“There is no place like Bryce Canyon. … Descriptions fail. Photographs do not do it justice. An imagination of wonder will serve you when visiting Bryce Canyon National Park.”
-National Park Service
This week’s journey takes us back to an extraordinary and unforgettable place: Bryce Canyon National Park in southwestern Utah, United States.
Despite its name, Bryce Canyon is not in fact a canyon at all, but rather a collection of massive natural amphitheaters extending more than 20 miles (30 kilometers) north-to-south through the park. Littered with hoodoos – oddly shaped pillars of red, orange and white sandstone, shaped by the forces of wind and water – Bryce Canyon offers some of the most unique and breathtaking vistas in the United States.
While little is known about early human habitation in the Bryce Canyon area, archaeological surveys of the Paunsaugunt Plateau (the southeastern edge of which the park straddles) show that people have been in the area for at least 10,000 years. Basketmaker Anasazi artifacts several thousand years old have been discovered south of the park, and other artifacts from the Pueblo-period Anasazi have also been found. The Paiute Indians moved into the surrounding valleys and plateaus around the same time other cultures abandoned the area. They developed a mythology surrounding the hoodoos, believing the pinnacles were the Legend People whom the trickster Coyote turned to stone.
Mormon scouts were sent to the area in the 1850s to gauge its potential for agricultural development, use for grazing and settlement. Small groups of Mormon pioneers, including Scottish immigrant Ebenezer Bryce and his wife Mary, followed and attempted to settle east of Bryce Canyon along the Paria River. The Bryce family chose to homestead right below the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater; Bryce grazed his cattle inside what are now park borders, built a road to the plateau to retrieve timber, and established an irrigation canal to water his crops and animals. Other settlers described the unusual area as “Bryce’s Canyon”, which later became Bryce Canyon. A combination of drought, overgrazing and flooding eventually drove both the remaining Paiutes and most of the settlers – including the Bryce family – from the area.
This scenic landscape was first described for the public in magazine articles published by the Union Pacific and Santa Fe railroads in 1916. Poor access to the remote area and lack of accommodations, however, kept tourism to a bare minimum. After the construction of modest lodging houses and the establishment of postal services, visitation to Bryce Canyon steadily increased. The area became a National Monument in 1923 and was designated a National Park in 1928. Today, the park covers nearly 36,000 acres and receives approximately 2.3 million visitors per year (substantially fewer than nearby Zion National Park or Grand Canyon National Park, although truth be told, I enjoyed Bryce Canyon more than either!).
I visited Bryce Canyon for the first and (sadly) only time in March 2015, on a whirlwind roadtrip with my parents and Griffey through Nevada, Utah and Arizona. Two years on, I don’t recall the names of each specific viewpoint or the order in which we visited them, so there’s little commentary to accompany the photographs below. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy our journey through the snowy stone forest of Bryce Canyon!
Thank you for joining me (and Griffey!) on this adventure in Bryce Canyon! -B. June
Next week’s journey: Dunluce Castle – Northern Ireland