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Zion National Park

This trip started in Los Angeles and travelled through Las Vegas NV and St. George UT, where we left the main highway and headed for Zion National Park.  Beginning around Mesquite NVthe route follows the Virgin River, which cut the famous canyon through Zion.  This park is so large it has three major entrances:  North (Kolob Canyons), South (Main Entrance at Springdale UT), and the East Entrance.

Map of Zion NP region

Map of Zion NP region

We bypassed the crowded Zion Canyon Scenic Drive and followed the less travelled path along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway toward the East Entrance.  After climbing a steep series of sharp switchbacks, the road passes through the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway Tunnel.  This 1.1 mile tunnel cost over $1 million, making it the first million-dollar mile of highway in US history.

Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway to East Entrance

Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway to East Entrance

Zion lies between two major geologic faults:  Hurricane fault to the west, and Sevier fault zone to the east.  The region is formed of sedimentary rock layers deposited by ancient seas primarily during the Triassic and Jurassic periods.  Geologists identify the layers as “formations” with colorful names such as Moenkopi and Chinle of the Triassic period, and Kayenta, Navajo Sandstone, and Carmel formation of the Jurassic period.  The thickness of the layers runs the gamut from only a few feet thick to depths over 3,000 feet.

The spectacular landscape of Zion is due to weathering and erosion of layers, such as the Navajo Sandstone, along near vertical fractures called joints.  At one point we stopped to hike along Pine Creek.

I can only imagine the roiling waters of spring run-off flooding along this creek.

Pine Creek

Pine Creek

While it was darker and cooler in the shadow of the canyon, bright daylight contrasts with the early moon at the top of the canyon.

Pine Creek

Pine Creek

The vertical steepness of these canyons is surprising, and clearly demonstrated in this next photo.

Pine Creek

Pine Creek

However the structure of the rock layers is not always horizontal and vertical.  Up thrust layers can also be seen in the creek channel.

Pine Creek

Pine Creek

Checkerboard Mesa (near the East Entrance) earns its name from a pattern of vertical and horizontal grooves which cover its Navajo Sandstone surface.  Differential weathering of the sandstone layers produced the horizontal grooves, while the vertical grooves are thought to be shallow fractures caused by temperature and moistureresulting in expansion and contraction of the surface.

Checkerboard Mesa

Checkerboard Mesa

The most prominent set of joints in the Navajo Sandstone trend to the north-northwest in nearly vertical widely spaced fractures to which the side canyons are aligned.  Here is a sunset view of one of the many features along the eastbound route.

Another Butte on Zion-Mt. Carmel Road

Another Butte on Zion-Mt. Carmel Road

With sunset, we continued on to Kanab UT, a great location for exploring the richness of Utah.  This iconic area hosted over 200 Hollywood films and probably established the present-day “image” of the American West.  I particularly love to stay at the old Parry Lodge, where the movie stars used to stay during film shoots.  Each room is named after a movie star that stayed there.

References:

Zion NP

Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway and Tunnel

Kanab UT

Parry Lodge

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Mark Bobb

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