I visited Zion once when I was seventeen, and it left a lasting impression on my mind. These photos by Trudy McGowan from Zion this January brought all of the memories back.
My family was on one of our massive road trips across the country, and Zion was one of our stops.
I remember my family driving through mountains of red stone, and I felt like I was on another planet. Canyons and sheer cliffs and blue sky surrounded us, swallowed us whole, and, being the fantasy-prone child I was, I wondered what it would be like if ancient cities existed within these towering red rocks. I made up crazy stories in my mind as we drove, stories that today fuel a fantasy novel.
In the little town of Springdale, the gateway town to Zion National Park, my fantasies simmered and I walked around with my family, absorbing the bright desert colors and the heat and the juxtaposition of little buildings and massive mountains of stone.
The town with a small performing arts center. The restaurants my family ate at. The art galleries whose work attempted to capture the mountains, the landscape, and the strange junction of geographical regions that collided in this one National Park. On one hand, it was desert; on the other, ice came in the winter.
What stood out most to me was the little medical center that stood apart from the town in a large trailer. My brothers were dealing with a sore throat (I think it wound up being strep) and we met the town’s primary doctor, a woman who had lived in Springdale for years. Her son had attended a one-room schoolhouse back when the town was far smaller. She said it was the best education he could have ever received. I listened as she spoke about her son’s career, his life in the one-room school, and the changes the town had seen in the explosion of National Park popularity. I thought about how wonderful it was for me to be there, but I wondered how my family’s small part in tourism was helping to change this town. What it did it mean for Zion, for the people who lived nearby? How many generations had lived and died in the shadows of these mountains? At seventeen, these questions overwhelmed me, and I just listened to the doctor and my mother speak.
I thought about my questions as we walked around the town and as I begged my family to please let me wander into another gallery. Here was this place, this town in the desert, and here we were–all of our human concerns dwarfed by the sheer scale of the red rock around us, our narratives and fantasies and petty illnesses subsumed by the shining eons of the desert.
I will come back one day, I thought, and I will explore these canyons.
For now, I marvel at the geographical diversity of the region as I share these photos–did you know that Zion sits right at the junction of the Mojave Desert, the Colorado Plateau, and the Great Basin? That it’s technically classified as a unique “cold desert,” and that it supports enormous biodiversity?
Maybe I have to take my sheet metal worker there at some point soon.
All images in this post by Trudy McGowan.