THE GREATER ZION WILDERNESS
Zion National Park's world-famous landscape of soaring cliff walls, forested plateaus, and deep, narrow gorges extends well beyond the boundaries of the park onto surrounding BLM lands. In these as yet unprotected lands, clear mountain streams descend from the juniper-dotted uplands into a network of canyons. On the highest plateaus, islands of ponderosa pine forest are surrounded by cream-colored slickrock. Seeps in the canyon walls provide water for bouquets of maidenhair fern, scarlet monkeyflower, and columbine. Hawks, falcons, and eagles nest along the sandstone walls, while ringtailed cats, deer, cougar, and bear live in the canyon bottoms.
Water is everything here. It is the architect of natural stone temples and slot canyons of the Greater Zion wilderness; it is life to the area's many plants and animals, sustenance to the nearby human population. Yet it is a capricious provider -- sometimes coming not at all for months, sometimes swelling the canyons with floodwater.
In the West it is said that water flows towards money. And in southwestern Utah the money is in the city of St. George, where the population has more than quadrupled since 1970. With Washington County, which surrounds St. George, becoming a magnet for retirees, this trend is likely to continue. Burgeoning population has put escalating demands on all of the area's resources, but none is more affected than the supply of water. The Virgin River and its tributaries -- Deep Creek, the North Fork, South Creek, North Creek, the East Fork, Orderville Creek, LaVerkin Creek, Goose Creek -- not only provide water for the natural functioning of the national park and surrounding BLM wild lands, but are also being asked to satisfy the agricultural and residential demands of Washington County.
Damming the Virgin
Among the schemes driven by this demand for water is a proposed dam on the East Fork of the Virgin River. The Washington County Water Conservancy District wants to build a dam in the proposed Parunuweap Canyon wilderness unit immediately upstream from Zion National Park. The Conservancy District also hopes to construct a dam across the North Fork of the Virgin not far above the tightest portions of the Zion Narrows. This dam would flood a proposed BLM wilderness unit. Already, plans are in motion to site another impoundment just downstream of the national park on North Creek. Gunlock and Kolob Reservoirs are already in place. If the Conservancy District had its way, the entire Virgin River drainage would become little more than a plumbing system for the city of St. George.
All of this proposed water diversion would only encourage further development in a desert where profligate water use is an old habit, water conservation an obscure notion, and growth control pure blasphemy. Washington County proposes to construct all of the dams it possibly can on the Virgin River before instituting any meaningful water conservation measures. Such a strategy would maximize the raw volume of water available for eventual residential growth, but would simultaneously minimize the amount available to the national park, wildlife, and fish. In addition to obliterating major portions of wild canyons, the proposed reservoirs would diminish habitat for the endangered woundfin minnow, threatened Virgin roundtail chub, endemic Zion snail, and rare Virgin spinedace, and radically alter the natural functions of the river. Water flows through Zion National Park would be subverted, and the park's famous hanging gardens adversely affected.
According to biology professor James Deacon (1988), the Virgin River "supports one of the few remaining native fish assemblages in the American Southwest." This assemblage includes, in addition to those previously mentioned, the speckled dace, desert sucker, and flannelmouth sucker. While the woundfin and Virgin chub occur downstream from Zion National Park, their habitat would suffer from upstream water manipulations. These federally protected fish are becoming increasingly scarce despite measures taken to enhance their chances for survival. Fish in the Virgin River drainage have evolved to thrive in flash flood conditions; a change in flow regimes could seriously affect their numbers by changing water temperatures and decreasing nutrient availability. Water conservation and realistic limits to residential growth are good planning and are essential to preserving the Zion wilderness as a living resource.
World Class Hiking
Some of the most challenging and delightful canyon hikes to be found anywhere are available in the Greater Zion wilderness. Consequently, the area receives some of the heaviest recreational use of any area in our wilderness proposal. North Fork Virgin River, Orderville, and Deep Creek canyons provide alternative access routes to the popular Zion Narrows hiking route across BLM and Park Service land. The Canaan Mountain and Black Ridge proposed wilderness units, while lesser known than the other areas adjacent to the park, offer equally outstanding hiking and superlative views of the surrounding country.
