Zion National Park guide

Escape the crowds and find the hidden beauty of southern Utah's incomparable canyons

Finding Zen Zion

Off-season, southern Utah's spectacular canyons are at their dramatic and inspirational best

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Finding Zen Zion

Call me romantic: I had been hoping that the Temple of Sinawava had some deeper significance, perhaps as a sacred site for the Native Americans who once ranged through the canyon. I'm heartened to discover that Sinawava is a major Paiute deity. The name, however, was actually bestowed not by the Paiute but by a Union Pacific publicity agent in 1913. I can only hope his inspiration was more spiritual than promotional.

The canyon's place-names ― Court of the Patriarchs, the Great White Throne ― are one way that people have tried to put Zion's majesty into perspective. But there are countless hidden canyons and passages, nameless places off the tourist track, that are every bit as inspirational and, yeah ― there's that word again ― awesome.

On our last day, Tom and I head through the tunnel that leads to the park's east side. We hike into an anonymous side canyon, where the golds of fallen cottonwood leaves jump out from the rock's saturated reds, and water droplets left by the morning's drizzle are strung like glass beads along a tree's bare branches.

In the narrows, we discover a series of frozen pools with faceted surfaces that shimmer like diamonds. Above them, mosses grow in a grotto where pink and orange icicles ― tinted by runoff from the sandstone cliffs ― hang down along a ledge. In its way, this Zen Zion is as stirring as that biblical waterfall was the other day: the intimate intensity of Eliot Porter compared with the grandeur of Ansel Adams.

As we climb toward the road, I'm surprised by a couple kneeling near some shrubs. They break my meditative reverie. But it's clear they're connecting to Zion's intricacies and intimacies, as one of them whispers, "This is a holly plant here. The smell is like a benediction."

I like this guy's spirit. And I can only imagine what he'll say when they turn on the waterfalls again.


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