Zion National Park human history ranges back roughly 12,000 years. Change has been a constant for the people who have inhabited the area. The climate and geology of this region, actively evolving, requires adaptations from human, plant, and animal populations.
More modern settlements have fought through the hardships of fire, flooding, and weather. The natural beauty of the area makes people keep fighting to build a future here. The 3 million visitors per year, on average, can see why many would view Zion National Park as a place to write their permanent story.
Evidences of humans in Zion National Park reach back to the Archaic period. These people were hunters and gatherers and lived a nomadic lifestyle. Caves in the park have yielded some clothing artifacts, while stone tools have also been discovered.
A shift into more static lifestyle happened roughly 300 BC. Records indicate that corn was purposely planted and harvested, helping to counter the lapses in wild food resources. Individual storage containers lead to the group of people who lived in the area during this time to be called Basketmakers.
Continual advancements occurred as timeline shifted to AD counts. Two distinct groups split: Parowan Fremont and Virgin Anasazi. This is when true community living became the norm in the Zion National Park region. Pueblos were set up as homesites. There were distinct living spaces for the two tribes, but there are also places where intermingling occurred. Southern Paiute and Ute communities also pressed into the area a bit.
Several centuries worth of hard times caused by climate returned and affected the residents toward further change. Nomadic lifestyle became a requirement again because the ground was unwilling to reliably grow resources attempted to be cultivated. This Neo-Archaic time span lasted until modern day explorers entered the scene during the 18th century. The Paiute Tribe still has a reservation site in the near vicinity of Zion National Park.
Explorers & Mormons
The Spanish expedition of Dominguez-Escalante of 1776 was the first to move through the Zion National Park region of Southern Utah. It marked the beginning of the Old Spanish Trail, used by pioneers and other overland travelers. Settling the area was not a point of interest for most. Native Americans were sometimes encountered and the land was not very fertile.
Towns started popping up with the influx of the Mormon community in the mid-19th century. Isaac Behunin put up a cabin near the spot where the current day Zion Lodge sits in 1863. It was the first log building in the canyon that came to be known as Zion, even though Brigham Young was against mimicking the heavenly name of the holy city. Upper reaches of the Virgin River proved too unpredictable to live in, so most of the early homesteaders moved out of the area.
Tourism was starting to become a national movement in the early 1900s. The land was difficult to live on, value was found in its scenic quality. Utah began a major construction movement in 1909 to allow people to take advantage of the new national monument in Zion Canyon. Personal vehicles were able to reach the first visitors Lodge by the summer of 1917.
Zion became an official National Park in 1919. Construction for visitor facilities and the complex road system, that included a mile-long tunnel, began posthaste. Today, the town of Springdale is situated just outside of the southern end of the park with a population of under 1000. More than 3 million people per year visit Zion National Park.