The National Park Service estimates that nearly 5,000 people annually hike the Narrows from Chamberlain Ranch. This primary access route into the Narrows leads through the North Fork Virgin River WSA. Every year about 2,000 visitors hike the Narrows by way of Deep Creek and Orderville Canyon WSAs, and about 1,000 people walk through the Parunuweap Canyon WSA (BLM, 1986). The proposed dams would eliminate hiking in the upper portions of the Narrows and Parunuweap Canyon.
The Utah Wilderness Coalition Proposal
In 1974 the National Park Service recommended 120,620 acres of Zion National Park backcountry as wilderness. Since each of the Greater Zion wilderness units is adjacent to park backcountry, they would make sensible and manageable wilderness units. However, in 1982, the BLM (with James Watt as Interior Secretary) dropped all WSAs smaller than 5,000 acres from further study. Conservationists went to court and won a decision forcing reinstatement of these areas as WSAs. Later, legislation was twice introduced to add the adjacent BLM WSAs to Zion National Park. The current wilderness debate may again raise the question of whether NPS or BLM jurisdiction is best for these WSAs adjacent to Zion National Park. Regardless of which agency eventually manages these units, however, the critical point is that they be designated and managed as wilderness rather than opened to development.
While the BLM eventually studied 90,648 acres of the Greater Zion wilderness for wilderness designation, the agency recommended only 59,578 acres as suitable in its DEIS. The final recommendation is expected to be only about 2,000 acres larger. We recommend wilderness designation for 132,775 acres of BLM land adjacent to Zion National Park. The Coalition proposal embraces the entire BLM recommendation and would protect additional land declared unsuitable by the agency, including acreage in Parunuweap Canyon, Deep Creek Canyon, Black Ridge, and Canaan Mountain.
CANAAN MOUNTAIN UNIT
For enthusiasts of slickrock and wilderness, Canaan Mountain is a promised land: an eight-by-ten mile block of Navajo Sandstone bounded by 2,000-foot-high cliffs with groves of ponderosa pine scattered across the sculpted surface of solid rock. Adjacent to the southeast boundary of Zion National Park, Canaan Mountain is a glorious variation on the topographic and ecologic themes found in the park, with emphasis on plateau more than canyon. The BLM included the top of Canaan Mountain in its wilderness recommendation, but left the approaches to the mountain unprotected. We propose 52,100 acres for wilderness, including Water and Squirrel canyons on the south, South Creek and the Eagle Crags Trail on the north, and less steep approaches on the east. The Arizona portion of the Canaan Mountain WSA was designated as the Cottonwood Point Wilderness in 1984.
Geology and landforms
Canaan Mountain is a great promontory surrounded on three sides by the 2,000-foot-high White Cliffs composed of Navajo Sandstone. The 500-foot-high Vermilion Cliffs, composed of the Moenave Formation, lie at the base of the White Cliffs; the two formations are separated by a wide bench of the Kayenta Formation's soft mudstones. The Navajo Sandstone surface of Canaan Mountain has been carved into bold ridges, hummocks, hollows, and passageways. Canaan Mountain, Smithsonian Butte, and the Eagle Crags are scenic attractions for visitors entering Zion National Park from the south; El Capitan and the Vermilion Cliffs rise north of Highway 89 near Colorado City, Arizona.
Most of the unit is dominated by ponderosa pine and Douglas fir scattered among large areas of barren slickrock. Pinyon pine, manzanita, Gambel oak, and Indian ricegrass are found on the pockets of soil amid the slickrock. The lower slopes on the eastern side of the unit and at the base of the White Cliffs support pinyon-juniper with serviceberry, manzanita, and grasses. Riparian areas are found along South Creek, Water Canyon Creek, Squirrel Creek and several other drainages; maidenhair fern, shooting star, scarlet monkeyflower, and columbine grow in hanging gardens by cliff-side springs and seeps (BLM, 1986, p. 13).
