Home to some of the most spectacular geological features
Zion National Park is a stunning landscape located in the southern part of Utah. It is home to some of the most spectacular geological features in North America, including soaring sandstone cliffs, deep canyons, sprawling plateaus, and meandering rivers. The geology of Zion National Park provides an insight into the history of the area and reveals a range of ancient and recent geological events.
Zion National Park, located in the boundary between the Basin and Range geologic province and the Colorado Plateau, is a significant transition zone in a volcanic arc that stretches from Delta, Utah, to southern Colorado. This area is home to various volcanic eruptions that have occurred over the past million years.
The park itself boasts the oldest volcano, the Kolob Volcano, which is approximately 1.1 million years old. Other eruptions, such as Firepit and Spendlove Knolls, took place along the Kolob Terrace Road between 220,000 to 310,000 years ago. The most recent eruption, Crater Hill, happened about 120,000 years ago near the West Temple.
However, there have been eruptions in nearby regions as well. St. George experienced eruptions as recent as 41,000 and 32,000 years ago. The Cedar Breaks region saw eruptions about 1,000 years ago, while Parashant witnessed eruptions 950 years ago, and Sunset Crater erupted around 920 years ago. The most recent eruption in Utah occurred at Ice Spring, near Fillmore, a mere 660 years ago.
Zion National Park is home to a variety of interesting geologic features, which can be found in the park's rock layers. These layers hold clues about the area's past.
The oldest rocks in Zion are located at the base of its cliffs. This layer of sedimentary rocks includes sandstone, limestone, and shale from ancient seas that covered this part of Utah millions of years ago. These rocks span the ages from 285 million to 205 million years ago, when this area was submerged in seawater.
Above this layer are two other distinct layers: the Navajo Sandstone and Kayenta formations. The Navajo Sandstone is a massive deposit of sand that was deposited by wind over 200 million years ago, during the Jurassic period. This sandstone layer is responsible for the beautiful, steep cliffs of Zion. The Kayenta Formation is a much younger formation that was laid down about 160 million years ago.
Finally, the youngest rock layer in Zion National Park is the Carmel Formation. This layer was created during the Cretaceous period, about 95 million years ago when a shallow sea covered this area. The Carmel Formation is composed of mudstone and shale, which are responsible for Zion's numerous canyons and valleys.
The Colorado Plateau
Nestled along the edge of the awe-inspiring Colorado Plateau, this natural wonder extends from Central Utah to Northern Arizona, encompassing parts of Colorado and New Mexico. Excavating millions of years of rock layers, the region reveals a vibrant display of colorful cliffs known as the Grand Staircase. This remarkable geological formation offers an unparalleled glimpse into Earth's history, spanning nearly 2 billion years. The rock layers of iconic canyons, such as the Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce Canyons, serve as a vivid record of the region's extraordinary geological events. Embark on a journey through time as you explore the captivating geological wonders of this remarkable region.
Discover the magnificent power of Zion's streams as they sculpted deep canyons, leaving behind a breathtaking landscape. Positioned on the western edge of the uplift, these streams rushed off the plateau, carrying debris and sediment with them. Witness the impact of time as the North Fork of the Virgin River tirelessly eroded thousands of feet of rock, shaping the awe-inspiring scenery we see today.
But the Virgin River's transformative work is far from over. At one point, a landslide obstructed its path, creating a striking lake. When the river broke free from this natural barricade, the lake vanished, leaving behind a captivating flat-bottomed valley. Experience the remnants of this incredible transformation from the scenic drive near the legendary Sentinel Slide, famously marred by the 1995 landslide.
Don't underestimate the power of flash floods in molding the park's geography. These exhilarating thunderstorms send water cascading down exposed rock, resulting in a sudden surge in water volume. In 1998, a flash flood caused the Virgin River's flow to skyrocket from 200 to a staggering 4,500 cubic feet per second, causing further damage to the picturesque drive near the Sentinel Slide.