Editor’s note: This has been previously published on the author’s website.
The Narrows at Zion National Park are undoubtedly one of the premier hikes in all of Utah. Unique, stupendous, awe-inspiring are among the words used to describe them.
But who were the first to traverse the Narrows?
The Native Americans generally avoided the upper portion of Zion Canyon, considering it too dark and narrow — almost a devilish place to them.
• Geologist Grove Karl Gilbert was the first recorded man to travel the Zion Narrows, in 1872 as part of a government survey expedition led by Maj. John Wesley Powell. Gilbert made the trip on horseback, and it is believed he was the first to use the term “the Narrows.”
The name of the Virgin River, which created the Narrows, has an uncertain origin. Virgin itself is likely of Spanish origin, in honor of the Virgin Mary. However, some records claim Thomas Virgin, an 1820s explorer/mountain man, is where the name came from.
(The river also had three other names in the 19th century or before.)
• William H. Flanigan, a Cedar City resident, became a popular explorer of southern Utah. He first hiked the Narrows in June 1900 at age 23, going the entire length from northeast to Springdale in a single day.
(Later, he and a brother, Dave, became well known for establishing the cable system on Cable Mountain in Zion.)
Horseback trips through the Narrows were fairly common over the decades, but were officially banned there by the 1960s.
Flanigan told the Iron County Record newspaper on Aug. 29, 1913, about the Narrows. He then recommended travel by foot.
“The entire distance would be through a stream of water from a few inches to two or three feet in depth, in a few places. At some points the canyon partakes of the nature of a tunnel, owing to its winding course and the overhanging ledges above. At no point is the canyon more than 100 yards in width and in many places it is little more than a crevice in the solid rock,” the newspaper report stated.
Walls of rock up to 3,000 feet high and a narrow canyon 12 miles in length were its dimensions.
• By 1909, the area was a national monument, and it became Zion National Park in 1919, with visitors flocking there.
“Upper Zion has greatest thrill, declares party” was an Aug. 24, 1925, headline in…