Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Zion National Park

Zion national park is a classic example of a national park showcasing America’s natural beauty. When you drive into the park you are immediately surrounded on all sides by the canyon wall. To reduce the congestion of traffic as well as the environmental impact, the park employed a free shuttle system to take visitors to the various hiking trails and other attractions in the park. While often crowded, the shuttles did arrive quite quickly and frequently, about every 10 minutes. However, I would hope that during their peak season in the summer they would use more shuttles, as even during this off season, we had to squeeze in and stand on almost every trip. While on the shuttle, a voice over played that gave the history of the park and told you about the different landmarks on the way, which was a great way to both make the trip more enjoyable, and to give information to visitors in a direct way.

The main activity at the parks seemed to be the various hiking trails that allowed you to see many of the natural wonders of the park. The park had very clear information about each of the trails including the level of difficulty, what one could expect to see on the trail, total length, and an approximation of the time it would take to complete. When speaking of the level of difficulty, very specific information was given including, steepness of the trail, possibility of drop offs, and whether the road was paved or not. This information was available on the park map, on the park newspaper, in the visitor center, and on the shuttles. To make the park more accessible to all visitors, a select number of trails were flat and paved, making them wheelchair and bike accessible. The shuttles also could accommodate wheelchairs and at least 2 bikes.

The shuttle gave instructions as to how to get to each of the various hiking trails from the each of the stops, which was very helpful for navigating the park. The trails themselves were well labeled and had clear signs telling you where to go, which was very helpful. The more dangerous trails (including angels landing) had warning about what to expect before you got to the actual trail, so no one was taken by surprise.  I hiked the Angels landing trail which was indeed very steep and strenuous, but had a very clear warning posted at the beginning of the trail. The trails themselves appeared to be well maintained, and had little to no debri that blocked hikers, and areas were paved when needed to reduce erosion. The Angel’s Landing trail even had a chain you could use for balance at the more dangerous sections as well as compost bathrooms located about halfway up for visitors to use.

I also visited the Zion Human History Museum, accessible via walking or the shuttles. When I first entered the museum, I was surprised by how small it was considering how the building looked on the outside. The museum had 4 “themes” that organized the museum: water, plants, animals, and humans. Each of these “themes” was house inside a small octagonal room about 10 feet in diameter. Inside there were artifacts in glass cases on one wall and plaques and photographs on the other, usually having to do with that theme. However some objects seemed out of place, and “human” artifacts were found in all fours areas. However the information given was interesting and covered both ancient and modern history, though I could have used more. Overall, the space outside the four “rooms” was not being used effectively, or indeed at all, making the museum feel very empty.

Overall, I think much more could have been done with the museum, as there website allowed me to find out the vast number of artifacts they have in there collection, with very few on display. Although the division into four themes was an original way to organize, I believe they limited the amount of actual used space. Part of the limits of this museum might be due to the fact that most people coming to Zion come for the nature, not the human history, and this museum might not be high on the park’s priorities.

The visitor center as well was rather sparse, including only a few topographical maps and displays and a few photos. However, outside the visitor center, there were many displays including life size sculptures of various wildlife, with fun facts about each one on a flip up plaque, all at kid eye level and near the shuttle stop to keep people entertained during their wait. The majority of the space seemed to be used for the very large gift shop. While I understand the need to pull in revenue for the park, especially considering the many cuts being made to the park service, I believe that more of the visitor center’s resources should be put towards education and improving the informational displays.

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