Saturday, August 9, 2014

To Touch The Face Of God

Zion National Park originally had a traditional Indian name.  One of the early park managers changed it to Zion, which is an alternative for "Jerusalem" or "City of David," because the canyon's earliest Mormon settlers called it Kolob, after the heavenly body closest to the throne of God.

Indeed, many of the sights worth naming have names with a religious bent: The Great White Throne, Angel's Landing, The Organ, The Alter of Sacrifice, The Court of the Patriarchs (three bluffs named after the three first fathers of the Bible), and on.

If Zion is truly a church of stone and water, then it is also one of the few national parks where visitors can touch the face of God: unlike Monument Valley, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon, Zion's bluffs are close at hand.  You can walk right up and touch, sometimes from the window of the visitor shuttle.  Trails start at the narrow canyon road and rise thousands of feet rather immediately.

The West Temple

Sandstone bluffs are held together by varying amounts of iron oxide, giving them a vivid red hue.

Angel's Landing (top of the red spike on the right) overlooking the Great White Throne (center), with the Organ on the left.  A regular Sunday mass set in stone.

This massive wall isn't massive enough to be given a name.

Porous sandstone leaks water to create hanging gardens.

The east section of the non-backcountry part of Zion looks completely different than the main/central bluff section.  To my eyes, it resembles red lava flows, cooled layer upon cooler layer.

Later we drove through the Vermillion Cliffs.  Quick geology explanation: the Earth around here is comprised of layers of different rocks in different colors (top to bottom, youngest to oldest: pink, grey, white, vermillion, chocolate).  As the Colorado and other rivers carve through it, creating canyons, it exposes deeper and deeper layers of these rocks.  Not just in the vicinity of that river, but across the scope of northeastern Arizona to south-central Utah.  Combined across hundreds of miles, they are called the Grand Staircase, and each step has a different color.  The Grand Canyon is the lowest step, with chocolate walls at the top and even older rock at the bottom; then Vermillion Cliffs with vermillion walls; then Zion with vermillion walls at the bottom and gray walls at the top; and finally Bryce Canyon, the highest step, with pink spires.

The Colorado River is still at work, making the Vermillion Cliffs into the next Grand Canyon.

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