I have enjoyed hiking for many years, so I enjoy sharing what I know and tips about places to hike.
History of Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon NP is named for the Mormon pioneer, Ebeneezer Bryce, who sometime in the mid-1800s settled in the green valley that lies just east of the vast red rock towers. The center of the Mormon settlement was named Tropic and the rural Utah town still bears that name today. The resourceful pioneers raised livestock, harvested timber, and did whatever it took to survive the semi-arid climate. The red rock amphitheater was not discovered until several years after the region had been successfully settled.
Beginning in the early 20th century the fabulous rock structures at Bryce became a popular whistlestop for Southwestern train travelers. In 1923, Bryce Canyon was officially declared a national monument, and in 1928, it became a national park.
Today, Bryce is the 13th most visited national park. The place is open year-round and attracts over two million visitors a year. Not only can park visitors enjoy hiking, horseback riding, and rock climbing, but ample snowfall provides some excellent opportunities for winter sports.
Bryce Canyon Defined
A hell of a place to lose a cow.
— Ebeneezer Bryce
Who Made the Hoodoos?
According to Paiute legends, the Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon were created when Coyote, a trickster-type deity, cast a spell on some evil beings and turned them to stone. To anyone who ventures down to the bottom of the rocky amphitheater and stares skyward at these strange rock pillars, there rings a little bit of truth to this Native legend.
And if by chance, you should run across a geologist while you are exploring the valley floor, he would give a very different explanation. According to current geologic theory, the Hoodoos are the result of snow and ice erosion on four different types of rocks that were created during the sedimentary process, which has been ongoing for over a million years. Among the four types of rock present in this part of the Colorado plateau, mudstone is by far the softest. And it is the deposits of mudstone that are easily weathered away by the freezing and thawing of the winter snowpack. This leaves the layers of dolomite, limestone, and siltstone standing with the wind giving these rock pillars the final touches to their strange shapes.
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The correct geologic term for the Bryce valley is amphitheater, not canyon, even though the official park name implies the latter. By definition, a canyon is a steep gorge created by river erosion. At Bryce the erosion is caused by wind and ice, not flowing water.
To those Southwestern travelers who have only dedicated one day to explore this intriguing national park, a hike into the bottom of the amphitheater would be top of the list of the day's activities. The descent is a moderately strenuous hiking activity, where hikers negotiate several hundred feet of carefully built switchbacks, saving the climb back up for last. Once you arrive on the valley floor, you can easily follow several winding trails through the towering rock formations. Along with a walk through the Queens Garden, Navajo, and Wall St. trails, chances are you will leave the park with an extraordinary outdoor experience.
For the best in easy walking, hikers can simply follow the Rim trail, which begins at Bryce Point and follows the edge of the cliffs for several miles until you arrive at Sunrise Point. During this short jaunt, you will pass by Inspiration Point and Sunset Point. Elevation changes will be minimal and the views will be fabulous, not much different from what you are used to seeing on postcards and nature calendars.
Ride the Shuttle
If your visit to Bryce NP is centered around visiting the four spectacular viewpoints (Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration, and Bryce), then you might want to leave your car outside the park and take the free shuttle. Besides stopping at the four scenic vista points, the white buses also stop at the visitor center and the Bryce Lodge, where there is a popular restaurant.
No trip to this Utah national park would be complete without a quick swing through the visitor center. Of special interest is an introductory 22-minute film about the park, wildlife exhibits, and some highly creative displays of nature photography. And finally, there is the friendly and well-informed staff of park rangers, who are more than happy to answer any questions you might have.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.