Zion National Park sign then and now

100 Years of Zion – Then and Now

November 19, 2019 marks the 100-year anniversary of our beloved Zion National Park. Oh, how we at Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort love Zion National Park and it’s rich history. Join us on a journey of celebrating 100 years of Zion!

1919: Zion National Park Becomes Official

The park we know and love today as Zion National Park was originally Mukuntuweap National Monument, established in 1909 by President William Howard Taft. Nearly a decade later, the first director of the newly created National Park Service recommended changing the name to one that would resonate with the local Mormon pioneer community who had settled the area. Congress agreed, added more land and officially established Zion National Park on November 19, 1919.

Observation Point Zion National Park 100 Years of History

Left: An early tourist enjoys the view at Observation Point. Photo used by permission, Utah State Historical Society. Right: Tourists today are still awed by the same view 100 years later.

1920s: If You Build It, They Will Come

Travel to Zion National Park was rare at first, due to its remote location and lack of accommodations. That would all change soon enough. The 1920s saw a huge boom in the development of Zion National Park as construction began on Zion Lodge, Union Pacific established railroad service, work began on the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel, and many of Zion’s famous trails were established. Among the first trails to be constructed are some that remain the most popular today. Riverside Walk, Emerald Pools, Observation Point and West Rim trails were all constructed in 1925, followed by Angels Landing in 1926.

Getting to Observation Point in the early days was grueling. Back in 1922, when Stephen S. Johnson named Mt. Baldy and Observation Point, Zion visitors had to make a demanding 18-mile, uphill hike to reach the viewpoint from the canyon floor. Today’s 8-mile trail from Weeping Rock to Observation Point was chiseled out during the trail-building frenzy of the late 1920’s. It’s considerably shorter, but still a workout with a 2,100-foot incline.

Luckily, Zion Ponderosa guests today can enjoy the breathtaking view from Observation Point without the steep incline by hiking across Zion Ponderosa property from the East Mesa Trail. Backpacker magazine has called Observation Point one of the best views in Utah. If you’ve hiked there, or have even seen photos, it’s hard to disagree. No matter which way you choose to hike to Observation Point, East Zion Adventure guides can help you get there safely!


zion mt carmel tunnel then and now

Left photo: Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society

1930s: An Engineering Feat Brings Tourism To Zion

The Zion-Mt Carmel Highway, completed in 1930, opened up the park on the east side, increasing the number of visitors to Zion National Park and giving easier access to Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon. The 1.1-mile Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel cuts through the vertical sandstone cliffs of Zion, blends in with the surrounding landscape and features windows to provide jaw-dropping previews of the beauty and grandeur that awaits visitors in Zion Canyon.

As travel to the area increased, Zion National Park grew, too. The creation of the Canyon Overlook Trail in 1932 and the Watchman Trail in 1934 gave visitors even more access to more of the park. The Zion Nature Center also opened in 1934, and is still in use today for the Junior Ranger Program. The Kolob Canyons area was declared Zion National Monument, and would later be incorporated into the main park.


Zion on Horseback Then and Now

Left photo: Used by permission, Utah State Historical Society

1940s: Call of the Canyons

With the completion of the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel, Zion National Park tourism was off and running in the 1940s. Word began to get out about the beauty of Zion and Bryce Canyon (Utah’s only two national parks at the time), thanks to a 1947 short film titled “Call of the Canyons” put out by Utah’s Tourist and Publicity Council. Zion’s most adventurous visitors could enjoy escorted horseback excursions to The Narrows or Angels Landing for just $3, or to the East or West Rim of Zion Canyon for $5. Today, Zion Ponderosa guests can saddle up and head off into the sunset on some of the most scenic riding trails in the west.

Blast back to the past with this 1940s video about Zion National Park!


Kolob Canyon ZIon National Park Then and Now

Left: An early tourist enjoys the view at Kolob Canyon. Photo used by permission, Utah State Historical Society. Right: Tourists today are still awed by the same view 100 years later.

1950s: Kolob Canyons

The Kolob Canyons area was declared a national monument in 1937 but officially became part of Zion National Park in 1956. The area was originally settled in 1852 by Mormon pioneers who used the land for grazing cattle, collecting timber, and irrigating water. Located in the less-visited northwest part of the park, Kolob Canyon’s 2000-foot cliffs shouldn’t be overlooked when visiting Zion. Kolob Arch, accessible via the La Verkin Creek Trail in Kolob Canyons, is the one of the longest natural arches in the world, spanning over 287 feet, only slightly shorter than Landscape Arch in Arches National Park, Utah.


Zion Ponderosa Then and Now

Left: Zion Ponderosa’s humble beginnings. Right: Zion Ponderosa today.

1960s: New Beginnings

We couldn’t celebrate 100 years of Zion without also mentioning Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort’s own origins. The 1960s was the beginning of dream, when Ray Lewis purchased 8,500 acres of “high desert property, covered with Ponderosa Pine.” A successful businessman in California, Ray had longed to return to his beautiful and beloved home state of Utah where dreamed of owning a ranch similar to the one in the Uintah Mountains where he was born. One night, Ray’s son-in-law noticed an ad in the LA Times, advertising 4,000 acres of deeded land and 4,500 acres of BLM Land in Utah. Curiosity got the best of them and within hours the entire family was on their way to Zion to see the property that would soon become “Zion Ponderosa Ranch.” It was love at first sight and Ray put a deposit down on the spot.

