in Zion are protected by its National Park status, but the Mexican spotted owl is of special note. Zion offers the perfect habitat for the Mexican spotted owl, a species classified as threatened on the federal level. These nocturnal birds  are “perch and pounce” predators, typically locating their prey from an elevated perch by sight or sound, then pouncing on the prey and capturing it with their talons.

wild turkey

Wild turkeys

Wild turkeys are quite common in the park. There are many of them in Zion Canyon and you don’t have to go too far from the road to spot one of them roaming a grassland area.

bald eagle

Bald eagles

During the winter, bald eagles come to Zion to rest. And I don’t blame them. I think I’d be pretty tired too after flying all the way from Alaska or Canada to Southern Utah, and Zion would be the perfect place to take a break.

desert tortoise

Desert tortoise

If you’re lucky, you may come across a desert tortoise. These rare reptiles are federally protected,and their population is being monitored by park rangers. Although they can live up to 100 years of age, very few of them make it that far because young, slow-moving tortoises are easy prey for ravens, gila monsters and coyotes.

bever

Photograph by Makedocreative, licensed under CC-ASA 3.0

Beaver

Beavers make their homes along the Virgin River, where they chew on cottonwood trees and build dams.To escape the heat, though, they like to do most of their work during the night, so you may see the remnants of their hard work while they are getting their rest.

gila monster

Photograph by H. Zell, licensed under CC-ASA 3.0

Gila monster

There are 16 species of lizards in Zion. The only one that can potentially harm humans is the gila monster, the only venomous lizard in North America. Although they pack a painful (but not fatal) bite, their sluggish nature keeps them from being too much of a concern.

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These are just a few of the animals that flourish in Zion National Park. More than 78 species of mammals, 291 species of birds, 44 species of reptiles and amphibians, and 8 species of fish coexist within the park. Remember that if you’re lucky enough to see one of these creatures in real life to keep your distance and don’t feed or touch them.

 

Rain in Zion – Consider yourself lucky!

Monday, November 25th, 2013
A waterfall cascades off a very large cliff formation in Zion National Park

A waterfall cascades off a very large cliff formation in Zion National Park

For some people rain is not desirable, but if you are in Zion National Park when it rains, consider yourself blessed. The formations of Zion National Park are part of a huge plateau that has been eroded and carved by the constant flow of water.

A waterfall courses over the rough surfaces of a sandstone formation in Zion National Park.

A waterfall courses over the rough surfaces of a sandstone formation in Zion National Park.

The tops of most formations are very flat and as rain water gathers on the plateau it quickly accumulates and then forces its way over the edge of the plateau often cascading in dramatic fashion down cliff faces, some of which are one to two thousand feet high.

Water shapes the formations in Zion National Park.

Water shapes the formations in Zion National Park.

During light rain their are many areas that just off the road where one can view or even experience the light water flows. However, be mindful not to enter a slot canyon or venture near a high water flow as these areas can be dangerous.

Small waterfalls stair-step their way down across formations in Zion National Park

Small waterfalls stair-step their way down across formations in Zion National Park

To photograph or shoot video during the rain, you simply need to cover your camera with some plastic or other water resistant material. Remember to bring a soft cloth to wipe the rain drops that may spot your lens from time to time.

View this video of the rains and waterfalls in Zion National Park.


Learn more about Zion National Park.

Observation Point – Utah’s Best View!

Friday, November 1st, 2013

Many experts claim that Utah’s best scenic view is Observation Point at Zion National Park.  This overlook stands you on the edge of a 2,200 foot precipice and offers a view across a major portion of the main canyon within Zion National Park, and far into the distance beyond the park boundaries.  Zion National Park is 30 miles in length and 15 miles across at its widest point, and Observation Point, at an elevation of 6,521′ is likely the best place to capture the grandeur of this vast expanse.

Observation Point at Zion

A view from Observation Point at Zion National Park

Most visitors to Observation Point at Zion endure a challenging four mile climb and 2,148′ ascent, from the Weeping Rock area in the bottom of the canyon, but there is a better way.

Observation Point Hiking Trail

Walking the forest trail to Observation Point from Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort

From Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort’s property there is a park boundary trail-head that follows a more gentle rolling course across the Zion National Park plateau and through the forest to Observation Point.  This 3.5 mile walk (each direction) winds through the forest bending slightly northwest and then back to the southwest toward the overlook.  Approximately two miles into the hike, you’ll encounter views into a side canyon that are quite spectacular, but only serve to whet the appetite for what lies ahead.

Zion National Park Canyon

Viewing the canyon on the west, just before arriving at Observation Point.

In the last half of a mile, the course descends south to the canyon rim and then bends west before turning south again toward Observation Point at Zion.   In the last 200 yards you’ll ride the edge of the rim and encounter views into the back of the main canyon toward the Narrows, but the real view then opens up at Observation Point as you exit the forest of scrub oak, pines, and high desert foliage.

Observation Point at Zion National Park

A view over the rim at Observation Point

Sandstone layers of white, grey, ochre, and various hues of red color the striations that break out before your view.  To the left the canyon sweeps open in horseshoe fashion.  To the south the Virgin River winds through the fins and buttresses that have been eroded over eons.   To your right the main canyon cycles north and toward the narrows section of Zion Park.

Observation Point Viewers

A couple from Canada sits on the rim taking in the views at Observation Point

Plan to spend some time on the rim just soaking in all the views, and unlike others that you may encounter, enjoy the fact that you didn’t have to hike from the valley to Observation Point.

Observation Point - Best View in Utah

A young woman enjoys the solitude of this majestic vista at Observation Point.

The length of this hike from Zion Ponderosa is approximately one hour and fifteen minutes (each direction) for adults moving at a reasonable hiking pace.  Adjust your expected time based on the ability of those in your hiking group.

Zion National Park

A hiker rests on the rim to take photographs at Observation Point.

Groups are limited to sizes of no more than 12 people on trails such as this within Zion National Park.  Bring water, snacks, and appropriate other hiking supplies, and don’t forget your still and  video cameras.  Early morning is a good time to start on this hike so you can enjoy the softer light on the formations when photography is also best.  Learn more about Zion National Park.