SPRINGDALE, Washington County — Utahns and tourists alike can appreciate the memory of glimpsing Zion National Park's stunning sandstone cliffs and wandering streams for the first time.
And with spring approaching, nature lovers from around the world will soon swarm Zion's trails.
Among the millions of visitors to the park every year are four artists in residence, who capture Zion in their work as it changes from day to day and season to season.
"We want them to make something that's pure Zion," said Eleanor Siebers, volunteer coordinator for the park.
Zion National Park's Artist-in-Residence program is open to professional visual, literary and performing artists, giving those selected the chance to live in and breathe in the park's beauty.
And, Siebers adds, "what they work on could be drastically different."
The park has hosted 19 painters, two sculptors, a videographer, musicians and even a typewriter artist.
"It's just invaluable to be able to live there and see the changes day to day and week to week. You absorb it much better than you would if you just visited," said Dennis Farris, a Fort Worth, Texas-basedoil painter who resided in the Grotto in February 2010.
The program started in 2010. Since then, Zion has hosted 35 artists.
In addition to art donated within six months of the artists' residencies, the park benefits from having artists connect with visitors and "talk to them about how the park speaks to them," Seibers said.
Larry Hughes, a watercolorist from Memphis, Tennessee, stayed in the park in October 2016 and calls his time there "magical."
Hughes said his favorite view in the park was "whichever one was before me at any particular moment."
However, he added, the Big Bend area "has a wonderful series of bends in the river and offers solitude, massive sandstone walls, arches, wildlife, views of rock climbers and an absolutely thrilling play of light across the land as the day progresses."
During his time living in the Grotto House, Hughes would wake up at 4 a.m. and head outside to work and explore before the sun rose, he said.
"It is impossible to sleep knowing the beauty that surrounds," Hughes said.
Many days, he would set up his easel in a "preselected spot" in the park and produce up to several paintings, he said. As he worked, Hughes often talked to tourists and "advocated for the park."
Toward the end of Hughes' time there, as he and his wife drove through the canyon and tried to define the "Zion experience," they came to the conclusion that "it's like living inside a painting," he said.
And "getting to know people" at the park, he added, was one of the highlights of his residency.
Farris echoed those statements, adding that even though he has fulfilled other residencies since staying in the Utah park, Zion felt "the most homelike."
Hughes says his time at Zion has stayed with him, and "as often as possible, watercolor brushes usher me back into that picture, where Zion’s magic holds such sublime rewards."
"The idea is to really be immersed in it," said Lorraine Bubar, a paper-cutting artist and painter from Los Angeles who resided in the park in September 2016.
"I would open my windows, and the first thing I’d see were mule deers, or there would be wild turkeys. At night, the night sky was just amazing," she said. "Either the full moon was illuminating the whole area, or the sky was just so incredibly dark filled with stars. That was just stunning."
When Bubar first arrived at Zion, her work included a collection of her first impressions of the park — the cottonwood tree outside the lodge, the shuttle bus and the jimsonweed flowers that were in season, she said.
Spending more time in the park, Bubar "honed in more" on "rock formations and the colors," she said.
As she worked inside the Grotto House, sometimes she would have open houses, during which visitors would come in and watch her work.
Artists in residence "connect visitors to the older history of artists in the park" who were among "the first to be inspired by the park and show the wild Western world" to the rest of the country, according to the park's volunteer coordinator.
The relationship between Zion and the world of art began in the early 20th century when, thanks to an artist, the park first earned national attention.
In 1903, Frederick S. Dellenbaugh — who was along on John Wesley Powell's second Colorado River expedition — displayed paintings of the area now known as Zion to the St. Louis World Fair and spurred people to petition for its protection, according to the park's website.
It then gained national monument status in 1909 and eventually became Zion National Park in 1919.
Since then, to say the number of visitors has grown exponentially may be an understatement. In its first year as a national park, Zion saw 1,814 visitors.2 comments on this story
In 2016, more than 4 million people visited the park, making it the most popular in Utah, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.
"The color is stunning. The mountain formations are stunning. … But the most striking thing is the feeling like you’re in the bottom of a canyon, and the mountains looming up, and the color is just so beautiful," Bubar said.
This year, the park plans to create an online gallery of all pieces donated through its Artist-in-Residence program.
For artists hoping to apply for the program next year, applications will be available by June, Siebers added.