Utah: Zion National Park and Monument Valley

Located near the charming town of  Springdale, Utah is the 229-square-mile Zion National Park.  Its elevation ranges from 3,666 feet at its lowest point to 8,726 feet at its highest.  Consisting of mountains, canyons, buttes, mesas, monoliths, rivers, slot canyons, and natural arches, the park offers four life zones which support numerous plant and animal species. A prominent feature of the park is the 15-mile long Zion Canyon that was carved by the north fork of the Virgin River.

Previously known as Mukuntuweap Canyon, it was declared a National Monument in 1909, by President William Howard Taft.  Its name was changed to Zion in 1918, by the acting director of the newly created National Park Service who apparently was concerned that visitors may not bother to visit an area whose name they could not pronounce. The Congress established the monument as a National Park on November 19, 1919.

Zion Natl Park Entrance Photo By Doug Dolde

Zion Natl Park Entrance, Photo By Doug Dolde

Zion Canyon

Zion Canyon

Virgin River

Virgin River

There are two major roads which transverse the canyon, Zion Canyon Drive and Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Springdale which serves as the gateway to Zion National Park offers an abundance of lodging and activities. There are hotels, motels, inns, bed & breakfasts and campgrounds to accommodate every taste and budget.

Among the many arches in Zion, Kolob Arch and Crawford Arch are two that stand out the most. Kolob Arch is the second longest natural arch in the world measuring at 287 feet, just three feet shorter than Arches National Park’s  Landscape Arch. The arch is located in Kolob Canyons, in the far northwestern and less visited section of Zion National Park.  Crawford’s Arch or the Bridge Mountain Arch as it was previously referred to is the most visible arch, clinging to the base of Bridge Mountain one thousand feet above the canyon floor.  For many years it was believed that this span was a natural bridge. However, the Natural Arch and Bridge Society identified it as an arch and in order to avoid confusion, the National Park Service eventually named the span Crawford Arch in honor of the Crawford family who were among the first Mormon settlers in the canyon.

Kolob Arch

Kolob Arch

Crawford Arch Photo By Chad Utterback

Crawford Arch
Photo By Chad Utterback

Approximately 240 miles away on the Utah-Arizona state line is Monument Valley.   The valley is perhaps the most famous example of the classic American West landscape and has been featured in many forms of media since the 1930s.  Director John Ford used the location for a number of his best-known films.

Photo by Marc Averette

Photo by Marc Averette

LA, Grand Canyon, Zion Monument Valley, Santa Monica-8

LA, Grand Canyon, Zion Monument Valley, Santa Monica-7

LA, Grand Canyon, Zion Monument Valley, Santa Monica-9

The valley lies within the range of the Navajo Nation Reservation and is accessible from U.S. Highway 163. Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal park (not a USA National Park) and charges a fee of $5 per person for access to the dirt road which loops through the valley.  The road stretches for 17 miles and the journey takes approximately 2-3 hours. Parts of Monument Valley such as Mystery Valley and Hunts Mesa are accessible only by guided tour.


Photo credits: Moritoshi Inaba


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