Western Trips

Western Trips

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bryce Canyon National Park

When you're planning your western road trip you will want to consider a tour of what is one of the most unique National Parks in America, Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Bryce Canyon is probably one of the hardest of all National Parks to describe. Bryce was carved by the freeze and thaw cycle, quite different from most canyons that were carved by river flow. The hoodoos that are formed by this process are truly amazing  This is what makes a  road trip Bryce Canyon National Park such a unique experience. As one of our most treasured National Parks Bryce makes a great addition to your western trip travel planner.

bryce canyon national park
Bryce Canyon became a National Park back in 1928. Located in southwestern Utah, this beautiful area was named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Morman pioneer. Bryce was raised in Scotland, converted to the Mormon faith and then emigrated to Utah at only seventeen years of age. During his lifetime, Bryce moved to Pine Valley Utah where he constructed the Pine Valley Chapel and what is today the oldest Mormon chapel still in use. Pine valley is about a 150 mile winding drive west of Bryce Canyon National Park. The straight line distance is much less

During the first decade of the 1900's the first visitor accommodations will built at Bryce along the Paunsaugunt Plateau rim. By 1920 efforts were started to set aside these scenic wonders. President Warren G. Harding in 1923 designated part of the area as Bryce Canyon National Monument under the Powell National Forest. A year later in 1924 Congress passed a bill which established the area as Utah National Park. Legislation was passed in 1928 that year to change the name of the park to Bryce Canyon National Park.The park is open all year and offers recreational opportunities during all four seasons. It's estimated that Bryce Canyon National Park is visited by more than 1.5 million people annually and from all around the world. During summer hiking, sightseeing, and photography are the most popular activities. The spring and fall time offers a peaceful solitude. During winter months the park offers the most unique winter views found anywhere in the U.S.

bryce canyon
As a historical note, there is also a small community in Arizona named after Bryce. Bryce Arizona is located northeast of Tucson and just a few miles north of Pima Arizona, not far from the New Mexico border. This was where Ebenezer Bryce eventually settled with his family and died in September 1913 at age eighty-three. Ebenezer Bryce is buried in this settlement.

Bryce Canyon National Park and the Bryce Canyon Lodge receive thousands of tourists each summer that arrive to see the hoodoos. In fact, southwestern Utah is a summer playground for outdoor enthusiasts. To the south and west of Bryce canyon is Zion National Park. To the south and east is the Glen Canyon Recreation Area which includes Lake Powell for boaters as well as the historic Glen Canyon Dam.

One of the more fun things to do at Bryce Canyon is the trail ride. The escorted ride takes you down and through the canyon past the many beautiful geologic formations called "hoodoos". A hoodoo is a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid basin. A "hoodoo" has an uneven thickness which really gives it it's unique look. Pinnacles and spires differ in that they have uniform thickness. As you can see from the pictures of hoodoos on this page, they vary greatly in size. Some are over 100 feet tall. I had the opportunity to take this trail ride and I can tell you it's quite a lot of fun. The guides are terrific and you don't need horseback riding experience to enjoy this activity.  To sign up for the Bryce trail ride simply go to the lobby of the Bryce Canyon Lodge where you will be greeted by a cowboy at the trail ride desk.

bryce canyon trail
After signing up for the ride they will direct you to the  corral where you will be assigned the horse or mule that best fits you..The trail ride is one of those must things to do at Bryce Canyon National Park. It's a fun and relaxing way to see the hoodoos.

When you take the trail ride and view the hoodoos close up, you will notice how the lower parts of the formation were eroded away. The hoodoos which are sometimes called "tent rocks"were created when volcanic ash was covered with more solid volcanic rock such as basalt. The volcanic ash on the lower portion eroded away much faster than the rock on top. Eventually over a much longer period of time the lower portion will erode away to the extent that the upper harder cap will topple over. The same way which hoodoos were formed will eventually destroy them. Wind and freezing temperatures still work their wonders on these beautiful geologic formations. The pictures on this page show how uneven the vertical thickness is as you view each formation from top to bottom.

hoodoo formation bryce canyon
The ranger programs at Bryce are excellent and free. The magic of Bryce Canyon sparks the imagination and wonder in park rangers as well as visitors. The length of ranger programs can vary from minutes to hours so you can pick the tour that best fits your schedule. Ranger programs offer an excellent way to expand your exploration of Bryce Canyon. Typical ranger programs include the Rim Walk, Geology Tours, Evening programs, Full Moon Walk and of course plenty of programs for the kids. I had the opportunity to go on many of these. They are all great and I think the evening program was one of the best.

If your western road trip brings you to Bryce Canyon from the south from the vicinity of the Grand Canyon, you will want to drive north to Page Arizona via US Hwy 89. Continue on Hwy 89 over the Glen Canyon Dam and drive westward. At Mount Carmel Junction Utah Hwy 89 turns to the north. Follow US Hwy 89 northward to state route 12 and drive east. The mileage to Bryce Canyon National Park from Page Arizona is about 154 miles on US Hwy 89. Campers will delight in the fact that there are two campgrounds at Bryce Canyon which are open all year.

(Photos from author's private collection)

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  1. Utah is known as America's national parks capital. It boasts of five well known and most visited national parks. In addition there are 7 national monuments, 2 national recreation areas and 6 national forests and a national historic site.

    Utah National Park

  2. Bryce Canyon National Park is considered by many visitors to be one of America's most beautiful natural treasures.

    Bryce National Park Horse Rides

  3. Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the most tourist destination here in the US.

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