Friday, October 16, 2009

Zion–the music of waters

Green canyons, red cliffs, blue skies: Zion’s colors can stop in your tracks. Water enables greens rare amidst otherwise desert landscape. Visible or not, water forcefully shapes these stalwart walls. Trickling falls summon emerald growth in nooks and crannies. Sculpted evidence testifies to the carving of red slot canyons. Winter’s icy-blue snow-melt feeds anew the rushing, scouring river torrents of spring. Almost 12,000 years ago Zion’s first peoples, who are now almost invisible, tracked mammoths, giant sloth, and camel across southern Utah.Due the climate change and overhunting these animals died out about 8,000 years ago. In 1860s, just after settlement by Mormon pioneers, John Wesley Powell visited Zion of the first scientific exploration of southern Utah.

Everything in Zion takes life from the Virgin River’s scarce desert waters. Water flows, and solid rock melts into cliffs and towers. The Vermilion, White, and pink cliffs are part of the Grand Staircase, the southwestern edge of the Colorado Plateau. Landscape changes as canyon deepen to create forested highlands and lowland deserts. A ribbon of green marks the river’s course as diverse plants and animals take shelter and thrive in this canyon oasis. From the beginning people sought this place, this sanctuary in the desert’s dry reaches. The very name Zion, a Hebrew word for refuge, evokes its significance.

Zion’s nature multiplies with each slope, aspect, and soil type, with each minute change in precipitation or temperature. Add to these influences species from nearby ecosystems, Zion becomes an assemblage of plants, and thus of animals, found nowhere else exactly like this. This unlikely desert harbors a mosaic of environments, each fine-tuned to place. Zion is alive with movement, a river of life always here and always changing.

Park elevations range from 3,600 to 8,700 feet and provide vastly different environments. Fir pine and aspen prefer snowy high-country winters, while pinon, cliffrose, and mesquite flourish in the desert’s heat. This national park is beautiful but not pristine. Research shows that 150 years of farming, grazing, and recreation changed Zion’s environment. Exotic species like tamarisk and cheat grass replace native willow and native grasses. It is the mission of the National Park Service to provide sanctuary for and reinvigorate Zion’s remaining diversity. Although most park species are not unusual and much has changed, these unique assemblages create and sustain the relevance and sanctity of this wondrous place called Zion.

Be prepared and plan well • Plan your trip. Choose trails that are without your ability. • Falls cause most injuries and deaths at Zion. • Carry and drink 2l of water per person per day. • Wear a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. • Know the weather before you go. Distant storms can cause flash floods. When in doubt, stay out! • Cell phones don’t work in most areas and don’t make you invincible. • Your safety is your responsibility.

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