Welcome, young naturalists! We begin our adventure with a little imagination exercise. You know when people tell you to close your eyes and think about something? Well, instead of closing your eyes, I want you to get out your naturalist’s notebook and your well-sharpened pencil and get ready to write.
First, imagine a valley--hidden amongst tall mountains or cliffs, and this valley is a secret valley to all humans except for one, and this one human is the keeper of the valley. While the valley is a secret to all other humans, it is NOT a secret to animals. They all know the way. It is where they go if they are hurt or sick or in danger or just need a rest. And the one human who keeps the valley knows how to take care of them and always helps them. You could call this human the Great Vet.
Second, I want you to write down a description of the place in your notebook:
- Describe the various places around for the different kinds of animals, including birds and insects, fish, amphibians and reptiles.
- Describe the plant life and how it makes such a nice place to live for these animals.
- You can even describe the Keeper of the Valley. Give him or her a name! Maybe it’s YOU!
Wouldn’t this be a nice place to visit? A special refuge and place of safety for all the lovely animals of the world! Don’t you wish this place really existed? Well, IT DOES!!! Yes! Only there is more than one human keeper…
WELCOME TO ZION NATIONAL PARK
THE GREAT & MIGHTY REFUGE & PLACE OF SAFETY FOR ALL LIVING THINGS
For real! Because that's what's happening here, and it's also what the word "Zion" means!
When you first arrive, you will probably notice the biggest and most obvious thing--of course it’s the Colossal and Immense Rocks! Sheesh! Whoever could imagine such Rocks? And it’s important to know that these gargantuan rocks are part of the safety system for some of the coolest animals and plants in the park.
ZION ROCK & SUPER-DUPER GIANT ICE CREAM
A very long time ago this place was the BIGGEST sand desert that has ever existed on this planet. Nowadays you know it as Navajo Sandstone--and here in Zion it comes in TWO flavors: vanilla & strawberry--strawberry on the bottom; vanilla on the top. It gets to be as high as 2,000 feet! Super-Duper Giant Ice Cream Cone!
Notice that there are lots of thin diagonal lines on this rock. These lines show you which way the wind was blowing way back when the rock was just a sand dune. The diagonal lines are officially called “cross beds.” Navajo Sandstone forms most of the really amazing features in Zion.
Naturalist Activity: Pick out a couple of your favorite Navajo Sandstone formations, and have a sit down and draw them. Be sure to color them! And draw the cross bedding in (be careful to make the diagonal lines to the correct direction!).
Note: Navajo Sandstone is extremely important in our refuge because it’s formed into big, huge cliffs and mountains that are very tall. Some very special birds have been able to live here because the cliffs are just right for their nests.
BIRD #1: THE PEREGRINE FALCON
This isn’t just any bird--it’s the fastest animal in the whole entire world! Yes, as fast as a speeding bullet! In fact, that’s just what they look like when diving to attack something like a mouse or a beetle, going somewhere between 100-300 miles per hour. Holy cow, watch out and just be thankful you aren’t that little mouse or beetle! These falcons are absolutely stunning. A blue-grey back, black head, and a white belly with spots, they make nests high up in the Navajo Sandstone and enjoy most of their lives in the air. Watch for them: diamond shaped bullets tearing through the air!
BIRD #2: THE CALIFORNIA CONDOR
These are just like the vulture-birds you see in Dumbo. They’re black with naked red heads, and they’re huge when they spread out their wings! If you measured how wide they are with their wings spread out it would measure 9 feet! They’re really curious about humans, so you are pretty likely to see one. They especially like to hang out around Angel’s Landing and people-watch. Always remember though: don’t feed them. The park rangers want you to notice their numbers and tell them if there is a condor that’s really close to humans. They might not be the fastest animal in the world, but they are the largest flying land bird in the world! True giants! But we don’t want to throw rocks at these guys, they don’t have any bad feelings towards us, even though we almost poisoned them to death.
BIRD #3: MEXICAN SPOTTED OWL
These guys are really fluffy and cute. They don’t have superpowers like the Peregrine Falcon or the California Condor. Would you like to cuddle one? Yes! You would, but you won’t. Because they are way too shy to get close to you. They were almost extinct. The owls really love it in Zion because it has these unique narrow canyons called “slot canyons” that make them feel like they’re in a really old, old forest. The sun never really shines there, so it stays cool and moist. And it’s hard for humans to bug them in the slot canyons, so they can feel safe. You might see one way high up sleeping in the daytime. But as owls usually are, they’re only active at night. So, if you decide to hike in a slot canyon with your parents, be sure to look for their nests way up high.
