Utah Stories from the Beehive Archive

Sex Appeal Sells: The Grand Opening of Zion National Park

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Sex Appeal Sells: The Grand Opening of Zion National Park


In the summer months, tourists descend on Utah’s five national parks, in large part to effective advertising. Learn about the creatively-advertised grand opening of Zion National Park in 1920.

In May 1920, Anna Widtsoe had just turned twenty-one. She and five of her friends were leaving for a week-long, all-expense paid trip to Zion National Park in southern Utah. Their vacation was paid for by the Union Pacific Railroad, which hoped to attract visitors to the country’s newest national park.

Zion Canyon first came to national attention when Frederick Dellenbaugh displayed his stunning paintings at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis. Five years later, Zion became a National Monument. For years, visitors trickled in by horse and wagon, but in 1917, construction of the first paved road led to a major boost in traffic. When Zion achieved national park status two years later, the Union Pacific Railroad wanted a cut of the growing tourist trade, so spearheaded an advertising campaign. Who better to promote the new National Park than six attractive young co-eds?

When Anna and her friends – Melba Dunyon, Mildred Gerrard, Dora Montague, Nell Creer, and Catherine Levering – arrived prior to the 1920 tourist season, they became Zion National Park’s first official visitors. They traveled by train to Lund, Utah and drove the rest of the way by automobile. Anna exclaimed upon entering the Park that, “Words cannot express the gorgeous magnificent country.” They spent the week hiking and rock climbing and playing practical jokes on each other. The Railroad took promotional photographs of the girls romping through Zion and published accounts of their trip in major newspapers across the country.

On the final day of their trip, the girls swung open Zion’s wooden gate and launched the Park’s first official tourist season. The Union Pacific Railroad had gauged it right. Zion proved an immensely popular destination. Since then, many vacationers have passed through Zion Canyon, marveling like Anna Widtsoe at the “glorious country and wonderful scenes.” 


Rebecca Andersen for Utah Humanities © 2011


Image: 6 U. Coeds Officially Opened Zion National Park. From left to right, Catherine Levering, Anna Widtsoe, Nell Creer, Mildred Gerrard, Stella Peterson (chaperone), Melba Dunyon and Dora Montague. Courtesy of Union Pacific Magazine. 

For more information about the Zion Canyon adventures of Anna Widtsoe, Melba Dunyon, Mildred Gerrard, Dora Montague, Nell Creer, and Catherine Levering, see John and Melissa Clark, Opening Zion: A Scrapbook of the National Park’s First Official Tourists (Salt Lake City: Bonneville Books, 2010), pp. 3-20. 


The Beehive Archive is a production of Utah Humanities. Find sources and the whole collection of past episodes at www.utahhumanities.org