Frederick S. Dellenbaugh: Zion Artist

1903 Painting of Zion Canyon by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh

1903 Painting of Zion Canyon by Frederick S. Dellenbaugh

A painter and a photographer helped popularize Zion National Park and bring national attention to southeastern Utah.

Frederick S. Dellenbaugh visited Zion Canyon in the summer of 1903 -- 30 years after he'd served John Wesley Powell as topographer and chart maker on Powell's second expedition of the Colorado River. Dellenbaugh had spotted some of the great towers of Zion Canyon at a distance, but never got a closer look, until three decades had passed.

During those 30 years Dellenbaugh had trained in Europe as an artist. His 1903 visit to Zion Canyon led to a 17-page article published in Scribner's Magazine -- one of the most popular periodicals of the day. "A New Valley of Wonders" was filled with black & white photographs and florid prose like this:
"To the eye prejudiced by the soft blues and grays of a familiar Eastern United States or European district," he wrote, "this immense prodigality of color is startling, perhaps painful; it seems to the inflexible mind unwarranted, immodest, as if Nature had stripped and posed nude, unblushing before humanity."

To convey those vivid colors, Dellenbaugh turned to canvas and oil paints, producing a series of Zion Canyon paintings for exhibit at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. Yet the people who saw those paintings were highly skeptical that any place on earth could have such magnificent cliffs or such vibrant colors.

Yet public opinion was favorably impressed, between Dellenbaugh's magazine article and his paintings -- enough to help nudge President Robert Taft into designating Zion Canyon as Mukuntuweap National Monument in 1909.

(One of Dellenbaugh's Zion Canyon paintings is now on display at the Zion Human History Museum. It is a highly realistic, almost photo-like painting of the mouth of Zion Canyon, before park service buildings and roads were built.)

In the 1920s, a talented photographer from Cedar City -- one Randall Jones -- contributed his talents to publicize Zion Canyon, now a national park.

In the days before color photography was developed, Jones was hired by the Union Pacific Company to shoot black and white slides of Zion Canyon, then carefully tinted them with vibrant colors. Jones traveled the country showing his slides and increasing the public's desire to see this wonderful canyon.

Jones mat have even teamed up with NPS director Stephen Mather in publicizing Zion. Mather would mail out tinted photographs of Zion in his campaigns to attract visitors and build roads that linked the national parks of southern Utah and northern Arizona.

Eviend T. Scoyen, the first superintendent of Zion, called Jones the "Apostle of the Utah Parks" when asked to identify influential park supporters.

Local bookstores feature "Zion Album, A Nostalgic History of Zion Canyon," which documents the work of those early and influential photographs by Randall Jones.

(The Randall L. Jones Theater at Southern Utah University is named in his honor, and hosts the Utah Shakespearean Festival productions in the summer and fall.)



Human Use of Zion Goes Back 12 Millennia

The earliest evidence of humans in the Zion National Park area is about 10,000 BC, from ancient spear points found among the remains of woolly mammoths and other Ice Age species.

John Wesley Powell in 1869, Powell with Tau-gu, a Paiute

Powell's Insights about the West opposed by Boosters

Wallace Stegner's "Beyond the Hundredth Meridian" is the finest biography of explorer-scientist John Wesley Powell, the famed explorer of the Grand Canyon in 1869.

Winter snow dusting the Court of the Patriarchs along the Virgin River in Zion National Park

Winter Recreation in Zion National Park

Zion's snowcapped mountains are spectacular in the winter. The canyon is not normally subject to heavy snow, so hiking and biking are still popular.

Edward Abbey. Photo still via YouTube

Author Edward Abbey's Solitude in Arches National Park

Abbey's two years as an Arches National Park ranger inspired him to write "Desert Solitaire," and coin the phrase "industrial tourism."

1920's Union Pacific Railroad

Railroad shaped beginning of Zion National Park

Railroads have always been involved with the national park system in the United States, from the founding of the first national park, Yellowstone.

Telephone Canyon, the Temple of Sinawava. Photo by NPS Jason Burton

History Behind Zion Park Names

The first Anglo-European settlers, Mormon pioneers, named the area Zion, which is ancient Hebrew for sanctuary or refuge.


Delve into Zion History

There are tens of thousands of ruins, artifacts, petroglyphs and pictographs throughout the region. One of the most fun things you can do is find an ancient artifact on your own.

Romancing the Stone Movie had scenes in Zion

Zion: Movie and TV Hotspot

Southern Utah has long provided spectacular scenery for westerns, and just plain wild/weird scenery for science fiction or horror movies.

Solo hiker in the Zion Narrows in Zion National Park in Utah

Hiking the Virgin River through Zion Narrows

This slot canyon in Zion National Park, is the premier and most accessible slot canyon in the Southwest. Hikers can take the easy, moderate or challenging route.