Zion has a daily program in which a live park ranger does a two hour narration about half a dozen stops on the shuttle line. We rode on such a tour today; it was highly informative. She answered several nagging questions, and clued us in on other aspects of park history that we would have missed otherwise.
Take wood, for example. Wood’s going to be a key to survival anywhere people of European descent try to settle. There is a fair amount of wood at Zion, but it’s mostly cottonwood (soft and usually curved or crooked; unfit for lumber) or smaller trees that never attain the size to make lumber. But at the top of the canyon, 2,000 feet up, now stands a second-growth Ponderosa Pine forest. The first growth forest was there when Brigham Young’s people came to Utah Those trees were perfect, except for one thing: how do you get the logs down the mountain? Early Mormons tried rolling those big pine logs off the peaks, but 2,000 feet later all they had was several million unboxed boxes of match sticks. After several years a fellow named Flanigan came up with the idea of assembling 4,000 feet of steel cable, and with a sturdy swing-set frame to support the line at the top, he ran a line with log-loops from the top of the mountains to the floor of the valley. After a few years somebody realized that what goes down also goes up (the other side of the cable) and began using sturdy barrels to transport loggers to the tree line, saving them a 2,000 foot climb. Everything went well until they cut down all the trees. Whoa! An adverse environmental impact almost 100 years ago.
Our ranger, Grace, took us to a secret place that only this tour gets to visit: The Menu Falls. Those of you who know anything about oil production understand that oil sands, even sandstone, are not solid. They have 20 to 30% airspace between sand particles, despite eons of heat and pressure that turned sand into rock. If you’re looking for oil or gas, that’s a good thing. If you live alongside the cliffs of Zion, it’s a good thing that water has percolated into that rock, and after a few years or a few thousand years, that water emerges from cliffside springs to support all kinds of life. Menu Falls, formerly known as Cliff’s Falls (Cliff discovered it long, long ago) carries that name because its picture adorns the Zion Lodge Restaurant’s upscale menu. This water pops out at 62 degrees year round, and from carbon dating and tritium tests, it’s well established that this water fell as rain or snow atop the cliffs a millennium or so before the Peloponnesian Wars.
If you visit Zion, don’t miss a Ride with a Ranger.