ZION NATIONAL PARK HISTORY
For thousands of years Zion National Park has been carved by water and wind. Rivers and flooding rains have etched nearly 5,000 feet into the plateaus that still remain part of the upper reaches of the park. Early Native Americans were wary of Zion National Park and even afraid to remain in the canyon after dark. They believed that Gods inhabited the canyon and that it was a sacred place.
In the mid 1800’s a few Mormon explorers and settlers became aware of the remarkable canyons but it wasn’t until 1908 that the federal government completed a survey of Zion National Park. The findings were brought to the attention of President William Howard Taft and he was so impressed that in July 1909, he declared 15,000+ acres of the main canyon a National Monument. The monument was called Mukuntuweap which is a Native American word that is said to mean “Straight Canyon”.
Under-developed roads and the distance from a railway station were the major contributing factors to the fact that fewer than 1,000 people were able to make the journey to Mukuntuweap National Monument. However, the observations of early visitors along with various reports commissioned by the federal government advanced the awareness of protecting what is now Zion National Park.
The monument soon grew in size to more 76,000 acres and in 1918 the name was changed to Zion National Monument, and then in November of 1919 the federal government upgraded the monument to National Park status. Stephen Mather, the director of the National Parks Service became quite enamored with Zion National Park and he made at least one trip to the park, each year from 1919 to 1929. In 1921 Mather brought along a writer from the Saturday Evening Post and a famous naturalist. As they traveled, the three associates began formulating a plan for a tourist circle between the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Cedar Breaks National Monument and Zion National Park.
A road was eventually paved to the park and Mather contracted with a local photographer, to shoot and colorize photographs of Zion National Park for use in advertising. Mather was also instrumental in instigating the construction of a 5,613 foot tunnel built through the sandstone cliffs of Zion Canyon. The tunnel and resulting highway created a viable access through to the east side of Zion National Park.
The Union Pacific Railroad soon created a subsidiary business to make transportation improvements in the area and to take advantage of the tourist opportunity. Some of these enhancements included laying railroad track to Cedar City, Utah and the construction of a railway station. Union Pacific then embarked on an extensive advertising campaign in popular magazines. They also created a bus-touring service which transported park visitors from Cedar City to Zion National Park and other stops along the Grand Circle tour.
Now Zion National Park is visited by approximately four million visitors each year. Visitors either drive their own vehicles from their homes or they fly into gateway cities such as Salt Lake City, Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco where they rent transportation to drive to Zion National Park.