In honor of Zion National Park’s centennial celebration this November, we hear from five people deeply connected to the land and invested in protecting it for another 100 years

Aerial view with winding route of one of the best hikes in the West Angels Landing at Zion National Park, UT
Getty Images / Putt Sakdhnagoo

The Naturalist: Leon Lewis, 84

Worked in the park 1966-1980

“I first saw Zion in the early ‘60s. I remember running through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel—they’ll arrest you nowadays for that, but back then it was a daring thing to do to show off. You could stop at the cutouts, and it was like looking out at a living picture; little hanging valleys, maple trees, flowers. I stood there and listened to the croaks of the canyon tree frogs, and the park became a part of me. Some fellow asked me once: ‘Why don’t you advertise?’ But there’s no way pictures can give you the feeling of Zion. You’ve got to be out there with it to have it become a part of you too.”

The Forest Supervisor: Angie Bulletts, 61

Dixie National Forest supervisor; member of the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians

“Because the Paiute are high-desert people, water is sacred for us. In Zion, my traditional homeland, water brings life, it helps everything grow—including humans. My generation and my mother’s generation would collect this water and pray with it. My children don’t practice those traditions anymore, mainly because of the congestion. For them, as for so many others, the park is more of a recreation spot now. I do believe that the crowds recognize the sacredness and importance of Zion; they can feel it, even if they don’t know why. Paiute people consider themselves stewards of the land, and maybe that’s the kind of mind-set visitors need to have as well. It’s up to them to take care of this place as well, to walk lightly and show respect for the landscape and the people who were there before them.”

The Plein-Air Artist: James McGrew, 44

“Most of the hikes I’ve made in Zion have been alone, observing and painting its unique wonders. But when I hiked the East Rim Trail with my daughters, 15 and 22, seeing them so enthralled and exhilarated brought unsurpassed joy and purpose to my work. If we can get young people to care about this place, they’ll care about the next place that needs protection.”

Courtesy of Jeremy Collins

The Climber: Jeremy Collins, 43

Mr. Collins is also an artist

“Climbing Zion is an adventure. It takes a lot of effort to get to the top; but it also means climbing in fragile environments. Zion is like a plant that can be overwatered, and we, the visitors, are the water. But climbers have the opportunity to mitigate this by exploring new routes. Doing a first ascent has always been attractive to me because it’s an expression of art just like my sketches and paintings. My hope and intent was [for] Moonshadow, the route I created with my friend Jarod Sickler, to be a perfect expression of my love for the park.”

The Filmmaker: Rachel Ross, 26

“There’s a huge learning curve when you recreate in Zion. But if you know what you’re doing, the range of activities here is extraordinary; miles and miles of backcountry, crazy canyons, beautiful trails. My canyoneering partner, Cassy Brown, and I love to explore; we’ll do some canyons over and over, but it’s more typical for us to seek out things we haven’t seen yet. When we go out together, it’s equal parts exhilarating and terrifying and stunning; it really puts things in perspective. When you get down into the layers of rock you’d never be able to see if eons of running water hadn’t carved away at it, it gives you a sense of how gorgeous, beautiful, and fragile the world is. It makes you feel small in a way nothing else does.” 

To get in on the celebration and preservation, check out the Zion National Park Forever Project.