The western half of the unit is a peregrine falcon use area; South Creek and the northwest side are critical winter range for mule deer, according to the UDWR. The northern side of Canaan Mountain is "highly suitable potential habitat for desert bighorn sheep" according to the BLM and the UDWR (BLM, 1986, p. 16). Bighorn sheep were reintroduced nearby in Zion National Park in 1977 and have made "light use" of part of this unit since. Other animals include mountain lion, coyote, bobcat, Gambel's quail, mourning dove, several species of nesting raptors, and "a number of sensitive animals including the desert shrew, spotted bat, Lewis's woodpecker, and golden eagle" (BLM, 1986, p. 16).
Archeology and history
Hunting camps of the Virgin River Anasazi and Southern Paiutes are likely to be present, according to the BLM, but are as yet unidentified. A pulley system and collapsed buildings are remnants of logging on Canaan Mountain between 1915 and 1928.
Though often overlooked by visitors to Zion National Park, Canaan Mountain offers excellent day hikes and short backpack trips on its convoluted sandstone plateau. Trailheads on the mesa south of Rockville and at Squirrel and Water canyons north of Colorado City, Arizona, allow access to the plateau (see Hall, 1982). Once on top, water is available from potholes following rainstorms and a few scattered springs.
The BLM initially recommended only 32,800 acres of its 47,170-acre Canaan Mountain WSA, omitting many of the slopes beneath the main cliff walls, several sections of state lands, and lands along the eastern fringe of the unit. The final recommendation is expected to be 1,000 acres larger. Small areas of human impact exist on the eastern and western edges, but instead of making wholesale deletions, these lands should be reclaimed. Lands deleted north of the Eagle Crags more closely follow Exxon's uranium claims than a natural wilderness boundary. A large natural area south of Rockville was deleted; this area includes a constructed BLM hiking trail which is the main hiking route to the top of Canaan Mountain from the north. In the eastern part of the WSA the BLM deleted about 11,000 acres of natural, rugged mesa tops and canyons. The agency plans range manipulation projects here which would remove the pinyon-juniper forest (BLM, 1986).
We propose to designate as wilderness the entire WSA and the scenic foothills of the Eagle Crags. Our boundary excludes a few small impacted areas, including a short vehicle way on the east and an area above Hilldale necessary for the town water supply. We include lands in Broad Hollow on the northeast side of the unit which the BLM acquired in 1988 through exchange. The Shunesburg unit south of The Watchman is no longer in public ownership and is not included.
PARUNUWEAP CANYON UNIT
|The canyon is steadily becoming deeper and in many places very narrow -- only 20 or 30 feet wide below, and in some places no wider, and even narrower, for hundreds of feet overhead . . . . Everywhere this deep passage is dark and gloomy and resounds with the noise of rapid waters . . . . The Indian name of the canyon is Paru'nuweap, or Roaring Water Canyon
John Wesley Powell
Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons (1895)
Named by John Wesley Powell in 1872 after a Paiute Indian word meaning "roaring water canyon," Parunuweap Canyon on the East Fork of the Virgin River is one of the West's finest examples of a flash flood canyon. Its spectacular narrows, twisting sidecanyons (with such descriptive names as Fat Man's Misery), significant archeological finds, showy rock formations, and hanging gardens all qualify Parunuweap for wilderness designation. However, due to plans by the Washington County Water Conservancy District to put a dam across the canyon, wilderness designation for the Parunuweap is embroiled in controversy. We recommend 37,700 acres for wilderness designation.
Geology and landforms
The East Fork of the Virgin River, where it gouges deeply into Navajo Sandstone, forms the most dramatic features of this unit. Carved over millions of years and scoured annually, Parunuweap Canyon funnels water from an enormous drainage into a chute that is several hundred feet deep but only a dozen feet wide in places. Hikers report seeing large tree trunks wedged 40 feet above the canyon floor. The uplands, which span the Carmel Formation and Navajo Sandstone and include the White Cliffs, the Black Mesas, and Poverty Flat, also contain a variety of scenic landforms and colorful rock formations.
In the lower reaches of this unit the vegetation is characteristic of the Lower Sonoran Zone with blackbrush, sage, and saltbush predominating. The higher country supports abundant stands of pinyon pine, juniper, Gambel oak, and mountain mahogany; two types of yucca are common. Since the canyons are cooler and wetter than surrounding lands, the vegetation differs from the higher or more open country. Here one finds willows and cottonwoods in the riparian areas, grass along the streamsides, and a few ponderosa pines above the flood level. Where springs issue from cracks in the canyon walls ferns and flower gardens grow. These hanging gardens harbor a wildflower bouquet of brilliant yellow and scarlet monkeyflowers, columbine, shooting star, red penstemon, and Hellebore orchid, arranged by nature against a background of maidenhair fern. The Zion tansy, a sensitive species, grows in the unit.
