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10 Things You Didn't Know About Zion National Park

Utah is home to five national parks—including Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef—but Zion, its first, remains the most popular. (It attracted over 3.5 million visitors last year.) Originally established as Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909, the monument eventually became Zion National Monument in 1918, and finally Zion National Park on November 19, 1919. Throughout the park’s history, adventurous tourists have visited for the rock climbing and canyoneering, artists for the stunning landscape, and families for the hiking and ranger-led programs. Regardless of your mission, there’s a lot to love (and learn) about Zion.

1. THE HIGHWAY TO ZION WAS CREATED WITH ROAD TRIPS IN MIND.

Zion was considered a remote location when it was designated as a national monument, and its promotion to national park status 10 years later made accessibility for travelers imperative. Thus, construction of the 25-mile Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway began in 1927 and was completed by 1930. To build the road’s 1.1 mile Mt. Carmel Tunnel, workers blasted through 5613 feet of rock and added large windows for ventilation and impressive views.

2. THE CANYONS PROVIDE A SENSE OF INTRIGUE AND ADVENTURE.

With locations that have eclectic names like "Refrigerator Canyon" and "The Subway," it’s difficult to choose where to hike in Zion. The numerous slot canyons turn every trip into an adventure. One of the most thrilling hikes is through The Narrows. Though this canyon along the Virgin River’s North Fork is cited as a must-see destination, most hikes there require permits—and caution. The Narrows can be incredibly dangerous for even the most skilled hiker, depending on weather conditions.

3. HIKERS CAN “WIGGLE” THEIR WAY TO THE SKY.

The sweeping views of Zion Canyon are often worth the high-elevation hikes required to get there, but some ascents are more challenging than others. One example is the trail to Angels Landing, which offers stunning views—once you’ve climbed 2.4 miles and reached an elevation of 5790 feet. To make the trek slightly easier, a series of 21 switchbacks known as Walter’s Wiggles was integrated into the trail in 1925. This section is named for Zion’s first park custodian, Walter Ruesch, who conceived the idea and helped with constructing the path [PDF].

4. THERE IS PLENTY OF PLANT LIFE (BUT NO CRYING) AT WEEPING ROCK.

Despite its arid location, Zion is home to over 900 plant species. Cottonwoods, cacti, juniper trees, ponderosa pines, many wildflowers, and even aquatic plants grow throughout the park. A popular place to spot some greenery is at Weeping Rock, which was named for the groundwater seeping from the canyon wall. The water originates in Echo Canyon before springing forth from the rock, allowing ferns, mosses, and flowering plants to grow as hanging gardens on the alcove walls.

5. THE ZION SNAIL IS A "BIG FOOT" THAT IS HARD TO FIND.


One of the park’s few endemic creatures is the Zion snail. It is one of the smallest snails in the world, often measuring at less than ⅛ of an inch. Despite its petite stature, the Zion snail’s foot in comparison to the rest of its body is the largest in the world.

6. ZION’S BACKCOUNTRY IS A SHOWCASE FOR RED ROCKS AND ARCHES.

If you can’t make it to Arches National Park, the arches in Zion’s northern Kolob Canyons district are just as captivating. When roaming through this section, keep an eye out for the Kolob Arch, one of the world’s longest natural arches. Despite its size, Kolob tends to blend into the cliff it spans across.

7. SOME OF ZION’S MONOLITHS HAVE NAMES OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS.

Three large sandstone cliffs in the park make up the Court of the Patriarchs. The monoliths are named Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—after three important figures from the Old Testament.

8. THE GREAT WHITE THRONE IS A SIGHT FIT FOR A KING.

Named in 1916 by Methodist minister Frederick Vining Fisher, the Great White Throne is considered by many to be the symbol of the park. (Fisher also named Angels Landing and the Three Patriarchs.) With an elevation of 6744 feet, the Great White Throne is easily one of the most recognizable formations and was featured on many early marketing materials for Zion.

9. A SOUGHT-AFTER ARCHITECT DESIGNED THE PARK LODGE.

Designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, the Zion Lodge was constructed in the mid-1920s as the only permanent lodging available on park grounds. Underwood was popular with the National Park Service: In addition to Zion Lodge, he also designed lodges for Yosemite, Grand Teton, Grand Canyon, and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

10. ZION IS THE PERFECT PLACE FOR ART LOVERS.

It should come as no surprise that Zion has inspired artists for over a century; in fact, an exhibition of Zion paintings at the 1904 World’s Fair was partly what spurred the creation of the original national monument. The love of the park’s landscapes and the art it inspires lives on in the form of an artist-in-residence program and the Zion Plein Air Art Invitational.

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Geological Map Shows the Massive Reservoir Bubbling Beneath Old Faithful
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Yellowstone National Park is home to rivers, waterfalls, and hot springs, but Old Faithful is easily its most iconic landmark. Every 45 to 125 minutes, visitors gather around the geyser to watch it shoot streams of water reaching up to 100 feet in the air. The punctual show is one of nature’s greatest spectacles, but new research from scientists at the University of Utah suggests that what’s going on at the geyser’s surface is just the tip of the iceberg.

The study, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, features a map of the geological plumbing system beneath Old Faithful. Geologists have long known that the eruptions are caused by water heated by volcanic rocks beneath the ground reaching the boiling point and bubbling upwards through cracks in the earth. But the place where this water simmers between appearances has remained mysterious to scientists until now.

Using 133 seismometers scattered around Old Faithful and the surrounding area, the researchers were able to record the tiny tremors caused by pressure build-up in the hydrothermal reservoir. Two weeks of gathering data helped them determine just how large the well is. The team found that the web of cracks and fissures beneath Old Faithful is roughly 650 feet in diameter and capable of holding more than 79 million gallons of water. When the geyser erupts, it releases just 8000 gallons. You can get an idea of how the reservoir fits into the surrounding geology from the diagram below.

Geological map of geyser.
Sin-Mei Wu, University of Utah

After making the surprising discovery, the study authors plan to return to the area when park roads close for the winter to conduct further research. Next time, they hope to get even more detailed images of the volatile geology beneath this popular part of Yellowstone.

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31 Facts About National Parks
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A little over 100 years ago, President Woodrow Wilson signed the National Park Service into law, ensuring that the country’s most remarkable natural landscapes would be preserved for future generations. Today, national parks are more popular than ever, with millions of visitors passing through the system’s 400-odd properties each year. But even if you’re working to check every national park off your bucket list, you may be unfamiliar with some of these facts. For instance, did you know that Dolly Parton is an official ambassador to Great Smoky Mountains National Park? Or that Yosemite campaigned to host the Winter Olympics in 1932?

That’s just some of the trivia John Green shares in this latest video from Mental Floss on YouTube. You can check out all 31 facts above, then subscribe to our channel if you're still hungry for more brain food.

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