Nomenclature of Zion

A woman friend writes about someone’s surprise to learn that her daughter had studied abroad this semester: “He might just as well have been told that she’d just re-entered the earth’s orbit after hieing to Kolob (there’s a Mormon hymn, ‘If I Could Hie to Kolob’; Kolob is reportedly where God lives).”

I didn’t know the hymn but did know there’s a Kolob Canyons section of Zion National Park. It’s in the northwesternmost part of the 225-square-mile part and the highest part, with Horse Ranch Mountain reaching 8726 feet. In fact, many of the park’s features have Book of Mormon names or more general Biblical or Mormon cultural references: Angel’s Landing, Court of the Patriarchs, the Pulpit, The Organ, The Great White Throne, Mount Moroni, East Temple, West Temple, Jobs Head, The Beehives, The Bishopric, Towers of the Virgin, Virgin Canyon, Virgin River, Three Marys, Altar of Sacrifice, Inclined Temple, Tabernacle Dome, North Guardian Angel, South Guardian Angel.

Tom, Ebbe, Me, on Angel's Landing, 2002
Tom, Ebbe, Me, on Angel's Landing, 2002

Some of these names I know from memory, having hiked up Angel’s Landing, for example. Others I find by looking at a map: long ago I purchased a 1:31,680 topographical map that depicts the park in 50-foot contour intervals; this document, 54 inches tall and 40 inches wide, on super-heavy paper, might be one of my finest possessions. It probably seemed like a needless extravagance at the time, but I doubt that it cost more than $10.

The odd thing about the nomenclature is that, while there are all these scriptural allusions, other features in the park go by more generic Western names such as Cougar Mountain , Wildcat Canyon, Corral Hollow, Beartrap Canyon, Horse Pasture Plateau, Trail Canyon, Sawmill Springs, Timber Top Mountain, and Phantom Valley. Then, of course, there are Potato Hollow, Sleepy Hollow, and Telephone Canyon.

Two names I don’t get at all are Temple of Sinawava, which is beside The Pulpit at the entrance to The Narrows, and Mount Kinesava, near the south entrance.

And maybe the religious imagination is responsible for Death Point—or else it’s all those contour lines indicating a steep drop.

Other features such as Parunuweap Canyon, Nagunt Mesa, Shuntavi Butte, and Tuoupit Point evidently take their names from Paiute words. For still others, it was just ranchers who contributed their names: Gregory Butte, Gifford Canyon, Neagle Ridge, Strapley Point.

There’s also an Orderville Canyon in the nearly inaccessible northeastern part of the park. You’d think Orderville Creek, which issues from it, would lead to the village of Orderville, due east on the park on U.S. 89, but the map shows it disappearing in Orderville Gulch, a few miles northwest. The name comes from Brigham Young’s experiment with communalism, the United Order, which lasted here from 1870 to 1885.

And then there’s the way my in-laws in St. George—and a whole lot of other Utahans—mispronounce the name of the park, itself: Zion’s Park. Probably because there’s a Zions Bank. But they also call Bryce Canyon National Park “Bryce’s Canyon,” or just “Bryce’s.”

I don’t get it.

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One thought on “Nomenclature of Zion

  1. Hey Hey!
    Thanks for sharing. I enjoy reading your writing. When I saw the title I thought-this is going to be the one about weird Mormon names like Denyelle, Billy Bobbie, or-I know-what about—uh —Kelda=–

    Anyway-Makes me want to go to Zion’s Park.

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