Friday, September 11, 2015

Zion Canyon overflowing with heavenly titles

                      Angels Landing, center,  with the Great White Throne behind it.

By Lynn Arave

ZION National Park is Utah’s premier outdoor treasure. Visited by some 3 million people annually, Zion is actually steeped in religious overtones, with a total of two dozen Biblical, Book of Mormon and even Native America spiritual names dominating its unusual landscape.
Surprisingly, Ogden City, though it is some 350 miles from Zion, has a strong connection to at least two and possibly three of the Park’s most famous landmarks – The Great White Throne, Angels Landing and the Three Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
And, this trio of names didn’t originate from a Mormon either. Frederick Vining Fisher, an Ogden resident and former pastor of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Ogden, named these rock monuments during a visit there in 1916 (or perhaps even earlier in 1914, as one early Zion Park brochure from the late 1930s claims.)
Fisher, actually an early non-Mormon apologist, made a trip up Zion Canyon (then called either “Little Zion,” “The Heavenly City of God,” or “Mukuntuweap,” meaning “Straight Canyon” to the Southern Paiute Indians). Fisher was accompanied by two locals, Rockville LDS Bishop David Hirschi and his son, Claude Hirschi.

Frederick Vining Fisher.  Utah State History photo.

The afternoon sun gloriously illuminated the Great White Throne and inspired Fisher to reportedly say: “Never have I seen such a sight before. It is by all odds America's masterpiece. Boys, I have looked for this mountain all my life but I never expected to find it in this world. This mountain is the Great White Throne.”
Dr. Fisher (then going by an educational, rather than a religious title) also noticed a large rock formation on the opposite side of the narrow canyon, just northwest of the Great White Throne, and once again made a religious connection. He surmised that angels would never land on the nearby Great White Throne — that was a seat for deity — but would instead reverently perch on a nearby footstool to pay their obeisance. Hence, the Angels Landing name and what is today one of the most popular and exciting hikes in the National Park.

       The summit of Angels Landing with The Great White Throne in the background.
                                                                            Photo by Roger Arave.

The Three Patriarchs’ name origin is indefinite. Some accounts say Fisher named it and others point to Claude Hirschi.
Fisher had lived in Alaska prior to coming to Ogden and he had also visited other outdoor gems -- Yosemite, Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon. Still, he referred to Zion as a “wonderland of nature” and gave frequent lectures during the 1910s across the nation highlighting Utah as “the Crown Jewel of the Continent” with its outdoor treasures.  Fisher also often spoke in the Ogden LDS Tabernacle and was good friends with David O. McKay, then an LDS Apostle.
Overall, Zion is indeed an unusual National Park where most visitors are provided with a brief Biblical and Book of Mormon education whether they want it or not, because of the many religious titles there.
Ride the shuttle buses in Zion and the audio recordings will recite some of this religious history as the heavenly landmarks along the way are pointed out.
(Ironically, Temple Square in Salt Lake City and Zion National Park are by far the top two tourist attractions in the Beehive State and both are religious oriented.)
Local Native Americans had for centuries known of and revered Zion Canyon, a dark and narrow place where they often feared entrance.
Mormon settler Nephi Johnson was the first non-Indian known to visit Zion Canyon in 1858. A Joseph Black visited the canyon in 1861 and called it "Joseph's Glory," after the Mormon Prophet Joseph Smith. 
Another Mormon pioneer, Isaac Behunin constructed a log cabin at today’s Springville in January of 1862. By the summer of 1863, he had built another cabin and farm, this one near where today’s Zion Lodge resides. Behunin promoted the “Little Zion” name for the area and supposedly proclaimed, “A man can worship God among these great cathedrals as well as in any man-made church – this is Zion.”
Behunin was also reputed to say: "Why go to Zion (Salt Lake City) and worship in a temple when he have God's own temples here? This is as much Zion as Salt Lake. We'll call it little Zion."
Behunin used to sit in front of his cabin and admire the spectacular canyon walls.
The name "Little Zion" took hold for a time.
However, LDS Church President Brigham Young hearing of this, later stressed to early settlers in the Springdale area that the canyon was not Zion, despite their heavenly descriptions.
Some of the settlers then began sarcastically calling the area "Not Zion.”
(Behunin Canyon, northwest of the Emerald Pools, is named in the pioneer’s honor.)
Joseph S. Black, still another Mormon pioneer, was so excited by the Canyon’s beauty that he provided what others considered to be unbelievable descriptions of the place. Some skeptics then sarcastically dubbed the area "Joseph's Glory."

                          Another view of Angels Landing.

Here are some of the other religious names in Zion National Park:
-Kolob Canyons and Kolob Arch get their titles from the Pearl of Great Price, an LDS book of scripture, that mentions a star, Kolob, as nearest the residence to God.
-Mount Moroni is named for a Book of Mormon prophet. Orderville Canyon was named for the nearby town of Orderville and the LDS Church’s 19th Century United Order plan.
-Zion, the park's overall name, too has roots in both the Bible and other LDS scriptures. Zion is a Hebrew word referring to a place of safety or refuge.
-There's also Tabernacle Dome, The Organ (originally “The Great Organ”); Church Mesa; the North and South Guardian Angels; Tabernacle Dome; the Altar of Sacrifice; The Pulpit; Cathedral Mountain; and Canaan Mountain.
- Explorer John Wesley Powell visited Zion in 1872 and applied the Indian names, like "Mukuntuweap" to the North Fork of the Virgin River and "Parunuweap" ("Water that Roars") to the East Fork.
Yet even Powell felt spiritual there, since he named the East and West Temples.
-The Virgin River was either named by Spanish explorers in honor of Mary, the Mother of Jesus; or for a mountain man, Thomas Virgin, who traveled with the legendary explorer Jedediah Smith.
-The Temple of Sinawava was named by Douglas White of the Union Pacific Railroad to honor “Sinawava, the Paiute’s Coyote god or spirit. Mount Kinesava is named for another Paiute deity.

REFERENCES: Ogden Standard-Examiner Archives; “A History of Southern Utah and Its National Parks,” by Angus M. Woodbury; Utah Historical Quarterly, Fall 1987;;; “Utah Place Names,” by John W. Van Cott; and various Zion Park and quadrangle maps; Deseret News Archives.

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:

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