This story is sponsored by Zion National Park. Learn more about Zion National Park.
Perhaps the best time to visit Zion National Park is the week beginning Monday, Nov. 5. The colors are turning, the air is crisp, summer crowds have dissipated and artists are on hand to capture the park's beauty.
You can spend the day hiking the trails or sitting lazily on a slab of sandstone. Or you can stalk artists and watch how they convert a morning into a masterpiece.
Here are three reasons why this year, Nov. 5-11, are the best days to come to Zion.
See the canyon with new eyes
Whether it’s your first visit to the park, or your hundredth, you will see the canyon with new eyes. Every day multitudes of people see Zion National Park for the first time. Their heads tilt reverently back and their gleaming eyes trace the towers of Kayenta and Navajo sandstone from the Virgin River’s edge up and up through the sedimentary ages to where the red and white pinnacles finally break against the purple sky like the spires and turrets of otherworldly castles.
But they say you can only see it for the first time, once.
Yet during early November each year, 24 artists spend five days painting in the park, translating onto canvas and paper the wonder, the mystery, and beauty of the canyon. Their work preserves their most intimate impressions of Zion Canyon.
As the French writer Proust put it: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
You will learn how precious two hours can be
How long is two hours? Of course, it’s 120 minutes, 7,200 seconds. But how do you really define an interval of time? To a second-grader waiting for the final bell to ring, two hours is an eternity. For the mother who has finally gotten her baby to sleep, it flies by in the bat of an eye. At the Zion Plein Air Art Invitational, it’s the time it takes an artist to create a masterpiece.
Over the past 10 years visitors have been stunned on the Saturday morning of Pein Air as they attend the Paint-Out on the large lawn beneath the giant cottonwood tree in front of the Zion Lodge. There, at the week’s culminating event, 24 artists set up their easels at 11 a.m.
They open their paint boxes and focus their eyes on a canyon scene which, over the next couple of hours, they interpret in their own inimitable way, on paper or canvas. Their finished paintings have the power to make your heart leap, but even more impressive is the opportunity to look over the shoulder of the artist and actually witness the painting come to life in real time — and then to consider the amazing value of those 120 minutes.
Over the weekend, dozens of amazing finished pieces go on sale in the auditorium at the Zion Human History Museum. Park visitors will have the remarkable opportunity to watch the artists paint, visit with them along the trails, and attend a free individual one-hour demonstration given by each artist.
Discover the vast array and nuance of colors in Zion
In all the world there is no place quite like Zion National Park. The canyon itself is one of our planet’s greatest works of art. Zion Canyon is a spectacular chasm between sheer walls of Navajo Sandstone towering as much as 3,000 feet above the Virgin River. The canyon’s width varies from a slim slot called the “Narrows” in its upper reaches to a wider, verdant valley where the river cuts into less resistant layers of sandstone called the Kayenta and Moenave formations. Yet always, the steep multicolored walls of Navajo Sandstone, capped by temples and towers, dominate the landscape.
Indeed, it is Zion’s color that sets it apart from many of the world’s majestic places. Nature has painted the canyon with a perfect combination of chemicals. The Navajo Sandstone walls we see today were laid down 175 million years ago as sand dunes in an enormous Sahara-like desert. Through the ages, those dunes hardened into what we now call Navajo Sandstone, and as the landscape lifted, a stream called the Virgin River began to carve a masterpiece.
Navajo Sandstone is composed of white-quartz sand grains cemented together with calcium carbonate, silica, and red iron oxide. Variations in the type and amount of these cements comprise Nature’s palette in Zion Canyon. As the chemical composition varies, so do the colors of the canyon walls, from dark brown to rust and orange, to red, pink, and white. Somehow, all the elements of the master artist have serendipitously assembled here.
For more than 130 years, artists have attempted to capture it. It started with such icon artists as Thomas Moran and it continues today with the work of masters like those invited to paint in this year’s 10th Annual Zion Plein Air Art Invitational.
In the book "Art of the National Parks: Historic Connections, Contemporary Interpretations," Jean Stern makes a solid case for the importance of original art in the creation of America’s first national park and subsequent national parks. She quotes William Henry Jackson who wrote that his photographs and Thomas Moran’s watercolors made during the Hayden Expedition to Yellowstone in the early 1870s “…were the most important exhibits brought before the Congressional Committee. The wonderful coloring of Moran’s sketches,” he wrote, “made all the difference.”
Zion owes much to the artist Frederick Dellenbaugh who created a series of paintings of Zion in the summer of 1903, that hung in the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Those paintings and other early works of Zion are credited for helping authorities in Washington, D.C. understand the importance of preserving such a place for the public to enjoy in perpetuity. Just five years later, President William Howard Taft signed the proclamation creating Mukuntuweap National Monument. Ten years later in 1919, Congress passed legislation transforming the national monument into Zion National Park.
Lyman Hafen, executive director of the Zion Forever Project, said, “This is an amazing event that partners the community with the park and combines art and philanthropy.” He added, “Art has a very firm place in the history of Zion Canyon and in the story that led to it becoming a National Park. Today, artists, donors, sponsors and visitors continue that rich tradition, preserving the wonder that is Zion National Park for future generations, and enhancing the experience of everyone who comes here.”
For a full listing of this year’s artists, and details about all the Zion Plein Air events and activities, go to zionpark.org