Photograph of the week: Sunset at Zion Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah Mountains


There are many wonderful places to hike in the world. But how many of them are painted in shades of vivid vermillion – from path to cliff to sky? Zion National Park in Utah, USA, proffers just such a vision. You have to see it to believe it.

Sunset, Zion Park, Utah Mountains

Zion National Park offers visitors some of the most scenic canyon country in the United States. With high plateaus – high enough to warrant one being called ‘Angels Landing’; a maze of sandstone canyons; waterfalls featuring colourful hanging gardens; one of the largest freestanding arches in the world; and a natural ‘Subway’ that makes modern, man-made versions look like child’s play, this natural playground is one for any self-respecting outdoors enthusiast’s bucket list.

Before Zion was a national park, it was Mukuntuweap National Monument, which translates as “straight canyon” or “straight arrow” (from the language of the Southern Paiute Indians, the original owners of this unique parcel of land). The straight canyon it refers to? Today that’s the main attraction of what would be designated Zion National Park on November 19, 1919.

Preserving 593 square kilometers (229 square miles) of a red rock landscape so stunning it looks like something off a Star Wars set, there are many reasons to be awestruck in Zion. Starting with the aforementioned Zion Canyon. Twenty-four kilometres (15 miles) long and up to 910 meters (3,000 feet) deep, hikers come from all over the world to follow in the footsteps of their forebears, who are said to have been traversing this land as far back as 6000 B.C. Those who are brave enough, will include Zion’s Angels Landing in their route – a 3.5 km (2.2 mile) hike declared by many as one of the most dangerous in the world. The payoff of the steep slog over shifting sand and slickrock, long drop offs and exposed edges? A view that is quite as breathtaking as the trail to get there. Towering over and into the Canyon, Angels Landing stands 454 metres (1,488 feet) above the Virgin River at its base, with views that take you down the Canyon and into tomorrow. (Note: the Park has improved safety in some of the exposed areas by constructing proper steps, paving some of the trail, and installing guard rails, but large sections of this hike are still dangerous and not to be undertaken lightly or carelessly.)

For those not into risking life and limb for a view, there are plenty of other wonders to take your breath away within Zion. Easier hikes as well as motor routes within the Park offer spectacular 360-degree scenery. Indeed, the road that runs through Zion itself is both an engineering feat and a sight worth seeing in and of itself. When Zion first came on the radar of tourists, it was virtually inaccessible to visitors. To make exploration an option, construction began on a 40-kilometre (25-mile) stretch of road to connect Zion to the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon. Completed in 1930, the red-road Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Tunnel blends in with the surrounding landscape, and at one point even cuts through the vertical sandstone cliffs via a tunnel complete with windows to allow uninterrupted viewing.

However you choose to take in the sights of Zion Canyon, you are guaranteed of one thing: a vermillion vista that is ever-changing, courtesy of the river that runs through it. The Virgin River and its tributaries which run through Zion are continuously carving and shaping the canyon, creating an ever-widening, ever-deepening canyon which will continue to surprise and enthrall, no matter how often you return.

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Comments (8)

  1. Leo says:

    Yeah – it definitely lives up to its name. Beautiful photo.

  2. Helen Johnson says:

    I’d heard of the Zion National Park but not Mukuntuweap National Monument before, so that’s interesting to know. A natural playground indeed, it looks incredible. It does have that movie setting kind of feel to it. It’s impressively expansive and the photographer did well getting this shot with the light glancing in like that.

  3. Sally Arnold says:

    Whenever I travel somewhere I like to try to find out the origins of the place names, so often they reveal something about the origin of the place. Fascinating that Mukuntuweap originally meant “straight canyon” or “straight arrow.” I just hope these memories of the Southern Paiute Indians continue to survive.

  4. Graham says:

    I can remember a lot of time spent studying rivers and the things that they got up to in geography lessons at school. If only we had gone on a field trip to somewhere like Zion Canyon it would all have become a real life experience and made a lot more sense.

  5. Ivor Hunter says:

    Has the Health and Safety world gone crazy and even taken over Zion Canyon? For God’s sake it’s a natural environment. Should bunches of workman be installing steps? Next it will be stair lifts.

    It may be a dangerous place to go hiking but life’s been dangerous for the last few million years.

    I can just about see a case, very reluctantly, for putting in the steps to stop erosion but otherwise please leave nature alone.

  6. John says:

    Good To know that Zion National Park has so many things to offer. The serene mountains with the sunset. One will definitely fall in love forever with it.
    Thanks for sharing

  7. Jeff says:

    I traveled around this area a few years ago and it’s really one of the most inspiring regions of the country. If you’re ever lucky enough to get a chance to visit Zion Canyon, you should go. It’s a once in a lifetime experience that you can share with others with beautiful pictures like this one.

  8. Belinda H. says:

    Gorgeous photo and reminds me very much of the Grand Canyon. Although let me just say, while I admire the landscape and majesty of these canyons, you won’t find me “following the footsteps of our forebears” and hiking the area. I’m afraid of heights and basically not a very physical person.

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