Zion Canyon Scenic Drive, Zion National Park, Utah, USA
This scenic byway runs for 54 miles. Travel time is about 1.5 hours and a small fee charged. Many people explore Zion Park and then drive the byway as they continue their trip, heading to Grand Canyon, Lake Powell, Bryce Canyon or other area attractions.
Numerous plant species as well as 289 species of birds, 75 mammals (including 19 species of bat), and 32 reptiles inhabit the park’s four life zones: desert, riparian, woodland, and coniferous forest. Zion National Park includes mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers, slot canyons, and natural arches.
From the west, you get on the byway at the intersection of Hwy 9 and Interstate 15, about 9 miles east of St George. On the east, the Byway ends at Hwy 89, at Mt Carmel Junction.
Hwy 9 is the major road providing access to Zion National Park. It winds past the park visitor center and museum, and past many famous Zion landmarks. It provides access to Zion Canyon (accessible by shuttle only during the tourist season) and then goes through the park’s mile-long tunnel. It cuts through the park’s Checkerboard Mesa area and then ends at Hwy 89 at Mt Carmel Junction.
The byway parallels the Virgin River in many areas. Near I-15, it provides access to Quail Creek and Sand Hollow Utah State Parks. It cuts through the towns of Hurricane, Virgin, Rockville and Springdale before entering the Park. Near Rockville, it provides access to Grafton ghost town, a photogenic site that was featured prominently in the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”
Large vehicles and RVs are required to pay an escort fee to travel through the Zion Tunnel. You can drive this byway as part of a loop, circling north and returning via Hwy 14 over Cedar Mountain, or circling south and returning via Hwy 89 through Kanab and Fredonia, and then Hwy 389 through Colorado City to Hurricane.
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. The lowest elevation is 3,666 ft at Coalpits Wash and the highest elevation is 8,726 ft at Horse Ranch Mountain. Located at the junction of the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert regions, the park’s unique geography and variety of life zones allow for unusual plant and animal diversity.
Human habitation of the area started about 8,000 years ago with small family groups of Native Americans; the semi-nomadic Basketmaker Anasazi stem from one of these groups. In turn, the Virgin Anasazi culture developed as the Basketmakers settled in permanent communities. A different group, the Parowan Fremont, lived in the area as well. Both groups moved away by 1300 and were replaced by the Parrusits and several other Southern Paiute subtribes. Mormons came into the area in 1858 and settled there in the early 1860s. In 1909 the President of the United States, William Howard Taft, named the area a National Monument to protect the canyon, under the name of Mukuntuweap National Monument. In 1918, however, the acting director of the newly created National Park Service changed the park’s name to Zion, the name used by the Mormons. According to historian Hal Rothman: “The name change played to a prevalent bias of the time. Many believed that Spanish and Indian names would deter visitors who, if they could not pronounce the name of a place, might not bother to visit it. The new name, Zion, had greater appeal to an ethnocentric audience.” The United States Congress established the monument as a National Park on November 19, 1919. The Kolob section was proclaimed a separate Zion National Monument in 1937, but was incorporated into the park in 1956.
The geology of the Zion and Kolob canyons area includes nine formations that together represent 150 million years of mostly Mesozoic-aged sedimentation. At various periods in that time warm, shallow sea
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