When Mormon pioneers first settled the valleys of Utah, an oft-quoted passage from Isaiah helped them maintain hope that they could survive and even flourish in this harsh, but beautiful land: “The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose.” (Isa 35:1)
To Utah’s first non-native settlers, making the desert “blossom as the rose” involved unprecedented community cooperation in placing dams on streams, efficiently diverting water to thirsty crops, clustering in small communities to fight off the natural elements and other hazards, and maintaining a grand vision through difficult times. They focused on what was possible instead of what was easy.
At times, discouragement nearly won the battle. One of southern Utah’s early pioneers told her husband that if he could show her “one thing of beauty in the whole area,” she would stay. Resourcefully, her husband took a short hike and returned with a small bouquet of wildflowers. It had it’s desired effect, and the family remained in the area for the rest of their lives.
Today it’s a challenge to conceive of a time when finding beauty here would take much effort. Zion is known as one of Earth’s greatest scenic wonders, and today, finding comfort is only as difficult as clicking the “Lodging” or “Dining” tabs on ZionNationalPark.com. It takes some imagination to see this land the way that early settlers did, especially during the peak summer season, when thousands of visitors descend upon communities like Springdale with so many options to meet their every need. Thankfully, in spite of nearly 150 years of development and visitation, it’s still easy to find undisturbed landscapes which look as they have for thousands of years. When you find such a scene, take a few minutes to look beyond the sculpted geologic formations that surround you. Closer observation will reveal thousands of small, but glorious sermons on survival.
Wherever there is shade and a seep of water, Columbine, Monkey Flower and Maidenhair Ferns fill cracks and crevices. Along the rivers, native Cottonwoods provide shade to a host of petaled plants, wild grapes and lush undergrowth. In the highlands, Quaking Aspen, Pinyons and Ponderas give cover to flowers of every hue. All of these are beautiful in their own way. But my greatest admiration is for the vegetation that flourishes without the shade, for the hillside communities of succulents which endure the longest droughts, the hottest summers, the fiercest winds and the rockiest soil. These plants are the hardiest of survivors. Just as the first permanent settlers in this region, they did it by clustering together, using limited resources with utmost efficiency, and being self-reliant in the harsh environment. Their mere survival is remarkable, but the real miracle is that when conditions are just right and they have the opportunity to show their full potential, they blossom with all the beauty of a rose in the wilderness.