Today, November 19, 2019, marks one hundred years since Zion National Park was created.
While 1919 was the year that the park was first recognized, it was far from the first time the land was appreciated for its natural landmarks. Nomadic Native American tribes started passing through the area more than 7,000 years ago. Over time, some tribes would settle, while others would hunt and forage in the area. In the late 1800s, Mormon settlers came to the region, settling downstream on the Virgin River.
Nowadays, there are modern roads, visitor centers, restrooms, and more that early visitors didn’t have. But the beautiful landscapes remain largely unchanged since those first visitors passed through the area. And today, we’re celebrating the anniversary of the national park designation, which helped and continues to help preserve the incredible treasure that is Zion National Park. Keep reading to learn a little more about the history of this amazing park.
Mukuntuweap National Monument is Set Aside
The land that now makes up Zion National Park hasn’t always held that title. Early Mormon settlers did pass through the area in the late 19th century. However, it would take several decades for the beauty of the area to come to the attention of the government.
During the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, Missouri, artist Frederick S. Dellenbaugh exhibited a series of paintings of Zion canyon. Then surveyors passed through the region in 1908 while taking a federal land survey. These surveyers were struck by the natural beauty of what is today a part of Zion. When they returned, they brought the area to the attention of President Taft. That, along with the art exhibition, was enough.
The following year, Taft set aside 16,000 acres, naming the land Mukuntuweap National Monument. During his proclamation speed, President Taft commented on the beauty and uniqueness of the ornate canyons and colorful rocks of the region.
Mukuntuweap National Monument lasted less than a decade. In 1917, the director of the National Park Service visited Mukuntuweap and took note that the current name wasn’t popular among locals. In recognition of the Mormon heritage that was strong in the area, the name was changed to Zion National Monument in 1918. A year later, the name changed again, finally becoming the Zion National Park that we know today.
Zion National Park Continues to Grow
Since becoming a national park a hundred years ago, Zion National Park has grown by leaps and bounds. The year that it became a national park, several thousand acres were added to the property. Then, in 1937, what is today Kolob Canyons was designated as Zion National Monument. It was added to the national park in 1956, again growing its size. Through the years, thousands more land was added little by little, until the park reached its current size of 146,597 acres.
The size of the national park isn’t the only thing that has changed drastically since 1919. How visitors get to the park and how they enjoy it also changes nearly every decade.
In 1910, worn wagon trails were upgraded, allowing automobiles to first enter the national monument. Seven years later, roads were improved, bring the first touring cars into the park. That same year, the very first official overnight lodging option was added. Wylie Camp may have been a primitive tent camp, but it offered visitors a way to stay and enjoy the park.
In 1923, Wylie Camp was bought by the Utah Parks Company, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad. The Company began offering rail and bus tours of Zion, as well as several other parks in the area. A couple of years later, the Zion Lodge complex was built where Wylie Camp had been, giving visitors who weren’t up for roughing it a whole new opportunity to enjoy the park.
Despite these upgrades, it would take until 1927 for changes to begin that would greatly increase the number of visitors entering Zion each year. That was when construction began on the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. It opened in 1930, and visitor numbers began to rise rapidly soon after that.
Zion National Park Today
Zion National Park has changed a lot in a hundred years. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the beauty of the park’s canyons and landscapes. Whether its that beauty, the internet’s ability to introduce people to new destinations, or maybe the dropping price of flights to nearby Las Vegas, the park is now the 4th most visited national park in the country.
If you want to celebrate your favorite park on this special anniversary, head to the Cox Auditorium at Dixie State University tonight at 7:30 p.m. That’s where the Zion Forever Project will be sharing the premiere of the new visitor center film. Can’t catch the show tonight? Don’t worry, the film will be on display at the visitor center for all to see for free here soon.
If you’re celebrating from afar, why not take the time today to start planning your next visit to Zion National Park? Check out our blog to find tips and tricks to help you plan the perfect vacation to Zion and the surrounding area.