How did Zion National Park get it’s name?
The park’s name was originally Mukuntuweap, meaning “straight canyon”, given by explorer John Wesley Powell as he believed it to be the Paiute name for the area. The name “Zion” originally comes from Isaac Behunin, a Mormon pioneer. Isaac Behunin settled the Zion Canyon in 1863 near today’s Zion Lodge, where he farmed tobacco, corn and fruit trees.
Behunin once said of the area, “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as he can in any man-made church; this is Zion.” That’s how Zion National Park got it’s name. The word Zion itself originally comes from the Bible, referring to Mount Zion in ancient Israel.
Zion has come to mean different things among Judeo-Christian cultures. For Mormon pioneers, Zion was often used to mean the Kingdom of Heaven, sanctuary or a happy, peaceful place. If you’ve ever been to Zion National Park, you can understand why Isaac Behunin felt the way he did about this majestic place.
The creation and naming of Zion National Park
The canyon floor was farmed until it became a monument in 1909. On July 31st 1909, President William Howard Taft proclaimed the area as Mukuntuweap National Monument. In 1917, it was proposed by the director of the National Park Service that the name be changed from Mukuntuweap to the more popular name used by the local Mormon community; Zion.
On November 19, 1919, the United States Congress added more land and established it as Zion National Park. The Park has been enjoyed by millions (maybe even billions?) of visitors over the past 100 years. Subsequently, most landmarks in the Park are named following the “Zion” theme. Court of the Patriarchs, Angels Landing, Temple of Sinawava, Kolob Canyons, Cathedral Mountain and more.
How to say it like a local
I was born and raised here in beautiful Southern Utah, so I know how to say the name like a local. I’ll never forget when I was living in upstate New York, people would call it “Zi-yawn”. They also called Oregon, “Ora gone” and Nevada, “Nev-odd-uh”. Needless to say, that’s not right.
Here in Southern Utah, we pronounce it as, “Zi-in”. Interestingly enough, we here in Utah often say the name incorrectly ourselves. The Park is officially named Zion National Park, but here in Utah its most commonly called “Zions”. It might even surprise some locals to find out that it’s actually Zion National Park as opposed to Zions National Park. Ultimately, you can say it however you like, just make sure you see it at some point in your life.
Over 100 years ago, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or “Mormons” fled persecution in Illinois and came to Utah. The rocky mountains were hoped to be a refuge for these people and they were. Zion National Park is one of the world’s most breathtaking landscapes and has certainly been a refuge for many over the years. Come find out why Zion National Park is such a special place!