The name Zion is often used to describe a place appointed by the Lord where his followers can live and serve God. Scripture refers to Zion as the “City of Holiness” and a “city of refuge” where the Lord protects his people from the evils in the world.
The Naming of Zion Canyon
In the 1850s, Mormon missionaries from Salt Lake City became the first white settlers along the Virgin River in southwest Utah where they grew cotton and other crops. By the late 1850s, these settlers had pushed north into what is now known as Zion Canyon.
Before the missionaries became permanent residents in the canyon, they first needed to know if the terrain would allow them to continue growing their crops. A Mormon missionary named Nephi Johnson set out to explore the canyon and to compile a report on the agricultural possibilities.
Johnson’s report was favorable for permanently moving into the canyon, and in 1861 the first Mormon established his farm on the canyon floor. Within the next year, several other families moved into the surrounding area which is now known as Springdale.
In 1863, Isaac Behunin built a one-room cabin near the current site of Zion Lodge and began farming tobacco, sugar cane and fruit. It was Behunin who named the canyon Zion, saying, “These great mountains are natural temples of God. We can worship here as well as in the man-made temples at Zion, the biblical heavenly ‘City of God.’”
Brigham Young traveled from Salt Lake City to view the canyon. He agreed that it had immense natural beauty but didn’t think any place on earth should have the name Zion. After Young’s announcement, the settlers began calling the canyon, “Little Zion” or “Not Zion”.
The Transformation from Zion Canyon to Zion National Park
Years later, in 1908, a federal land survey was conducted at the canyon, and a proclamation was issued naming it a new Monument. Then, in 1909, President Taft declared the canyon a National Monument.
Shortly after becoming a National Monument, a National Park Service was created and lodging and roads were added. During this expansion period, a member of the American Civic Association requested to change the name to Zion Canyon, which was approved.
In 1919, the Monument was declared a National Park and the name Zion National Park became its official moniker. Nowadays, it is the busiest of Utah’s five national parks. It is home to dozens of hikes, scenic views and fun activities for all sorts of visitors.
Zion is a word that has a lot of meaning for different people. Is there anything that you know about the word that we didn’t cover here?