Mars is the next frontier for space exploration. If you are wondering what it would look like if you set foot there, the closest experience you can get now is to explore Zion National Park. Zion is a red-rock desert wonderland that can be found in Utah’s Colorado Plateau, formed after millions of years of sedimentation, lithification, uplift, and erosion.
A Must-See Tourist Attraction
Zion slowly evolved from desolate to being a premier tourist spot over the past century. The main road leading up to it is now lined with hotels, shops, restaurants, and even art galleries. It also hosts several outfitters that can organize various activities inside and around the park, from leisurely hikes and tubing to high-adrenaline rappelling and rock climbing.
Springdale, an old riverside town, is the main gateway to Zion. It is connected to the park’s Visitor Center, where you will find exhibits, information, and the southern station of the National Park Shuttle.
See Zion’s Unique Colors in Springtime
The park is home to about 800 different plant species. All told, it supports more flowers than anywhere else in Utah. Stunted forests of cottonwood and Pinyon Pines can be found at the mid-elevation slopes, along with manzanita shrubs, yucca, scrub oak, cliffrose, and serviceberry. All together, they make Zion a feast for the eyes come springtime. But amid this explosion of colors, one of the most exceptional features of the park are still its oddly red mountains.
Witness Zion’s Diverse Animal Habitat
Aside from its varied flora, Zion is home to a diverse mix of animal species. It provides a habitat for 289 bird species, along with 79 types of mammals, 28 reptiles, six amphibians, and seven fish, scattered over four life zones: desert, riparian, coniferous forest, and woodland.
In the daytime, you can expect to see rock squirrels, mule deer, pinyon jays, and collared lizards. Night time is the turn of Merriam’s kangaroo rats, jackrabbits, and desert cottontails. Just be on the lookout at all times for bobcats, cougars, coyotes, gray foxes, and other predators.
Mars on Earth
If you have to describe Zion in one word, simply say red, and you would not be too far off the mark. You just need to follow it up with epic and amazing.
Zion’s characteristic hue, which can easily be compared to that of the landscape on Mars, is due to the combination of minerals in the soil. Iron oxide, calcium carbonate, and silica slowly filtered through the park’s compacted sediments over the years along with water, giving the landscape its unique reddish color.
Making the environment even more unique are its magnificent vistas, virtually all of which are within 100 yards from any road in Zion. It also has some epic canyons that deliver engaging hiking trails and countless adventures.
But one of its most interesting geological oddities is the Checkerboard Mesa, whose sandstone façade is marred by hundreds of horizontal and vertical cracks formed by years of running water and freezing.