Located in southwest
National Park encompasses some 229 square miles of high plateaus, a maze
of narrow, deep sandstone canyons and soaring rock towers and mesas
created by the wild and sometimes raging Virgin River throughout the eons.
national park, it is also the most visited in the state with some three
million people coming through every year.
park has been inhabited by people for approximately 12,000 years, when
they first hunted mammoth, giant sloth, and camels before these animals
were over-hunted and died out some 8,000 years ago. The nomadic people
then turned to hunting smaller animals and gathered wild plants, seeds and
nuts. About 2,000 years ago, the region was populated with the
who practiced farming and unlike their eastern counterparts who
constructed monumental structures, such as those in
lived in small seasonal pueblo groups of only a few rooms.
Subsisting on corn, beans, and squash,
which they grew utilizing canal irrigation, and gathered pine nuts and
wild plants, they also hunted small game including deer, turkey, and
rabbits. However, about 800 years ago, the
moved southeast, probably due to drought and overuse.
Co-existing in the region for several
centuries were the Fremont Indians, who flourished between
400 A.D. to 1350 A.D.
Living in semi-subterranean "pit
houses" and rock shelters. They, too were farmers,
but relied more
heavily on hunting and
foraging for wild foods. Like the
they also disappeared from the region about 1350 A.D.
Researchers believe that both these groups
left due to extended droughts in the 11th and 12th centuries,
catastrophic flooding, and perhaps their inability to complete with
the Paiute and Ute Indians, who were more accustomed to desert
seasons, who moved into the region around A.D. 1100.
The Ute and Paiute occupied the region
exclusively for the next three centuries, living a mobile lifestyle,
and primarily hunting and collecting wild plants. However, the
Southern Paiute also planted fields of corn, sunflowers, and squash to
supplement their diets.
Exploration and settlement of the region
by Euro-Americans began in the late 1700s, first by traders from New
Mexico who blazed the Old Spanish Trail, which followed the Virgin
River for a portion of its length.
In the next century, American fur trappers
and government surveyors added new overland travel routes across the
region and beginning in 1847, the Mormons began to settle in
Utah and a by
the 1860s, there were numerous Mormon settlements in the area
including Shunesberg, Springdale, Grafton, Adventure, and Paradise
along the upper Virgin River. In 1863, Issac Behunin built the first
log cabin in Zion Canyon, near the location of the Zion Lodge. Soon
the canyon was dotted with other homesteads.
In 1872, John Wesley Powell explored the
areas around Zion Canyon, as part of western surveys conducted by the
U.S. Geological Survey. The early pack trails soon became well-used
wagon roads, connecting Santa Fe to the California markets.
During the remainder of the century, the small
communities and homesteads struggled to survive. Catastrophic flooding by
the river, little arable land, and poor soils made agriculture in the
upper Virgin River a risky venture. Some of these settlements, including
Shunesberg and Grafton, were ultimately abandoned for more favorable
By the first decade of the 20th century, the
scenic qualities of southern
Zion Canyon in particular, had been recognized as a potential destination
for tourism. In 1909, a presidential Executive Order designated
Mukuntuweap National Monument; however, in 1917, when the acting director
of the newly created National Park Service visited the canyon, he proposed
changing its name Zion from the locally unpopular Mukuntuweap. The new
monument was, however, virtually inaccessible to visitors, since the
existing roads were in poor condition and the closest railhead a hundred