Zion National Park is a national park located in the Southwestern United States, near Springdale, Utah. A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile (593 km2) park is Zion Canyon, 15 miles (24 km) long and up to half a mile (800 m) deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. 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.
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. Common plant species include cottonwood, Cactus, Datura, Juniper, Pine, Boxelder, Sagebrush, yucca , and various willows. Notable megafauna include mountain lions, mule deer, and Golden Eagles, along with reintroduced California Condors and Bighorn Sheep.
Human habitation of the area started about 8,000 years ago with small family groups of Native Americans; the semi-nomadic Basketmaker Anasazi (300 CE) stem from one of these groups. In turn, the Virgin Anasazi culture (500 CE) 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. The canyon was discovered by Mormons in 1858 and was settled by that same group in the early 1860s. In 1909, U.S. President 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 as the original name was locally unpopular. Zion is an ancient Hebrew word meaning a place of refuge or sanctuary. 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 9 formations that together represent 150 million years of mostly Mesozoic-aged sedimentation. At various periods in that time warm, shallow seas, streams, ponds and lakes, vast deserts, and dry near-shore environments covered the area. Uplift associated with the creation of the Colorado Plateaus lifted the region 10,000 feet (3,000 m) starting 13 million years ago.