𝑨𝒓𝒐𝒖𝒏𝒅 𝒉𝒆𝒓𝒆, 𝒍𝒊𝒇𝒆 𝒔𝒍𝒐𝒘𝒔 𝒅𝒐𝒘𝒏, 𝒊𝒕 𝒇𝒊𝒍𝒍𝒔 𝒚𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒉𝒆𝒂𝒓𝒕, 𝒇𝒓𝒆𝒆𝒔 𝒚𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒎𝒊𝒏𝒅, 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒇𝒆𝒆𝒅𝒔 𝒚𝒐𝒖𝒓 𝒔𝒐𝒖𝒍.

That’s exactly what Ray Lewis envisioned as he stood atop Pine Knoll in 1962, gazing out at the majestic Zion National Park landscape sprawled before him. As he imagined a place where people could come from all over the world to experience the beauty and grandeur of Zion, the dream of Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort began to take hold.

Meanwhile, in Zion National Park, a rockslide buried a 250-foot portion of the Riverside Walk trail on August 1, 1968. In true Utah pioneer spirit, the trail was routed over the fallen rock and then paved so it would still be accessible to the majority of Zion visitors. As the “gateway to the Narrows,” Riverside Walk is one of Zion National Park’s most popular trails, and one of two wheelchair-friendly trails in Zion Canyon. The trail opens up to the mouth of the Narrows, where visitors can dip their toes in the Virgin River and gape in awe at the soaring 2,000-foot sandstone slot canyon walls.

1970s: Desert Bighorn Sheep in Zion

It’s hard to believe that Zion National Park’s iconic Bighorn sheep haven’t been a continuous presence. In the mid-20th century, Desert Bighorn sheep were locally extinct. Thanks to efforts by the National Park Service and Utah Department of Wildlife Services, the species was reintroduced to the Zion wilderness, growing from just 14 in 1978 to over 400 today. The best place to spot Bighorn sheep is on the east side of the park near Checkerboard Mesa and along the rocky ridges of the upper eastern section.

Please remember: Zion National Park is home to hundreds of animal species, all protected by its National Park designation, whether they are endangered or not. Park visitors are often treated to wildlife sightings. Please remember that you are a guest in the home of these beautiful creatures and treat them, and their habitats, with respect by keeping your distance and never touching or feeding Zion wildlife.

Walters Wiggles Angels Landing then and now

Left: NPS photo of the construction of Walter’s Wiggles. Right: Walter’s Wiggles today.

1980s: Wiggles and Gobbles

In 1985 extensive repair was done on the West Rim Trail beginning at 4900 feet elevation, through Refrigerator Canyon to the top of Angels Landing. The improvements would help prevent erosion and reduce the impact of the increasing number of visitors to Zion National Park. The job required 88 cubic yards of concrete, which was hauled to The Grotto by helicopter (258 flights!) and then brought up to the worksite by maintenance crews and mules.

Speaking of animals…wild turkeys were once native to Zion, and then disappeared for dozens of years. After numerous reintroduction efforts, the turkey population finally re-established itself in the 1980s. Today there are an estimated 20,000 wild turkeys in and around Zion. Zion Ponderosa guests often see them on the road to Zion and exploring the ranch.


Pa'rus Trail

Left: Photo used by permission, Utah State Historical Society. Right: NPS photo.

1990s: Zion Ponderosa and Pa’Rus Trail Open

As the visitor population grew, so did the need for lodging outside of Zion National Park. The dream of Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort began to take shape in 1994 with the construction of the original 16 guest cabins, showers, a pole barn for dining and recreation, and a pool. Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort officially opened for Zion camping, lodging, dining and recreation on Memorial Day 1995.

Zion National Park’s Pa’rus Trail was constructed that same year. The paved 1.7-mile trail is a favorite with bicyclists and follows the Virgin River from the South Campground to Canyon Junction. It’s the only dog-friendly trail in Zion, as well as wheelchair accessible and stroller friendly.

Zion National Park Shuttle Bus Then and Now

Left: Photo used by permission, Utah State Historical Society. Right: NPS photo

2000s: Embracing Tourism and Easing Congestion in Zion National Park

In the 1930s, tourists began arriving in Zion National Park by the busload and they never stopped coming. As tourism increased in Zion National Park, a shuttle system was implemented in 2000 to ease traffic congestion in the park. The shuttle system was a huge success and the benefits were immediate — a quieter canyon, no fighting over parking spots, and less damage to the environment. Today, the shuttle system continues to do its best to accommodate over 4 million visitors annually. For those willing to travel on foot, Zion Ponderosa guests can actually hike down into the park right from the property, as well as hike to Observation Point, one of the most scenic overlooks in Zion.

In March 2009, President Barack Obama signed into law the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009. This designated and further protected 124,406 acres of land as Zion Wilderness, in accordance with President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Wilderness Act of 1964. Obama’s legislation also transferred ownership and management of over 640 acres of wilderness from the Bureau of Land Management to Zion National Park. These lands are located on the west slope of The Watchman and Johnson Mountain near the Town of Springdale.

zion observation Point sunset-JT-X3

November 19, 2019

Happy birthday, happy 100 years of Zion! Here at Zion Ponderosa, we strive to inspire the love of Zion in every treasured guest. Please remember to practice Leave No Trace principles when visiting this beautiful landscape. Click here to book your Zion vacation!


Feature photo used by permission, Utah State Historical Society. 

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