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ZION STARTS SLIDING BACK INTO GROOVE

With water service restored at two campgrounds Friday, Zion National Park regained some order in time for Easter weekend.

Utility lines connecting the Zion Lodge and the area south of Zion Canyon were damaged Wednesday when a natural landslide dammed the north fork of the Virgin River, causing water to pool and eventually spill over. The overflow took out 600 feet of the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive about one-half mile north of where it joins U-9.The lack of potable water to the 355 sites at the South and Watchman campgrounds forced their closure, sending hundreds of campers to the Springdale City Park Wednesday night. Most campers left or reserved other accommodations the next morning.

Park crews constructed a temporary, emergency road late Thursday and evacuated more than 300 guests and lodge employees who were stranded in the canyon without electricity or phone service for nearly 24 hours.

Foot and bicycle traffic will be allowed into upper Zion Canyon during the weekend, park officials said. Visitors, using the new Pa'rus Trail, can see the slide area and access trails previously isolated since the road closure. It's unknown when the road will be completely repaired.

With Easter unofficially opening the summer tourist season, visitors crowded the park Friday, anticipating warm days spent exploring the backcountry. The weather obliged, and the park's spider web of trails on the east and south corridors were packed. In many cases, cars overflowed parking lots, spilling out onto the road shoulder nearly 100 feet in both directions.

As on any holiday weekend, a cacophony of dialects and foreign tongues provided background for viewing nature's scenic vistas. Luggage-heavy sedans and motor homes carrying bumper stickers like "Eat Potatoes and Love Longer" formed convoys lumbering through Zion's narrow switchbacks.

Slick-rock Paintbrush and colorful strains of phlox bloomed between cracks in the rocks, typical of springtime.

Steve Morgan, a Utah State University student, learned about the road and campground closures before leaving Logan for the weekend. He and several friends still opted to visit the park and spent the past several days hiking backcountry trails.

"There is so much to do. Fun is no problem," Morgan said. The group camped outside the park - something they likely would have done anyway, he said.

This most recent, major landslide at Zion National Park is actually a prime example of geology at work, some park officials pointed out. Business proprietors in nearby Springdale reported calls from people interested in visiting the park simply to witness nature's show of force.

Some 4,000 years ago, a block of rock and debris sloughed off the face of The Sentinel formation and dammed the Virgin River in much the same location, creating a lake that extended up to Angel's Landing and measured nearly a mile in area, according to geologists.

Between explaining why the road was closed and visitors temporarily blocked from Zion Canyon, park rangers recounted the story Friday for those crowded into the visitor's center.

"Here we are thousands of years later . . ." ranger Todd Cullings said. "You're seeing a slide come off another slide."