This unit contains four major habitat types for wildlife: pinyon pine and juniper country, riparian habitat, open sage lands, and cliffsides. Mammals found in the unit include mule deer, cougar, cottontail rabbit, and ringtail cat. A variety of birds also live in the area including mourning doves, bandtailed pigeons, canyon wren, and several species of raptors, perhaps including the endangered peregrine falcon which nests along cliffs.
Archeology and history
Archeological sites are identified within the canyon portion of this unit, and it is very likely that many others exist on the mesa. Within the Zion National Park section of Parunuweap Canyon are 88 identified archeological sites. One of these, a village site, is of such significance that it is the focus of a major display in the visitor center. A plaque at the boundary of the national park and BLM WSA memorializes the trip Major John Wesley Powell took through Parunuweap Canyon in 1872. The Foote Ranch Road at the edge of the proposed wilderness is believed to follow the pioneer road from Pipe Spring, Arizona, to Long Valley, Utah.
The hike through Parunuweap Canyon is a wilderness hike par excellence offering challenge, solitude, and beauty. While similar to the more famous hike through the Zion Narrows, a hike along Parunuweap is likely to be done without uninvited company.
In 1986, the BLM recommended 14,100 acres of its 30,800-acre WSA for wilderness. This includes the canyon bottom and walls, but excluded important wildlife habitat on the uplands. (The final recommendation is expected to be 17,888 acres.) In its draft proposal the BLM cherrystemmed from the unit a 4.5-mile-long trail from Elephant Cove to the Foote Ranch. The BLM also allowed illegal road construction and damsite exploration and drilling to occur within the WSA without prosecuting the lawbreakers. The scars of these activities are now recovering, but the BLM nonetheless dropped parts of the affected area from its draft wilderness recommendations. Mineral potential in the unit is low. The National Park Service recognizes the wilderness values of Parunuweap Canyon, and recommends park land adjacent to the WSA for wilderness designation.
Parunuweap Canyon is intensely loved by those who have been there and is hailed by hikers and canyoneers as one of the most inspirational canyons on the Colorado Plateau. Wilderness designation of the entire 37,700-acre unit is needed to prevent dam construction in the canyon and loss of the wild upland country.
THE WATCHMAN UNIT
Just east of Springdale, Utah, and contiguous to Zion National Park, the massive buttress of the Watchman attracts visitors' attention as they enter and leave the park. The lower southwestern slopes of this mountain lie on BLM lands outside of the park in the 600-acre Watchman unit, which should be protected as part of the area's impressive scenic backdrop.
Geology and landforms
Johnson and Watchman Mountains rise above the north and east forks of the Virgin River. The bases of these impressive monoliths are composed of the Chinle Formation at elevations of 3,700 feet to 5,200 feet.
The sunny west- and south-facing slopes below the cliffs support plants that are well adapted to heat; herbaceous vegetation covers the higher altitudes and north facing slopes where the climate is slightly cooler and more hospitable.
A number of raptors nest on the sheer canyon walls, including the bald eagle, golden eagle, peregrine falcon, prairie falcon, American kestrel, red-tailed hawk, and Cooper's hawk. The unit also provides summer feeding grounds for desert bighorn sheep en route to Parunuweap Canyon, according to the BLM. Mule deer and, occasionally, mountain lion inhabit the unit as well.
Spectacular hikes into the abutting national park begin at the Watchman Campground and lead south through this unit. Nature study and geologic observation are excellent.
The 600-acre WSA was dropped from study by Interior Secretary James Watt, but was reinstated after a conservationist lawsuit. The BLM now recommends wilderness designation.
We also propose wilderness designation for the Watchman unit (see map, Canaan Mountain unit). No significant wilderness conflicts exist, and the unit is in a natural state. A logical extension of the proposed wilderness in Zion National Park, the Watchman unit enhances that wild land and deserves protection.
