Category Archives: Natural History

Virgin River Flash Flood Video

Mike and Seth caught some revealing footage of the Virgin River in scary flash flood mode as it carried a huge cottonwood tree down-river like an insignificant Poohstick. See how dark the water is? The color comes from the high load of silt, mud, and rock the river picks up in a flood event. 95% of the erosion in Zion happens in punctuated events like this, where sudden, heavy rains create high-volume, high-velocity river conditions that pick up tons and tons of sediment and move it downstream. Once the momentum gets going, all that debris can scour banks and displace large areas of sediment, replacing ankle-deep shallows with deep pools, and vice-versa. It’s super fun to explore the river after a flood event like this and try to find the best “new” swimming holes the flood has created. The guys filmed this footagee just above the Springdale River Park, where we pick up tubers at the end of their runs. Seems like tubing would be a little extreme with that amount of water and debris in the river, don’t you think? If you want to see a flash flood, I highly recommend a viewing it from a safe place like this, … Continue reading

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Landslide Closes Hidden Canyon Trail

A teenager recently asked me, “Do big rocks fall ever fall down here?” Looking around most anyplace in Zion, and you can see that MANY big rocks have fallen from the canyon walls over time. Because we seldom see rockfall, however, it’s easy to forget where all the boulders on the ground came from. When the Hidden Canyon slide happened last week, it was a great reminder that geology happens all the time… even on actively used trails, in the middle of the day. Thankfully, nobody was hurt. Thanks to Zion’s rangers for helping the stranded hikers out, and for the inevitable work that will need to be done to restore the Hidden Canyon Trail. Until then… it’s a good thing there are lots of other 5-star trail to hike around here. Here’s the news release from the Park Service: Zion National Park Superintendent Jock Whitworth announced today that the Hidden Canyon Trail is currently closed due to a rockslide that occurred on Wednesday evening, July 25 at 5:30 p.m. The rockslide covered a narrow section of the trail with debris trapping 11 park visitors behind it for approximately three hours. Once the debris movement settled down, park rangers set … Continue reading

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Quicksand!

Yesterday while descending Water Canyon with a small CAD I learned a little something about quicksand. Over the past several years I have experienced quicksand, quickmud, and various other mires, but NOTHING like what I experienced in Water Canyon on 4/18. After descending into Middle Water Canyon, we got past the first three raps and started heading down the long hallway into Lower Water Canyon. About half way through this section, we experienced a couple of sloppy, sucking sand areas, but nothing above the knees, which made extraction casual. Moments later, however, I stepped off of a rock in the middle of the watercourse and INSTANTLY sank to my crotch into thin, watery sand. It was somewhat entertaining initially, and I took 10 seconds or so to have the moment captured photographically for all to see. Within those 10 seconds, the sand solidified around my legs and developed the consistency of concrete. I was unable to move any muscle below my waist, so I started digging and scooping water and sand to attempt to free myself from the sucky obstacle. After 10 minutes of digging, damming up the flow to better remove sand and water from the area, and attempting … Continue reading

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Spring Flowers Beginning to Bloom in Zion

Went up Angels Landing twice this last week, so I thought I’d report on how spring is coming along in Zion Canyon. From a bloom point of view, things are getting ready to start. A few plants are currently flowering, but not too many. On the lower switchbacks, I saw a few flowers including: • Zion Milkvetch (purple pea-type flowers, low to the ground, most prominent flower at the moment) • Western Wallflower (cluster of yellow, four-petaled flowers, mostly isolated individuals, some in clumps, second-most prominent at the moment) • Slickrock Paintbrush (red paintbrush, close to the ground. A few here and there) • Yellow sweet clover (I think. Spreading leaves, small yellow flowers pea-like) Driving, on the side of the road near the Museum, there was: • Cliffrose (flowering bush, LOTs of white blooms. Very strong “rose” smell). Then it snowed on Sunday evening, so… Tom

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Dixie State Students Investigate Tree Frog Fungus

Looks like some local Dixie State canyoneer/biologists have found a great way to combine their passions for a good cause. The fungus sounds like bad news, but it sounds like Zion frogs might be up to the challenge? Stay tuned… Utah team to study Zion National Park frogs Published: Saturday, July 2, 2011 9:45 p.m. MDT Associated Press ST. GEORGE — A research team from southern Utah’s Dixie State College is studying the relationship between a fungus and frogs in Zion National Park. A four-student team and biology professor Curt Walker have climbed into the park’s slot canyons to examine the Zion’s Canyon Tree Frog. The team is checking to see if the small, brown creatures have contracted the Chytrid fungus, The Spectrum of St. George reported. So far, students have found no evidence of fungus-related frog deaths in Zion. “Zion is so isolated, we were hoping we wouldn’t find it here, but we’ve found it,” said Heather Jorgensen, a senior biology major, during a trip to the park for research Friday. Jorgensen, with fellow students Crystal Burtis, Alex Nelson and Jackie Mertin, hope their rock-scaling and time spent hunting tadpoles in murky water could produce data that could lead to … Continue reading

