Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Natural bridge rock formation in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, USA

Bryce Canyon in southwestern Utah was an area was settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1850s and was named after Ebenezer Bryce, who homesteaded in the area in 1874. Its 145 square kilometers (56 square miles) and its highest point is Rainbow point at 9,105 feet above sea level. The major feature of the park is Bryce Canyon, which was formed from the erosional force of frost-wedging and the dissolving power of rainwater shaped the colorful limestone rock of the Claron Formation into bizarre shapes including slot canyons, windows, fins, and spires called “hoodoos.”

5. Climate, Location, and Geology

Hoodoos sandstone formations in scenic Bryce Canyon National Park in beautiful golden morning light at sunrise with dramatic sky and blue sky, Utah, USA

Bryce Canyon straddles Garfield County and Kane Counties in southwestern Utah in the United States. Inside the park is a series of huge crater-like spaces filled with 200 feet high hoodoos that reach upwards similar to stalagmites but orange-colored with striations of white. The best time to see these wonder is in winter when the rust color is set off by snow. At 8,000 to 9,000 feet above mean sea level in elevation, the climate is cool and rainy, with summers being hot while winter is cold and snowy. The rock formations called hoodoos were perfected by frost weathering and water erosion through millions of years. The geological process that started these rock formations actually began during the late Cretaceous continuing through to the Cenozoic era. The hoodoos however were formed as a result of many different sediments that were carved by cool lakes and streams during the Paleocene and the Eocene epochs. The lower portions of these hoodoos are soft sedimentary rocks while the upper portions are hard weather-proof rocks. Hematite gives the rocks their red, brown, and pink colors. Limonite imparts its yellow colors while pyrolusite imparts the color purple. The minerals are also part of all the rock formations in the park itself such as natural bridges, walls, arches, and window arches. The geologic rocks make-up of the parks in the area and nearby, vary in age with those in Bryce Canyon and the Grand Staircase Escalante being the youngest. Zion National Park has more intermediately-aged rocks, while the oldest rocks can be found in the Grand Canyon.

4. Historical Role

The Basketmaker Anasazi Indians inhabited the area some 10,000 years ago. The Fremont culture and the Pueblo Anasazi Indians also left their artifacts in the area. After a period of time when the last Anasazi Indians left the area, the Paiute Indians arrived and settled in the plateaus and valleys of the surrounding region. These people were hunter gatherers and had some knowledge of agricultural cultivation as well. Paiute mythology tells of a coyote legend that changed people to stone eventually becoming the hoodoos of the park. The area was first visited by European American settlers who were looking for suitable homesteads during the last quarter of the 18th Century and first quarter of the 19th Century. The mid-19th Century saw some Mormons surveying the area as a settlement and agricultural land. In 1872, John Powell arrived in the area as part of his Colorado Plateaus survey. He was accompanied by mapmakers and geologists who also explored the Virgin and Sevier Rivers. The Mormons followed and founded a settlement east of the park. Then in 1873, much of the area was used as grazing land by the Kannarra Cattle Company. Ebenezer Bryce, a Scottish immigrant, and his family arrived later to settle close to one of the huge craters where he grazed cattle. Everyone started calling the area, Bryce's Canyon which later was used as the park's name. He made some agricultural improvements but due to the drought, flooding, and overgrazing moved to Arizona. The Paiute Indians and other settlers followed suit and left the park as well. Although some persistent settlers chose to remain and constructed a 10-mile ditch from the Sevier River to offset the drought.

3. Tourism and Education

People walking on orange colorful Queens Garden Navajo Loop trail at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. - Kristi Blokhin /

Tourism did not come easy to the remote area, but early articles in 1916, written for the Sante Fe and Union Pacific Railways, spread the news of the wonders of the canyon all across the country. One of the first pioneers in promoting the area's majestic wonders was Forest supervisor J. W. Humphrey. In 1918, a substantial campaign was started again to spark interest in the area's tourism with written articles in magazines. Touring companies also began to offer sightseers more services to the area. A series of entrepreneurs like the Perry brothers, Harold Bowman, and Ruby Syrett started building lodges to accommodate overnight guests. Although Bryce Canyon was just a scenic destination at that time. The Union Pacific Railroad started a service to the area in the 1920s. This gave more people in the cities an opportunity to see the natural wonders of Utah. The influx of tourists and settlers did the area some damage. Logging activities and overgrazing was noticed by conservationists who started a movement to protect the Bryce's Canyon. Although the initial proposal to make it as a state park failed, it was later declared as a national monument in 1923. Roads followed for easy access to the park's inner scenic beauty. Then in 1925, Bryce Canyon Lodge was completed. The year 1928 saw Bryce Canyon become a national park. Today, Bryce Canyon welcomes tourists who like to hike, camp, ski, and horseback ride in all four seasons.

2. Habitat and Biodiversity

Bryce Canyon has a diverse set of biomes and habitats that begin inside the park and extends to the Grand Staircase Escalante, even reaching into nearby Zion National Park. It has meadows, forests, rivers, streams, and huge crater-like depressions filled with hoodoos. Fauna biodiversity is almost brimming with visiting avian species and four-footed animals. The most common sight in the park is the Mule deer. Three endangered species also seek refuge in the park, including the California Condor, the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher, and Utah Prairie dog. Birds make the park their home or else a stop in their migration. There are about 170 identified species of bird visitors such as swallows and swifts who visit the park annually. More permanent inhabitants are owls, ravens, jays, eagles, and nuthatches. Some animals leave for lower elevations during colder months, namely cougars, coyotes, and mule deers. Marmots and ground squirrels remain in the park for winter hibernation. Amphibians such as the tiger salamander inhabit the park's streams. Reptiles that are common to the park are short-horned lizards, striped whipsnakes, and the Great Basin rattlesnake. Elk, pronghorn, bobcats, black bears, badgers, porcupines, foxes, and woodpeckers can also be seen roaming the park's forests and meadows. Flora natives include cottonwood, aspen, willow, water birch, antelope bitterbrush, manzanita, juniper, and pinyon pine. Douglas fir, blue spruce, Ponderosa pine, and blue spruce also grow close to streams. White fir, and Engelmann spruce are spread over the plateaus.

1. Environmental Threats and Conservation

Time, wind, and water all have made their mark on the park's ecosystem but nothing like what man has done to Bryce Canyon National Park. The U.S. National Park Service makes it their mission to protect, conserve, and preserve nationally significant resources. The park also is a refuge for three endangered species such as Prairie dogs, California Condors, and Southwestern Willow Flycatchers. The reintroduction of the prairie dogs in the park have been partly successful but their numbers are still significantly lower. Some of the environmental issues in the park include trampling of fragile vegetation, grazing livestock, and invasive species of plants. The Northern Colorado Plateau Network (NCPN) has enforced plans for the administration and advance spotting of possible difficulties in the parks under its jurisdiction with regards to conservation. There are also adjoining land use by private landowners that pose a threat to the park's ecosystem. The Northern Colorado Plateau Network (NCPN) is also using key indicators such as bird breeding as an indicator of habitat suitability which has been put in place since 2005. Plants and vegetation are also being assessed, and a geo-database created to monitor natural resources. Invasive plant species are also being monitored to prevent the area's ecosystem from being overran and altered, an affect that would affect animal species as well.


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