ZION ADJACENT UNITS
(North Fork Virgin River, Orderville Canyon, Deep Creek, and Goose Creek)
The North Fork of the Virgin River and its tributaries carved the principal scenery of Zion National Park. Their canyons also extend onto BLM lands which, together with their surrounding uplands, compose four wilderness units. Geologically and scenically, these lands are a part of the park's canyon system. Orderville Canyon and the North Fork Virgin River are reached by a gravel county road intersecting Utah Highway 15 just east of the park. Access to upper Goose Creek is from Horse Pasture Plateau to its west; this unit is the starting point for many backpack and horseback trips. Deep Creek is reached by an unpaved road leading south from Highway 14, 15 miles east of Cedar City.
Geology and landforms
Sheer canyon walls of red Navajo Sandstone are capped by rims of the Carmel Formation. Canyons in all four units are deeply entrenched, serpentine, and narrow.
Pinyon-juniper woodlands with scattered ponderosa pine and mountain shrubs such as Gambel oak dominate the upland benches above the incised streams. Goose Creek and parts of Deep Creek are in a transition zone and support Douglas fir, white fir, aspen, and some ponderosa and juniper. Within the canyons is a lining of riparian habitat. Colorful hanging gardens grow in seeps along the canyon walls.
Mule deer, mountain lion, and elk use the diverse habitat in these units. The northern half of Deep Creek is a critical elk calving area, according to the UDWR; the agency identified all four units as endangered peregrine falcon use areas. The endangered bald eagle is sighted occasionally. A number of other raptors, including prairie falcon, American kestrel, red-tailed hawk, Cooper's hawk, and golden eagle inhabit the units as well, according to the BLM. According to the Nationwide Rivers Inventory (National Park Service, 1982), the perennial waters of the North Fork Virgin River unit provide potential habitat for the endangered woundfin minnow, the Virgin River chub, and the sensitive Virgin River spinedace. The Zion snail (Physa zionis) is endemic to hanging gardens of Zion and Orderville canyons.
Archeology and history
No official inventory of this group of units has been completed. According to the BLM, the trail leading from Virgin Flats into Deep Creek was probably used for hunting and water access.
The North Fork and Orderville units are the beginning sections of popular one-way hikes and backpacks into the "Narrows," the heart of the northern part of Zion National Park. These hikes presently provide 4,000 visitor days of primitive recreation annually, according to the BLM. Access to the Narrows is also possible through the Goose Creek and Deep Creek units. Their sheer canyon walls are a prelude to the Zion Narrows further downstream in the park. (See Brereton and Dunaway, 1988, for detailed hiking information.)
The BLM recommends wilderness for all of three units (1,750 acres in Orderville Canyon, 1,040 acres in the North Fork Virgin River, and 89 acres in Goose Creek) and part of Deep Creek (3,320 acres). No significant conflicts exist within these units. The Bureau is making a commendable effort to obtain private lands abutting North Fork Virgin River to augment natural resource protection.
We support the BLM recommendations with two exceptions. In Deep Creek the BLM claimed that a vehicle way divided the unit and it dropped the northern half. This way did not cross the unit, but one has reportedly since been bladed across the canyon. In Orderville Canyon we add undisturbed canyon walls and rims that the BLM excluded. All of these lands are natural continuations of the national park and deserve protection as well in an effort to conserve a more complete ecosystem. Accordingly, we propose 7,100 acres in Deep Creek and 6,500 acres in Orderville Canyon.
