Bryce Canyon National Park
PO Box 170001
Bryce Canyon, UT 84717-0001
Hoodoos. That's the word used to describe the eerie orange and red pinnacle formations of eroded sandstone that make Bryce Canyon National Park famous around the world. Each year one million or so pilgrims journey to Bryce Canyon, located in southwestern Utah. Many visitors arrive from nearby Las Vegas, where direct flights to the Bryce Canyon Airport make the trip especially convenient. Visitors can enjoy hiking and horseback riding, as well as unique nighttime programs such as moonlit walks.
Entrance fees: $20/vehicle or $10/individual
Visitor center: The visitor center is open daily except January 1, Thanksgiving Day, and December 25.
Other services: Park lodge and two campgrounds
- North Campground. Open year-round. Some reservations are available. 877-444-6777.
- Sunset Campground. Open from mid-April to mid-October. First-come, first-served.
- Bryce Canyon Lodge. Open from April to October. 888-297-2757.
Visiting Bryce Canyon National Park
Nowhere else in the world can you see so many oddly shaped and brightly colored rock pillars. The distinctive hoodoos are scattered over the countryside in sharp warriorlike ridges, solitary hermit spires, or closely clustered familial groups. From the coliseumlike overlooks, commanding vistas can be had of the remarkable eroded landscape that makes up the scenery in Bryce Canyon National Park.
The canyon's colorful glory is enhanced by the changing seasons. In fact, many visitors choose to explore the park in the winter by cross-country skiing. On the following page, you will find tips on planning a trip to this beautiful Utah destination.
Sightseeing at Bryce Canyon National Park
The landscape at Bryce Canyon National Park is outlandish. This is a place that looks like it has been gouged out of the earth, then filled with orange and red rock pedestals so fancifully and bizarrely formed that they look like the inhabitants of a dreamworld.
Endless rock towers called hoodoos take on all kinds of shapes, resembling castles, bridges, towers, presidents, prime ministers, and even Queen Victoria. The questionable practice of affixing names to geological formations is forgivable here.
Bryce Canyon is the scalloped edge of a huge mesa and not a true canyon. It is a series of great amphitheaters eroded out of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southwestern Utah. On a grand scale, the geological formation containing Bryce resembles a loaf of bread that has been chewed away on one side. Erosion has taken about a dozen big bites out of the pink cliffs that form the plateau's eastern rim.
Any direction you turn in the park, there are wonders to behold. To the east, there is a broad sweep of mesas and buttes; to the north, the Aquarius Plateau; and to the south, a descriptively named peak called Mollie's Nipple.
Bryce Canyon in the Winter
Many people choose to visit the park in the winter months when Bryce Canyon becomes a fairyland (and the crowds dissipate). Its thousands of rock hoodoos take on the appearance of magical figures made of red and orange with mantles of white. The park service clears the 15-mile-long scenic drive to Rainbow Point, making this winter wonderland accessible by car.
Best of all, in any season, are the fantastic trails of Bryce Canyon, including the Riggs Spring Loop, which drops deeply into the rock spire country, and the Wall Street Trail, where photographers often come to take photos of the Douglas firs, which tower distinctly upward from the steep canyon bottom.
With a permit, snowshoers and cross-country skiers can sleep out-of-doors in designated winter campsites along the Fairyland Loop Trail, the Under-the-Rim Trail (which connects with many of Bryce's shorter paths), and the Riggs Spring Loop Trail. Cross-country skiers cruise along the rim through manzanita, pinon, and ponderosa pines.
Skiers who don't mind getting a little snow down their collars venture down the steep trails leading to the canyon floor. There is also winter hiking below the rim for those willing to posthole up to their hips through Utah's deep light powder in exchange for some of the most spectacular winter scenery anywhere on earth. Snowshoes are provided at no cost at the visitor center.
Bryce Canyon National Park Photo Opportunities
There are 13 overlooks that survey this wonderland, so there are plenty of chances for you to snap some incredible photos. Here are some you shouldn't miss:
- Wall of Windows: The Peekaboo Loop Trail goes from Bryce Point into the heart of the Bryce Amphitheater, where the mystery and magic of the Bryce escarpment are at their greatest. As you walk down into the canyon, a formation called the Wall of Windows appears above you. This monstrous slab of limestone has been punctured with gaping holes that let the bright blue sky show through. Below, there is a fantastic array of natural rock carvings that resembles the guests and attendants at a fancy masked ball. The dancers, waiters, musicians, and jesters are presided over by a trio of red-cloaked figures.
- The Grottos: Farther on along the Peekaboo Loop Trail, a broad span of yawning cave mouths called The Grottos appears just beneath the rim. The caves have been carved out by water seeping down from the plateau above. Virtually inaccessible to people, the caves offer refuge to red-tailed hawks, ravens, and golden eagles. In the canyon, it is easy to get the feeling that this vast piece of the earth was pried open for your personal inspection.
- Yovimpa Point: One of the overlooks in the park is Yovimpa Point, a magical rock spur nearly two miles above sea level. From there, more than 3,000 square miles of desert fall away to the south.
Bryce Canyon's hoodoos and ampitheaters evoke a sense of majesty and timelessness. Visitors are inspired to imagine the passage of time that created these stark formations. On the next page, we'll examine what the landscape looked like millions of years ago and how the elements slowly shaped the canyon we see today.
History: How Bryce Canyon Was Formed
The Bryce escarpment, with its thousands of geological gargoyles and castellated spires, is the product of the relentless destructive powers of water and time. Under the onslaught of weather, nothing at Bryce Canyon National Park remains the same for long. The canyon is one of the best places on the planet to observe the forces that shape the surface of the earth.
A single summer cloudburst can carry off thousands of tons of gravel, sand, and silt to the Paria River and then on to the Colorado River and into the Grand Canyon. Bryce is changing at a fantastic rate: Its rim is receding one foot every 65 years. The place is an open textbook of geology.
Sixty million years ago, a vast body of water, which we refer to today as Lake Flagstaff, covered southwestern Utah. As the ages passed, sediments of gravel, sand, and mud accumulated to thicknesses of 2,000 feet or more beneath the sea. Eventually, cemented together by minerals and pressure, the sediments turned into solid rock, which is now called the Wasatch Formation.
Beginning about 16 million years ago, colossal movements of the earth's crust forced the formation upward. This stress produced great breaks in the rock. One of these chunks is the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The fracturing of the rock on the eastern side of the plateau, where Bryce is situated, left it particularly vulnerable to the forces of weather, especially to the slow, steady power of water.
These powerful erosive forces are most on display in late winter and early spring. As the ground thaws on warm days, you can hear the grinding, groaning, and grumbling of erosion at work. Water runs down crevices, rocks tumble, and gravel and pebbles shake loose from the sides of the canyon's weird formations.
In Bryce, the endless power of erosion has sculptured thousands of the limestone hoodoos. Derived from the word "voodoo," the term means "bad luck," but in Bryce Canyon, hoodoo invokes only the benevolent magic of wondrous shapes and colors.
The stunning terra-cotta, yellow, pink, and mauve of the canyon's rock formations result from oxidized chemicals in the stone: Red and yellow come from iron; blue and purple, from manganese. Light also affects the colors of the formations in Bryce. The colors change throughout the day, moving from the blue end of the spectrum in the morning light toward red hues at sunset.
The kaleidescope of colors of Bryce Canyon have amazed travelers for hundreds of years. Today, its geological marvels make the park a perfect destination for sightseers and explorers from around the world.
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