Light-colored cliffs cut through the warm desert tones of Zion National Park in southwestern Utah in this photograph taken June 30, 2022 by an astronaut aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Note the mostly south orientation of the image. Unlike many maps, the rotated image depicts the terrain more clearly by minimizing an optical illusion known as terrain inversion.
Zion National Park is home to scenic cliffs, slot canyons, protected wilderness areas, endangered species, and archaeological sites. The park is located on the border of two important North American physiographic provinces, the Basin and the Colorado Range and Plateau. The Virgin River runs through the center of the park.
Zion shares geological history with the Grand Canyon. Both sites include the Kaibab Formation, which is a limestone and siltstone deposit formed in an ancient inland sea. The much younger Navajo sandstone exposed at Zion forms most of the prominent cliffs in the park. Evidence of human life in the Zion National Park area dates back to the Ancestral Puebloan people, who inhabited the area between 2,000 and 8,000 years ago.
Deep, narrow slot canyons start from the North Fork of the Virgin River. Zion is prone to flash flooding during the monsoon season, between July and September, which poses a threat to hikers in the slot canyons. The Narrows is an iconic example of a slot canyon. In places it is only 20 to 30 feet (7 to 10 meters) wide, and the canyon walls rise to over 2,000 feet (610 meters).
Cyanobacteria blooms in rivers are exacerbated by intense summer heat, posing another threat to hikers and wildlife. Zion provides sanctuary for endangered animals, such as the California condor, Mexican spotted owl, and southwestern willow flycatcher.
Photograph of astronaut ISS067-E-174489 was acquired on June 30, 2022 with a Nikon digital camera using a focal length of 400 millimeters. It is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observation Facility and the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit (ESRS) at Johnson Space Center. Image was taken by an Expedition 67 crew member. Image has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast, and lens artifacts have been removed. The International Space Station program supports the ESRS as part of the ISS National Laboratory to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make these images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed on the NASA/JSC Gateway to Earth Astronaut Photography. Caption by Sara Schmidt, GeoControl Systems, JETS contract at NASA-JSC.