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Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Zion's Secret Rock Art

I enjoyed hiking in Zion National Park over the weekend. The weather was perfect - mostly sunny and delightfully warm. Winter is a great time to explore some areas in the park.

I just did easy hikes, searching out some of the park's little-know ancient Native American rock art. I found some, including the images you see in my photos here. Searching out rock art is one of my serious hobbies. Zion has some good ones and I really enjoy finding them. I also enjoy searching for Anasazi ruins.

Zion is not known for its ancient Native American art or ruins, and that is on purpose. Excellent examples of both can be found in the park, but the Park Service does not identify them on maps. If you ask at a ranger desk, they will tell you where to find some rock art images, but they won't mention some of the best spots, and they won't say a thing about the ruins.

There is a "scientifically significant" Anasazi ruin complex located in Parunuweap Canyon, but it is not shown on maps and the canyon is totally closed to hiking. I've asked several park personnel about the site, trying to find out why it is so well protected. What is so special about this ruin complex? It is a public resource on public land, and yet the public is not given any info about it. I'd at least like a description of the ruin and an explanation as to why it is totally off limits to the public.

Interestingly, there is an impressive waterfall located in Parunuweap Canyon, some distance above the Anasazi ruins, but the park service seems to be totally unaware of its existence. Old timers describe the waterfall as one of the most impressive in the American Southwest. It is high and carries a powerful stream of water, but it is well hidden in an extremely rugged canyon. I've asked park rangers and officials about it but they all say they have no knowledge of the waterfall's existence.

If hikers were allowed to come into the canyon from the bottom, they would be able to see the waterfall as the climax of a strenuous hike. Few people venture into the canyon above the waterfall because that requires a long hike into an extremely rugged area. I have talked to a few hikers who have defied the "closed" designation and ventured down the canyon to the waterfall. They describe it as an amazing trek - one of the best in the park.

I'm told there is no way to get a good photo of the waterfall from the top, because the narrow canyon has sheer walls. The East Fork of the Virgin River covers the entire bottom of the slot, and the entire canyon floor falls away at the waterfall. The canyon turns a bit right there and so those who peer over the top only see small slice of the natural wonder.

I understand the need to protect sensitive places and I understand that publishing info about fragile resources can encourage uncaring individuals to cause serious damage. But I'd love to see a photo and description of that waterfall. I really suspect it would rank among the top 5 waterfalls in the region.

So to recap, I enjoyed a great hike in Zion Park. I'm not telling you where I went because Zion's rock art is "top secret." And I'm frustrated because there are no photos or descriptions of two scenic wonders hidden in the park, one a complex of Anasazi ruins and one a majestic waterfall.

Public lands, hidden from the public.

- Dave Webb

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