Zion National Park in Southern Utah is a dazzling display of how powerful wind and water can be, as well as how diverse and lively a desert can be.
Throughout the park and surrounding areas, defined layers are visible in the mountain and cliff sides. These layers are different combinations of sand, gravel, and mud that accumulated and packed together over millions of years, and commonly known as “red rock” due to their color. Immense pressure, aided by natural cementing agents such as iron oxide, silica, and calcium carbonate, eventually turned these layers into stone. Because each layer has a unique makeup depending on where the materials originated, each is distinct in color and texture, and is visible to the naked eye.
These layers are most dramatic in canyons cut out by rivers and streams. As water moves toward the oceans, it has the ability to pick up particles from its surroundings and carry them downstream. The faster the water moves, the larger the particles it caries. This process, called erosion, can cause small rivets in hillsides or massive scars like the Grand Canyon. Erosion is the creator of many of Zion’s biggest attractions, like the Narrows.
The brilliant red rock of Zion is also commonly associated with hot, dusty desert. While much of Zion is desert, within it 229 square miles, there are also riparian, pinyon-juniper, and conifer woodland communities that together support over 1,000 species of plants, and around 320 different animal species (not including insects).
One species of interest in Zion National Park is the California Condor. The California Condor is a scavenging bird, and is one of the largest flying birds in the world, with a wingspan of up to 9.5 feet. Where there were once thousands of Condors in the wild, by 1982, there were only 22 known California Condors left. All remaining California condors were taken into captivity, and a special breeding program was started at the San Diego Zoo. Twenty years later, the California Condor population had risen to over 200 individuals, and today hovers at around 400. Saved from extinction, but not out of the proverbial woods yet, breeding programs are still active, but captive-bred Condors are being released into the American southwest at five protected breeding sites. Zion National Park is home to a few of the 70 or so California Condors that live in Arizona and Utah. These massive birds can sometimes be seen near Angels Landing and on the Kolob Terrace Road.
From the red rock to the wildlife, there is something for every type of science lover in Zion National Park. What have been your Zion adventures? Is there another National Park that is near-and-dear to your heart?
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