Name Origins of Some of Zion’s Famous Sites

May 21, 2018

Name Origins of Some of Zion’s Famous Sites

Have you ever wondered how some of Zion National Park’s incredible trails and landmarks got their names? Here are some explanations of many of them including a bit of history behind their discovery. Which Zion landmark is your favorite?

Virgin River

The flow of water that is largely responsible for the formation of Zion Canyon (over countless years) received the name Virgin in honor of the Virgin Mary from the Bible. This Zion landmark was named by a group of explorers from Spain. However, there is an alternate opinion of how the river got its name. In fact, there is a National Park Service publication from the year 1936 that states a mountain man by the name of Thomas Virgin is the real namesake of the river. Thomas Virgin was a friend of Jedidiah Smith, the famous fur trader, and traveled with him.

The Name Zion

In the latter part of the 1800s, Mormon pioneers, having traveling west from the midwestern states region and eventually settling in what we know today as Utah, were the first Anglo-European people to arrive in Southern Utah. Their resolute Christian beliefs lent to the naming of the area “Zion” which is a Hebrew word found in the Bible meaning refuge or sanctuary. According to record, a man named Isaac Behunin was the first Mormon occupant of Zion Canyon.


This was the very first official (and short-lived) name given to the area before it was eventually changed to Zion. It is a Paiute word that translates literally to “straight canyon”. An explorer by the name of John Wesley Powell bestowed this native name to the area.

West Temple

According to record, the first Zion landmark that was given an official name was West Temple which is still Zion’s highest point, rising to almost 8,000 feet. John Wesley Powell also named this Zion landmark in 1872, as well as East Temple which is over 7,000 feet. Up to this point, very few people had laid eyes on the majesty of this area. It wasn’t until the year 1908 when a federal land survey finally brought word of the area to the public. It was only one year later when Pres. Taft lawfully protected 16,000 acres of land and named it Mukuntuweap National Monument. 9 years later, in 1918, the name was changed to Zion National Monument and then quickly changed again in 1919 to Zion National Park as it remains today.

Angel’s Landing, Great White Throne, and Others

A man named Frederick Fisher, a Methodist preacher who visited the area (with three companions) in 1916 is credited with the naming of perhaps the most famous Zion landmark, Angel’s Landing, in addition to others; Great White Throne, The Watchman, and The Three Patriarchs (referring to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the three patriarchs of the Old Testament).

Cathedral Mountain

Stephen S. Johnson gave the name Cathedral Mountain to the well-known Zion landmark in 1922 for obvious reasons.

Temple of Sinawava

The Union Pacific Railroad had in its employ a publicity agent named Douglas White who visited Zion. This man is credited with naming the recognizable Zion landmark Temple of Sinawava which is the name of the coyote spirit in the Paiute nation.

The Narrows

Still the narrowest section of Zion Canyon and named after this defining feature in 1872 by Grove K. Gilbert, a geologist and expeditionist. This is a favorite Zion landmark for many visitors.

Checkerboard Mesa

In 1938, Preston Patraw, a superintendent of Zion at the time, named the famous Zion landmark Checkerboard Mesa because of its sedimentation that features vertical and horizontal lines and fracturing as its main characteristic.

Additional Landmarks

The Book of Mormon, the primary text of the LDS Church, was the inspiration for four particular Zion landmarks, namely Tabernacle Dome, Towers of the Virgins, Kolob Canyon, and Kolob Arch.

zion landmark

Name Origins of Some of Zion’s Famous Sites

Zion Landmark

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