Mukuntuweap aka Zion

Zion, our fifth national park visit in Utah, was last but certainly not least. It has a huge TADA factor. According to National Geographic, Zion is the 6th most visited national park in the US, drawing over 3.6 million visitors each year. I have no idea how many visited in September when we were there but it seemed like it may have been all 3.6 million.

Mukuntuweap National Monument was established in 1909 by President William Howard Taft. Mukuntuweap, meaning straight canyon, was the name given to this area by Southern Paiute inhabitants around 1100 AD. The early Mormon pioneers renamed the area Zion, a Hebrew word for refuge. In 1918, President Woodrow Wilson issued an executive order enlarging the monument and officially changing the name to Zion National Monument. The following year it became Utah’s first national park (National Park Service, 2016).

In an earlier post, I told you the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway into Zion from the east was closed because of a major rock fall on September 23. At breakfast in our hotel restaurant in Mt. Carmel on September 26, we learned it was still closed. Nonetheless, we drove to the East Entrance.

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We wanted to see what we could of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway up to the second tunnel where the road was closed. On the map below, I’ve marked the entrance and the closure in red to show how far we could drive into the park.

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Zion National Park brochure map (public domain)

With plenty of scenery and wildlife along the Zion-Mt Carmel Highway, we didn’t mind the fact that we would eventually arrive at a dead-end.

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Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway

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Scenes from the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway, Zion NP

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Bighorn sheep on the rocks along the Zion-Mt. Carmel Hwy

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Another herd of Bighorn sheep

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First tunnel on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Hwy in Zion NP

The most difficult section of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway to construct was this 1.1-mile tunnel below. I was fascinated to learn that the first step was to blast holes into the cliff face which would later become gallery windows with incredible views from inside the tunnel. Once the windows were blasted, workers had access to the interior of the cliff where they could continue to blast and drill the tunnel. When the tunnel was dedicated on July 4, 1930, it was the longest of its kind in the U.S. (National Park Service, 2016).

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The 1.1-mile tunnel on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway where the road was closed

 

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Yet another herd of Bighorn sheep from the rear

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The Bighorn sheep were bold enough to cross the road right in front of us

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We watched 2 rams pursue this ewe a good long while and thought we’d see them lock horns but this guy apparently won out.

Once we saw everything on the east side of the closure, we drove back the way we came and then drove around to the south entrance at Springdale, about 120 extra miles. While Jim drove, I looked for lodging on my smartphone with spotty coverage at best. There were no rooms to be found in Springdale. The closest room I could find to the park was a Best Western in La Verkin, about 20 miles away. As it turned out, lodging is much more reasonably priced further from the park so we weren’t unhappy with our choice.

We arrived at the south entrance in the afternoon. Here’s a tip: Get there early. The parking is limited and the overflow is directed to park on the street or in lots in Springdale where there are shuttles to deliver visitors to the park. The shuttle goes down the main street only so if your parking is off on a side street like ours, you may have a bit of a hike to the shuttle. So get there early!

Next time I’ll share scenes and stories from our exploration of Zion from the South Entrance.

 

Based on events from September 2015.

 

References:

National Park Service. Zion National Park. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.nps.gov/zion/learn/historyculture/zmchighway.htm

 

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