The area around Zion offers a wealth of possibilities to history buffs to explore. From some of the continent’s most ancient artifacts through the living history of the earliest European settlers, there are more historic sites than you can shake a stick at. While hunting for a good branch, include a search for your perfect ghost town.
Utah’s first national park, celebrates a “Century of Sanctuary” in 2009 with a series of celebrations that mark the historic milestone including a 10k run, a film series of movies shot within the park area; a lecture and art series and a juried photo show open to Utah residents as well as special interpretive programs throughout the year.
Zion shouldn’t be your only stop. Take a scenic drive, or stop by an annual festival. Check out a local museum on dinosaurs or ancient American culture. There’s something for everyone just around the corner.
Peer into the Ancient Past at Anasazi State Museum
Anasazi State Museum reflects the ancient Indian village in Boulder, the heart of Utah’s canyon country, one of the largest Anasazi communities west of the Colorado River. The site is believed to have been occupied from A.D. 1050 to 1200. The village remains largely unexcavated, but many artifacts have been uncovered and are on display in the newly remodeled museum. It also explores the water of Zion, the creator and destroyer. Call (435) 335-7308.
Heart of Sinbad
Another favorite destination within this remote backcountry is the Head of Sinbad. Located in the center of the Swell, it features Wingate sandstone cliffs, arches and not-to-be-missed rock art juxtaposed with dramatic natural arches. Similar to the Canyonland’s Great Gallery pictographs, these images are not etched into the rock, but painted on with a deep burnt red pigment. This style of ancient art is called Barrier Canyon Style rock art after the canyon in Canyonlands in which the first major panels were found. The figures in the Great Gallery can be up to 6-foot tall and the ones in the Great Swell are of similar size. Birds, snakes, coyotes and abstract figures are also present. No one knows who created these magnificent images or why, although there is always rampant speculation. It appears that they may be thousands of years old; an image in the Great Gallery was carbon dated at 3000 years of age.
The Trail of the Ancients National Scenic Byway
If you have the time, consider taking the Trail of The Ancients National Scenic Byway. In includes over 5,000 archaeological sites that range from early Basketmakers who lived here over 10,000-years ago and includes some of the most pristine ancient Puebloan (formerly known as Anasazi) ruins in the country, as well as natural arches and early European civilizations. The drivers enter Utah from Arizona along I-160 where the Four Corners Monument highlights the only point in the U.S. where four states connect (Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado).
Hovenweep National Monument
Head due north to the Hovenweep National Monument along the Colorado border to see ancient ruins built during the time European castles were being built. Six ancient Puebloan structures include square, circular, d-shaped and oval towers are spread over the 20-miles of mesa and canyons. These are some of the earliest habitations on the continent as well as some of the most striking as they rise multi-stories into the air, often perched on the edge of cliffs.
Edge of the Cedars State Park
Edge of the Cedars State Park, just outside of Blanding, Utah, invites visitors to understand the life and culture of the ancient Puebloans. A restored site includes pathways through ruins as well as the chance to enter a kiva the old way, via ladder. Rare artifacts are housed in the museum.
Natural Bridges National Monument
Stop at Butler Wash and Mule Canyon on the way to Natural Bridges National Monument to see more Native American ruins including a cliff dwelling and a somewhat reconstructed tower. Natural Bridges features a trio of the world’s largest natural bridges as well as Puebloan ruins.
Grand Gulch Primitive Area
The Grand Gulch Primitive Area offers the intrepid the chance to view rarely seen ruins. Locals recommend at least two weeks for backpackers to take advantage of the area, but some ruins are available to day hikers, as well. Keep heading south on Hwy. 261 to Valley of the Gods. The road falls over 1,000 feet to the Moki Dugway where a dirt road takes visitors to a more intimate version of nearby Monument Valley. Deep red stacked rocks are set against the silver-green of the local sagebrush.
Gooseneck State Park
Gooseneck State Park, lets visitors stand high above the San Juan River to see the snake-like formation the river cut through the cliffs.
Monument Valley Tribal Park
Continue down Hwy. 163 to Monument Valley Tribal Park to learn about the modern Navajo culture on the way to the Grand Canyon. When you hit I-89 head south to connect to the more famous south rim, or head north toward Zion to hit the north rim. North on I-89 will take you to Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Powell as well as the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument before connecting with Hwy. 9 at Mt. Carmel. Whew!