Kolob Canyons is Zion National Park’s less-visited far northwest corner. While the 2,000 foot cliff walls of Kolob bear a significant resemblance to the sheer cliffs of Zion, Kolob still maintains a unique identity of its own.
The narrow parallel box canyons of Kolob feel much more intimate than the grand vistas Zion offers. In Kolob, the nooks, crannies and fingers of canyons and draws feel private and personable.
Additionally, the creeks in the canyons seem greener than the arid climes of Zion. Conifers and dense vegetation crowd the banks of shallow streams.
Kolob is best viewed during the golden hours of the day, when the rising and setting sun shines its light on the high red-orange cliffs before filtering down and scattering through the green nooks of the canyon below where thin whiptail lizards scurry between rocks.
From Kolob’s visitor center, a drive through through Zion’s far corner is a short 5-mile drive, but the scenery and pulloffs make the trip feel far longer than what it actually is.
First, the road passes the Hurricane Cliffs, which are part of the 200-mile Hurricane Fault that comprises the western edge of the Markagunt Plateau. Then, there’s Taylor Creek’s piñon and juniper forests, followed by Horse Ranch Mountain,the park’s tallest point at 8,726 feet. Box Canyon and Timber Top Mountain’s fir and ponderosa pine covered heights round out the scenic views.
It’s no wonder how Kolob Canyons got their name. In Mormon scripture Kolob means “residence closest to heaven.”
You might notice a marker designating a far less tranquil historical period four miles beyond the visitor center, though.
Lee pass bears the name of John D. Lee, the only person convicted of a crime in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
In 1857 tensions were rising in southern Utah, a territory largely settled by Mormons. That year 1,500 U.S. soldiers were making their way to the territory, and that worried Mormon leaders.
In the two decades before 1857, Mormons had been driven out of both Illinois and Missouri. Once again, miscommunication and prejudice threatened to destabilize the peace. Mormons feared losing their way of life once again with the threat of approaching federal troops. To make matters worse for the Mormons, wagon trains bound for California passed through the territory they lived in. That meant competition for resources and an even greater influx of people in the region.
Tensions boiled when Lee and a force of militia men confronted and besieged a California bound wagon train from Arkansas. After days of exchanging shots, Lee entered the wagon circle and negotiated a peaceful resolution, promising safe passage.
However, when the militia men escorted the settlers from their wagons the settlers were shot and killed. Only young children who could not bear witness to the event were spared. In total, 120 people were killed in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
After the killing, the Mormon community attempted to cover up the act. Blame was passed on to Native Americans, who the Mormons reportedly joined forces with during the attack.
Ultimately, Utah militiamen and the U.S. Army never exchanged shots. Conflict and disputes were settled through peaceful negotiations. Lee was later executed for his role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and in 1870 Lee and another major conspirator were excommunicated from the Church of Latter Day Saints.