KOLOB ADJACENT UNITS
(Red Butte, LaVerkin Creek Canyon, Spring Creek Canyon, Taylor Creek Canyon, Beartrap Canyon, and Black Ridge)
These six units are logical extensions of proposed wilderness in the Kolob Terrace section of Zion National Park. They are part of the integrated watershed, wildlife habitat, and scenic terrain of the park, and are among "the most pristine, spectacular, and ecologically significant BLM-administered wild lands in Utah" (Aitchison, 1987). Red Butte rises 1,800 feet above the Kolob Reservoir road about 10 miles north of the Virgin River. Access to the 804-acre unit is from the end of the Lamareau Tank service road to the southeast and from the west from a jeep trail that heads north from Rock Spring. LaVerkin Creek Canyon (567 acres) emerges south of Kolob Arch. Its deep canyons topped by conifer forests are a logical extension of the Kolob section of the park. Immediately east of Kolob Arch and two miles west of Kolob Reservoir, the 40-acre Beartrap unit contains the headwater areas for tributaries that flow through the Beartrap Canyon of the Kolob Terrace. The Middle Fork of Taylor Creek Canyon (35 acres) lies immediately east of the Taylor Creek Road and the park's west entrance and is a headwaters for the park. Its sheer-walled canyons are natural extensions of the park. Spring Creek Canyon (4,400 acres) is adjacent to the northern edge of the Kolob section of the park, directly east of Kanarraville. Black Ridge, at 21,800 acres the largest of the six units, includes the drainage of LaVerkin Creek as it exits the park, as well as the ridgeline west of Interstate 15 north of the Highway 17 junction.
Geology and landforms
These units are composed of rugged sedimentary cliffs formed among the Grand Staircase plateaus. The canyons in these units have cut up to 1,000-foot-deep sheer walls of red Navajo Sandstone capped by the Carmel Formation. The rugged topography of these units makes them important scenic viewpoints. Rising almost 1,800 feet in less than a mile, Red Butte stands out when viewed from the Kolob Reservoir road. Black Ridge, formed by the Hurricane Fault, is a major geologic feature and provides outstanding views into Zion National Park, over into Canaan Mountain, and west to the Pine Valley Mountains.
These units vary in elevation from 7,700 feet on the ridge above Taylor Creek Canyon to 4,000 feet in the LaVerkin Creek canyon bottom. Consequently, vegetation is of several different zones. According to the BLM (1982), the upper elevations and north- and east-facing slopes are populated with ponderosa pine, Douglas fir, white fir, aspen, and Rocky Mountain juniper. The middle elevations are predominately shrub woodlands supporting oak, pygmy pinyon-juniper, yucca, serviceberry, littleleaf mountain mahogany, and princess plume. Below 4,500 feet is the American Desert zone with blackbrush, salt bush, and creosote bush, which are adapted to drier conditions. Riparian habitat also occurs along streambeds, and hanging gardens grow in seeps and drips on canyon walls. Maidenhair fern, pink-flowered shooting star, and scarlet monkeyflower inhabit these verdant areas.
Mule deer winter on the sunny slopes of Red Butte and the foothills of Spring Creek Canyon. They spend their summers along with elk in LaVerkin Creek and other nearby units. Mountain lions prey on the deer throughout the area, according to the BLM, and in places are relatively numerous. Seven different species of raptors inhabit the area and often nest in the steep cliff walls. These include the bald eagle and peregrine falcon, the golden eagle, prairie falcon, American kestrel, red-tailed hawk, and Cooper's hawk. Peregrine falcons use much of the area, according to the UDWR, and bald eagles are known to winter in the Virgin River drainage south of the WSAs, according to the BLM. Turkey, blue grouse, and band-tailed pigeons inhabit LaVerkin Creek and Taylor Creek canyons.
Hiking and backpacking are outstanding in all six units as extensions of the national park. Scenic and photographic values are obvious and some fishing and rock climbing occur in LaVerkin Creek Canyon. Technical and non-technical climbing opportunities are found on Red Butte and on cliff walls in the other units.
In 1986, the BLM recommended that all of these units except Black Ridge be designated wilderness. Its final recommendation is expected to omit 2,800 acres in Spring Creek Canyon. The BLM dropped Black Ridge from its wilderness inventory after subdividing the unit into three pieces and then finding two of them too small for wilderness designation. The remainder of this unit was dropped, improperly, due to exaggerated claims of outside sights and sounds.
We applaud the BLM's recommendation to preserve four of these units as wilderness. Black Ridge and all of Spring Creek Canyon, however, should be designated along with the others. Black Ridge, like the others, is essentially pristine, and the vehicle ways cited by the BLM are returning to a natural condition. Spring Creek Canyon has two short vehicle ways in the mouths of Spring Creek and Kanarra canyons. These unmaintained and almost unnoticeable trails, and a half-mile of water pipeline in Kanarra Canyon, are insignificant intrusions into this unit.