Naturalist Activity: I hope you brought your binoculars because you’ll want them for sure to watch for these birds and their nests! Count how many you see and write it down. Also, write down if you see them eating, or diving for prey, or just watching you. Do you think the condors keep naturalist notebooks? Write what you think they would draw pictures of in their notebooks if they had them. What would they find interesting that we humans are doing?
Zion is also a safe place for mammals--lots and lots of them! The two that you will see the most: mule deer and the rock squirrel. These guys are really common at the bottom of the canyon near the road.
Mule deer look like nice, friendly deer--remember not to feed them. They’re lucky because they have 9-inch ears! It doesn’t necessarily help them hear well, but it helps them cool off in the hot summers. Ears have blood vessels close to the skin which helps them cool off faster.
The rock squirrels got their name from their love of rock ‘n’ roll...just kidding! They just like rocks. That’s where they like to play and live. So look in rocky places and you’ll see these little guys.
10 NOCTURNAL MAMMALS YOU WILL PROBABLY NEVER SEE
UNLESS YOU’RE OUT ON A MIDNIGHT WALK
Do you know what nocturnal means? It means active at night--kind of like a vampire (ooooooooh!). And it IS when they hunt for blood! But, luckily, not human blood. These guys like other really small mammals like mice as well as insects and bugs.
- MOUNTAIN LION (the TOP predator, Big Boss, Vampire-at-Large)
- GRAY FOX
- RINGTAIL CAT
- SKUNK (Yes, keep away!)
- BAT (Ah! Really a vampire! Get out your garlic!)
Whew! Aren’t you glad these guys aren’t out in the daytime? Raccoons are always getting into your picnic baskets and backpacks; skunks stink everything up; mountain lions and bobcats are scaring the heck out of you. But really, there’s no need to be scared because they have no interest in us humans. They probably don’t keep notebooks on us. It’s pretty cool to know they’re here in our marvelous refuge.
Zion has really impressive things called “hanging gardens.” These lucky guys are formed because water can seep into the Navajo Sandstone and trickle out onto the cliff walls. And you all know what a seed needs to grow, right? Sunlight, dirt and water. So these seeds are lucky because they landed right on a cliff! And then they grow and make room for more seeds, and stuff just keeps growing there every year. They usually consist of ferns, wildflowers and mosses.
Naturalist Activity: Time for drawing! Use your binoculars if the garden is way high up. Try to see the ferns, the wildflowers and mosses. Color it in. Note if there are any birds on it.
DESERT PLANT #1: YUCCA
NO, not yucky! But you can call it the “yucky plant” if it helps you remember it. It has large, long narrow leaves all over at the base of the plant, going out in a circle pattern- this part kind of looks like the top part of a pineapple, only bigger. And coming out of these leaves in the center are long strong stems for the flowers to grow on. If you are lucky you might come during their blooming time when they show off their yellowy-creamy colored blossoms. They are pretty spectacular and fun to draw- so get out your notebook and draw one.
DESERT PLANT #2: CACTUS
Of course! We must look for cactus. But not large fork-shaped ones you see on cartoons. No, we are going to look for much a much smaller kind called the “prickly pear” cactus. The name fits because they are just about the size of a pear, and same color too. Only they are more flat and have spikes coming out of them. You’ll be lucky if you get so see them in bloom--they have pinkish-reddish flowers on them. You can actually eat the prickly pear, but I really wouldn’t try it unless you are starving and abandoned, or if a trained prickly pear chef was with you to show you how to do it without getting hurt. These guys are fun to draw too because of their simple shapes: ovals and lines. Go for it! Make a whole prickly pear cactus patch in your notebook!
KEEPER OF THE REFUGE
Isn’t it simply marvelous that these animals and plants get to live here in the refuge called Zion National Park? I never did tell you who specifically are the keepers of this place, but you need to know that YOU are some of them! Yes! You young naturalists are Keepers at this refuge! Help keep it clean and safe so that these animals, birds, and plants and all the other stuff can keep on living. We want to make sure that we can come back and give the condors something to do.