Travel Diary
May 29, 2003
Zion National Park, UT

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The southern half of Utah is home to several national parks. Zion National Park is on the western edge of a large area called the Colorado Plateau which stretches east into Colorado and south into Arizona and New Mexico. Over the last few hundred million years, the Colorado Plateau was formed from the collection of sediment comprised of various sand, gravel, and mud eroding from surrounding mountains. As mineral-laden water collected and filtered through these layers, the deposits were slowly transformed into layers of rock that are various colors and hardness. The earth's crust north and west of Zion has been rising over these millions of years giving the streams and rivers in this area faster currents and more cutting force. The result of all of these phenomenon is the creation of the incredible canyons that we see today in the national parks in this area. It is interesting to note that Bryce Canyon, Zion Canyon and the Grand Canyon are all situated on this area called the Grand Staircase in progressively lower layers of the plateau. The lowest layers of Bryce Canyon are the same material as the top layers of Zion Canyon. The lowest layers of Zion Canyon are the same material as the top layers of the Grand Canyon.

The net result of all of this geology is that these canyons are spectacular landscapes that are awe-inspiring to witness first hand. Because of the geological similarity, Zion Canyon feels a little bit like a smaller version of the Grand Canyon, but something novice-hikers can view from the floor rather than the rim. The height is a bit easier to grasp as well—at Zion, we look up at the the canyon walls which are about 2000-3000 feet above the floor rather than looking down nearly a mile into the Grand Canyon.

Zion's Big Sky

The Virgin River is responsible for cutting Zion Canyon. At the north end, the narrows, the canyon is only 20-30 feet wide and the river takes up the entire width. We didn't hike that far north, but we did make it to where the canyon was about 100 feet wide. It's an amazing place, and surprisingly cool even when wider parts of the canyon were nearly 100 degrees. At the bottom of this photo there's a mule deer who was keeping cool munching on the plants on the edge of the river.

Virgin River

On the east side of the park, we got to explore the higher elevations of the canyon rim. The rock is lighter in color and an interesting mix of textures and patterns. In this picture the layers of rock formed from years of erosion hints at what may have been ancient sand-dunes.

East Zion Rock Wash

One of our favorite spots in the park is called Weeping Rock. A short hike of just 100 feet up from the canyon floor is a rock arch that drips water that has been seeping through the upper layers of sandstone. The perpetual water source is home to beautiful lush hanging gardens. This photo looks out from behind the line of water drops.

Weeping Rock

Many of the hills in southern Utah and many formations within Zion are a rich red color that are from iron oxide. This photo shows the face of Red Arch Mountain. Its peak is 5930 feet, or roughly 1600 feet above the canyon floor.

Red Arch Mountain

Finally, we were able to witness an evening thunderstorm from our campsite that produced this beautiful rainbow. It was a great end to an amazing day exploring all of the beauty of Zion.

Virgin Utah Rainbow

A couple of these images have been added to the New Images page in the photo gallery...

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