Zion National Park

Zion National Park: A Place of Peace and Sanctuary

“Road trips are the equivalent of human wings. Ask me to go on one, anywhere. We’ll stop in every small town and learn the history and stories, feel the ground, and capture the spirit. Then we’ll turn it into our own story that will live inside our history to carry with us, always. Because stories are more important than things.” – Victoria Erickson

Zion National Park is a natural wonder located in the Southwestern United States, near the town of Springdale, Utah. As I approached the park, the striking beauty of the towering red cliffs took my breath away. The park is home to several natural formations shaped by wind, water, and other natural forces over time.

Zion Canyon, which stretches for 15 miles and is up to half a mile deep, is surrounded by towering sandstone cliffs that change color throughout the day, depending on the sun’s angle. The canyon’s walls are home to several hiking trails, including the famous Angels Landing trail, which offers stunning views of the canyon and its surroundings.

However, I soon learned that this picturesque landscape was a harsh environment that belonged to the Southern Paiute Indians long before the arrival of Mormon pioneers in the early 1850s.

Despite the difficult conditions, these pioneers saw the potential of the land and sought to make it their home. One such settler was Isaac Behunin, who, in 1863, built a one-room log cabin near the Zion Lodge site. Behunin recognized the canyon’s grandeur and called it Zion, saying, “These are the Temples of God, built without the use of human hands. A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as in any man-made church – this is Zion.”

As I hiked through the park, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of wonder and reverence for this place that had inspired such powerful words. The towering cliffs and narrow canyons seemed to embody the concept of peace and sanctuary that the word Zion represents. I could see why this word was so important to Mormons, who had faced persecution in the eastern states and sought to establish an independent realm in the west, gathering Zion as a symbol of their heritage.

As an Israeli, I also feel a personal connection to the name Zion, as it is the hill on which the city of David was built in Jerusalem and later the site of the Temple Mount. While the political realities of the Middle East region make it difficult to see Zion as a place of peace and sanctuary today, I hope that one day it can live up to the promise of its name.

It is interesting to note that when Zion Canyon was first declared a National Park in 1909, it was named Mukuntuweap National Monument, after the way the Indians called the place. This caused considerable outrage among Mormons, who saw it as an insult to their heritage. The name was eventually changed to Zion National Monument in 1918, thanks to the efforts of the acting Director of the National Park Service, Horace Albright.

President Obama’s decision in 2015 to officially change the name of North America’s highest mountain from Mount McKinley to Denali to reflect the native Alaskan name is a reminder of the importance of recognizing these places’ cultural heritage and significance. In the case of Zion National Park, it is hard to imagine calling it anything else but Zion, a name that has come to embody the beauty, majesty, and spiritual significance of this remarkable place.

“Once you have traveled, the voyage never ends but is played out over and over again in the quietest chambers. The mind can never break off from the journey.” – Pat Conroy