Explorations in Storytelling


Stories mostly

The White Man


Zion National Park is stunning. No question. The main canyon and center of the park was carved over millions of years by the Virgin River and tributaries. It is a park where you are mostly at river level walking up — the opposite of Bryce Canyon National Park, CanyonLands and Dead Horse Point State Park where we had traveled prior to coming to Zion.

In Zion you must take a shuttle bus to get around — or hike it all. Most of the drivers play recorded audio. You hear from biologists and rangers, historians and, even, a Paiute who tells a bit of the story of when this was the land of his ancestors, a sacred land where they came to hunt, gather medicinal plants and seeds, to camp in amongst the Gods. The true stories could not be told, though; they were only to be told in the winter and so, out of respect, the true stories were not revealed because, well, it was not winter.

It all started me thinking though.

We were at Zion for only two days. On the second day we rose early and went to the park and found parking and took the bus all the way to the top of the river, the Narrows, and hiked the various trails down. As the day progressed the trails got more and more crowded, people taking selfies. People pushing baby carriages over impossible rocky terrain. People who looked tired just getting out of the bus. And more selfies. As best we could we took longer trails, hiked with speed, found quiet spots. After a while the din of people diminished, the day had progressed and we found ourselves at the Park Museum

And the display you see here.

I think there is no phrase that can better describe the effect of the White Man on the indigenous people than this one. Aside from our guns and our diseases and our hunger to own and our greed to draw out resources and annihilate buffalo and virgin forests, even our most innocent of endeavors had an effect that destroyed — sometimes quickly, sometimes less quickly — the Native American way of life, The People.

The Paiute pictured here is apparently not in her normal clothing. The Mormon photographer gave her this garb because he felt it would be closer to what people expected Native Americans to look like. The Paiute and other Pueblo Indians had occupied the canyon in Zion for nearly 8,000 years. It was just a matter of decades before they were gone, before the land and vegetation and animal life was completely transformed, before the Native Americans were driven out.

The rocks remained. The majestic and startling and awe-inspiring cliffs and mesas and canyon walls remained. Unscathed.

I am thankful that the land was made a park, that it was preserved, for the most part. I am thankful that there seems a mentality at Zion to preserve the wilderness — to keep traffic on only a small part of the park. I am thankful that there is an effort underway to rid the terrain of introduced species, to restore the natural plant life, as best as can be imagined, to what was.

But it can never be the same.

And as we stared out at the millennia, the vastness of time represented by the layers and colors and types of rock, it was all the more extraordinary to think of how short a time it took for us, for white Europeans, to forever change the place.

I wonder how it all will be reflected in the rocks a million years from now?