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Cedar Breaks Wildflower Festival Blooms July 8th – 24th

Spend a day of your Zion visit exploring the cool climes of our close neighbor to the north, Cedar Breaks National Monument. Just over 7,000 feet above Zion, Cedar Breaks only recently melted out of its deep winter snow cover, setting the scene for what promises to be a tremendous wildflower bloom in the coming weeks. To celebrate the bloom, consider participating in the 6th Annual Wildflower Festival, July 8th thru 24th. In addition to the festivities sponsored by the Monument staff, Zion Canyon Field Institute offers three great classes during the Festival: • Wildflower Photography: Cedar Breaks, with instructor Michael Plyler ($85, July 8th) • Cedar Mountain Wildflowers, with instructor Walt Fertig ($60, July 9th) • Wildflower Journaling at Cedar Breaks, with instructor Sandy Bell ($60, July 11th) For those excited to get started learning the alpine desert wildflowers of Cedar Breaks, download this Common Wildflowers of Cedar Breaks guide to get your feet wet. And remember, Cedar Breaks isn’t just for wildflowers lovers. Aside from its lush meadows, Cedar Breaks also features some lovely Bryce-esque amphitheaters of dramatic red sandstone, along with rim-side trails to view them. The alpine air here is typically 30 degrees cooler than Springdale, often with … Continue reading

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Just Another Thousand-Ton Rockfall in Zion

The Park Service posted this image Saturday of the ZNP road crew cleaning up a giant rockfall just east of Canyon Junction. Thankfully, this kind of stuff typically occurs overnight, when the roads are empty. Nightly rockfall is typically small – watermelon and wheelbarrow-sized boulders – but sometimes, as above, a significant piece of sandstone crashes down, smashing to thousands of bits and blocking the road for quite a while. When you realize just how much rock and rubble falls onto Zion’s roads, it’s sort of amazing to realize there has never been a catastrophic, car-crushing accident via rockfall (at least to my knowledge). Still, I have heard plenty of stories of rocks hurting people. Rockfall has injured and killed climbers in the Park (though that’s a little different, as climbing itself often causes the rockfall). I recall a story from a hiker returning from The Narrows, who had a cantaloupe-sized rock fall from high above and barely graze his shoulder before hitting the river. He was okay, but clearly shaken to consider how close he came to death. Not that I want to scare anybody. But truly, rockfall IS scary, and given that it happens all the time here in Zion, … Continue reading

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Cedar Breaks Still Under Snow at 11,000 Feet

Here’s the latest on conditions high up at Cedar Breaks. This is the snow feeding the Virgin River and The Narrows, which is why we expect The Narrows to continue to be closed through June. As this news release mentions, however, the water is great for the local ecology, and the summer wildflowers in the high country should be in top form. Deep Snow Further Delays Opening Date for Cedar Breaks National Monument CEDAR BREAKS NATIONAL MONUMENT, UTAH. Opening the park road and visitor facilities at Cedar Breaks National Monument has been delayed at least one to two more weeks. The slow melting rate and the vast amount of snow yet to be removed from roadways, parking lots, and facilities have hampered efforts to open the park. The new target date is June 17. “Visitor safety is our number one priority for deciding when to open the park ,” said Park Superintendent Paul Roelandt. “The scenic road through the park still has areas where lanes are partially blocked by snow or where visibility around curves is hampered by drifts of ten feet or more.” The Cedar Breaks Visitor Center will open for the season after the road through the park … Continue reading

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Gray Fox Kits Emerge From Their Dens in Zion Canyon

Noticed this photo update on the ZNP Flickr page. The little foxes are getting big and bold enough to get out of the den and into adventures outside. Not sure where this is… but it’s somewhere in Zion Canyon. Let us know if you see one in the Park!

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May Courses Still Open at Zion Canyon Field Institute

Zion Canyon Field Institute still has some great course offerings for the month of May. On May 13, ZCFI travels up the plateau to enjoy the Wildflowers of Kolob Canyons with instructor, Walt Fertig. We stay in Kolob the next week to learn the geology with Dr. Mark Colberg (Southern Utah University) in our Kolob Geology course. On May 20, and again on the 28th, we do an extended hike on Zion’s East Rim in Rim to Floor. And there’s more botany on May 21 with Walt Fertig in the Hanging Gardens of Zion. So, “Come Hike in Our Classroom.” All classes meet at the Zion Human History Museum on #1 Museum Drive in Zion National Park OR at the Kolob Canyons Visitor Center, 3752 E. Kolob Canyon Rd., New Harmony. Zion Canyon Field Institute is the educational arm of Zion Natural History Association and all classes are fee-based.  For more information or to register contact Michael Plyler (435 772 3264 or plyler.zcfi@ yahoo.com) or visit our website and click on Field Institute.  

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