Zion's Majestic Canyons

Zion National Park

by Dale Dockstader

The canyons of Southern Utah are, in the human scale of time, infinite. There will never be enough time to see them all. From the western border, across the face of the Colorado Plateau to the Rockies, there are not just canyons in great numbers and size, but quite literally thousands of ribbons of time cut deep and narrow into the sandstone. This sandstone, so incredible in its many colors, hues and textures, is beyond words. In these quiet lands, there is indeed a different reality, and time is changed for those who wander in the true aboriginal mind-state of dreamtime.

Ages ago a great upheaval occurred pushing a great mass of ancient seafloors high above the ocean water. The relatively soft sandstone eroded much faster than other rock, and the canyons were cut fast and deep. Their vast expanse and elevation brought many different, dramatic effects to the evolving canyons.

visitor center
Visitor Center

All share many interesting features, but each crevasse is different and unique -- as different among themselves as is each separate snowflake. Great and vivid tales could be written about these canyons. I don't know how, but the old master J.R.R. Tolkien had to have visited these lands to have written of places like Rivendell, Lothlorien, Rhoan, and so on.

Among these many great canyons, one reigns most supreme -- Zion. It is the crown jewel of the magnificent canyons of Utah. In Zion there are 365 seasons a year or more, each day being different; sometimes dramatic changes occur within a day. The deep canyon floor of the desert and the alpine forests on the mesas are separated laterally by only a few dozen feet, but vertically by several thousand. Some canyons are so deep and narrow that the winding erosion has cut places where the sun never shines directly they are illuminated only by diffused and reflecting colors. Some are dry at times, others are always filled with water.

Parunuweap Canyon is dry at its beginning in summer, but within miles the white sandstone cliffs have narrowed to deep gorges in the rich, red sandstone. A thousand springs return to the river as it runs in great cosmic harmony through long and quiet pools, over tumbling boulder fields and waterfalls. Very few humans are welcomed here by the gods. It is a place for only great respect and with the price of coming, there is an experience only those who wander there can feel.

Every season has its magic. But Winter is to the spirit most sublime. The only sounds are of nature -- a cobalt sky on clear days most of the time with the soft bright sunshine. In the rare and beautiful storms, the magic is indeed the most incredible showcase of nature. A dry and arid sandstone mesa becomes the crest of many waterfalls, many plunging from the deep, narrow canyons suspended high above the valley floor.

In the rare snowstorm the veil of clouds will lift to reveal the many ridges dressed in the whitest snow. The sandstone is like a rainbow shattered into the rock, filling it with subtle colors glowing within. The last rays of the setting sun on the face of the Watchman causes the few humans who witness it each day a time when we all become silent. It is too beautiful.

zion rain

This is why I live here. I built Cliffrose Lodge & Gardens on the doorstep of Zion, so I could keep this my home. If you want to see great pictures, I suggest you visit a good bookstore. In the photography and nature sections you will find many books with many photos. But be warned! Sandstone is addicting. Once you have had a proper dose of it you will forever hunger for more. I hope to see you wandering out here somewhere, but in all my years of wandering, I rarely pass another unless we walk together.

If you come, take back your experience with great respect, and do not bring back great crowds -- they are already here along the asphalt in the summer. In the quiet canyons there should only be a few folks in communion with the animals and the plants who live here. In Zion, there are more canyons than a lifetime could let you explore, and remember too, there are thousands of canyons from here to Canyonlands National Park, and Canyonlands is the next great place of Utah!


Zion National Park is very centrally located in the Southwest -- 160 miles northeast of Las Vegas and 300 miles south of Salt Lake City. Driving time from Los Angeles, 7 hrs, Las Vegas, 2.25 hrs, Salt Lake City, 4 .25 hrs, Phoenix 7 .5 hrs.

Nearest airports are St. George, Utah (SGU) 40 miles, and Las Vegas, McCarran International (LAS) 162 miles. Car rentals are available at both airports. The North Rim of Grand Canyon is 115 miles, Bryce Canyon 82 miles, and Lake Powell 105 miles.

The weather at Zion is unique. There are overlapping climate zones since the mountains and high plateaus have alpine forests and the valley floor, 4,000 feet lower, is a blend of high desert and pinyon-juniper forest. In some of the deep, narrow side canyons, the local mini-ecosystems are protected from both extremes of desert heat and forest cold.

The winters in Zion are usually very mild. If you are lucky enough to catch a rare snow storm in the valley it is fantastically beautiful. At the highest altitudes there is cross-country skiing. If you want downhill skiing, Brian Head is a 90-minute drive.

Summer is hot, but you can always find a nice cool shady canyon. Or you can take an incredibly scenic 45-minute drive to Kolob Plateau, where it is much cooler. Cedar Breaks National Monument, with altitudes from 9,000 to 11,000 feet, is a nice day trip from the canyon also.

Best of all, there is no such thing as bad weather in Zion. If it rains or snows, which is rare, you are lucky.



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