Zion (Day 2)

So long as you have water, a shuttle service to bring you around, and stay focussed on the shapes and colours of the rocks, Zion National Park in Utah is beautiful, in that classical removed romantic way. 

We got there just as the gates were opening in the morning and hiked 3-4 miles up a trail called Watchman. Beautiful.

Than back down into the valley of the Virgin River, because it was getting really warm already. Beautiful.

A lot of the trails, including the famous Narrows, were actually closed due to high water levels. But another place we managed to visit was Weeping Rock, where water stores in thick layers of Navajo sandstone, drips down constantly, and creates a micro-climate that feels like the jungle. Beautiful.

"Best dad shirt ever," someone tells me. Yo, just doing my bit to counter the lobotomizing radiations of Money Mouse. 

The issue I have with Zion and with many of the official interpretations of the parks isn't so much a Park Service thing but an American one, as in America, the religion.

Before 1918, Zion National Park used to be called the Mukuntuweap National Monument, named sensibly after the Paiute name for the area. This must have sat uneasy with the Mormon settlers, for their term was the biblical Zion, the "sanctuary."

Wikipedia quotes the historian Hal Rothman: "The name change played to a prevalent bias of the time. Many believed that Spanish and Indian names would deter visitors who, if they could not pronounce the name of a place, might not bother to visit it. The new name, Zion, had greater appeal to an ethnocentric audience."

Meanwhile, throughout the park you hear all about the Mormons and their hardships, the same pioneer trope over and over. You learn about the numerous rock formations they named and why: Angels Landing (so high only angels could land on it), the Court of the Patriarchs (after Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), etc. You learn about Mormon individuals and their very humanizing quirks: the young missionary Nephi Johnson, the tobacco and fruit farmer Isaac Behunin...

But 8,000 years of Native American history? If you look hard, in an interpretative centre, you can find a glass cabinet with some sandals made of yucca or weaved baskets, stating how old the relics are and other dead, unhumanizing facts. Or throughout the park you come across reference to names which are clearly not European (the Pa'rus Trail, Kinesava, Sinawava) but you're hard pressed to find any explanation. Who can pronounce those anyway, right?


  1. So true Ivano! It's fascinating as an American who grew up in this educational system to slowly realize now as an adult how whitewashed my education was, even here in "liberal" California. Although it wasn't nearly so liberal in the 80's / 90's.....Too bad the Narrows was closed, that is really a beautiful hike, but the whole place is pretty spectacular. Enjoy!


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