Homeland, Homestead, and Haven: The Changing Perspectives of Zion National Park, 1700-1930

Zion National Park

Publication: University of Nevada

Author: Sara Black

Date of Publication: December 2015

PDF File: Black-Homeland-Homestead-and-Haven-The-Changing-Persp.pdf

URL: https://digitalscholarship.unlv.edu/thesesdissertations/2851


Zion National Park is a landscape that the American public celebrates as a unique and beautiful wilderness. However, Zion is much more culturally layered than what most tourists perceive. Numerous Native American cultures have ties to the canyon, including the Southern Paiutes, who used and interacted with this area on a regular basis for at least the last 500 years. For them, it served both substantive and cultural roles in their communities that reinforced their understandings of themselves and their place in the world. For Mormons, who came into the area in the 1860s and quickly dominated the landscape, Zion was a part of their religious vision, a place that needed to be transformed from a barren desert to a garden in their New Jerusalem. Zion Canyon and the rest of the southern Utah landscape was a culturally important place for both Mormon settlers and Southern Paiutes and became the setting for cultural exchange and conflict between the two groups that left its mark on the landscape. The National Park Service and early tourism boosters worked to establish a new narrative and purpose for this remarkable canyon, serving as a catalyst for change as they transformed Zion into an untouched wilderness, altering the perceptions and histories of both Paiutes and Mormons in the process.
This thesis largely focuses on the perception of place, as I explore how a canyon can be transformed simply by who is looking at it. How place can change from a native homeland to a homestead and ultimately to a haven from the modern world. This thesis is an exploration of the cultural dynamism of Zion Canyon, as Southern Paiutes, Mormon settlers, and finally the National Park Service each occupied the landscape, utilizing it in completely different ways that profoundly impacted the land. They all created specific relationships with the canyon informed by their cultural and religious beliefs and experiences. Their relationships altered the canyon as well as how each previous group interacted and connected to that landscape. Each of these groups perceived Zion differently, creating a unique place that had special meaning and served a specific role in their societies.