When Frederick S Dellenbaugh first saw Zion Canyon, from afar, as a young surveyor fresh out of college, he was intrigued, to say the least.
It would take him more than 30 years to return, to this place where beauty is only part of the allure and mystique of the landscape; where colors not seen together in nature captivate the senses, and sheer walls jut out of the flowing rivers and kiss the sky. After studying art in Europe, Dellenbaugh finally returned to Zion and was enamored. He wrote and published a spread in Scribner’s nature journal, accompanied by his (black and white) images to much success. It wasn’t until the 1904 World’s Fair, however, that the secret of Zion Canyon was let out to the masses—after Dellenbaugh displayed some oil paintings he had done paying homage to Zion’s beauty and unique palate.
These apparently groundbreaking paintings were met with great skepticism. In fact, his article contained this caveat
To the eye prejudiced by the soft Blues and Grays of a familiar eastern United States or European district, this immense prodigality of color is startling, perhaps painful; it seems to the inflexible mind unwarranted, unmodest, as if nature had stripped and posed nude, unblushing before humanity.
To his eventual credit, and luck, local resident David Hirschi was among those in attendance— and he was delighted to see a booth depicting his native Utah landscape! Having heard enough out of the skeptical folks in the crowd, he literally stood on a soapbox, removed one of his shoes, and held it in the air. He asserted to the crowd that the oil paintings were in fact great representations of this land’s natural beauty adding that the laces in these shoes was made from leather from a deer that he’d shot on a specific hill, pointing to a spot in one of the paintings.
Within a few years, after President William Howard Taft’s recognition of the area as a National Monument, the area was officially ordained Zion National Park.
My pilgrimage to the area began from a slightly different, immersive perspective.
My wife, and friend Brandon en tow, I arrived at sunrise and started the slow march up Left Fork Creek in Zion Wilderness, outside the park boundaries. I’d seen several photos of this difficult route which culminates in a river flowing through a slot canyon, eroded into an otherworldly oasis, if the pictures I’d seen and descriptions I’d heard were accurate.
The best way to do this hike, this trek, this adventure, I’d also come to understand, was to do the majority of it in the water; just hike right up and down the river. We learned, at some point, how true this was. Rather than selectively put camera gear in a dry bag, I got across some of the more technical sections however I could.