A WEEK IN RED ROCK COUNTRY #6 – Bryce Canyon National Park
A WEEK IN RED ROCK COUNTRY #6 – Bryce Canyon National Park
Our main destination for this trip was Bryce Canyon National Park. Even though we had been staying at and visiting Bryce for several days I’m including all those days in this one post. And, this is the last post for this trip.
Let’s start off with the name Bryce Canyon. First of all it’s not a canyon at all. A canyon is formed by a river like the Colorado carving its way down through geologic layers to form the Grand Canyon. Even though water has an effect on the landscape at Bryce there was no river carving a canyon. Bryce Canyon is an escarpment The definition of an escarpment is: a long, steep slope, especially one at the edge of a plateau or separating areas of land at different heights. In this case it is the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau where it drops off to the Tropic Valley (aka Bryce Valley) 2000 feet below. The land forms that make up what you come here to look at is the eroded edge of this plateau. Now don’t for a minute think that Bryce ‘Canyon’ is the only National Park with an incorrect name. Another example is Death ‘Valley’ which is actually a basin, not a valley in the proper sense of the word., but I digress.
Bryce Canyon was named after Ebenezer Bryce, who homesteaded below these cliffs in 1874. The area around Bryce Canyon became a National Monument in 1923 and was designated as a National Park in 1928. The park covers 35,835 acres (56 sq mi). It, along with Zion National Park and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, make up a very popular 3 park vacation trio as the total driving time from Bryce to Zion to the North Rim is only 3.5 hours total - 5 hours if you go to the South Rim instead (the North Rim is closed in the winter).
Zion, Bryce and Grand Canyon are all within a four hour drive of each other
Ruby’s Inn (& Bryce Canyon City)
In 1916, Reuben (Ruby) C. Syrett brought his family to the wilds of Southern Utah establishing a ranch near the present site of Ruby’s Inn. Quite a while later another rancher told Ruby of the canyon called Bryce. This was news to Ruby and his family so one Sunday they made a visit to the canyon rim which they had never seen before - even though it was only a mile or so away from their ranch. They were so impressed that they not only took full advantage to tell people of the canyon’s beauties, but they also became hosts to visitors and set up semi-permanent tent lodging along with food service at the rim. By 1919 they had obtained permission from the state to build a proper lodge, the “Tourist Rest”, near the brink of the canyon.
In 1923 when Bryce Canyon was about to become a National Monument Ruby got together with government officials and struck a deal. He would donate much of his land to the monument for free, including a strip of land right through the middle of his remaining ranch for a road. As luck would have it, this road happened to pass right in front of his ranch house which he intended to convert to a tourist lodge. In exchange, he got agreement that the monument would come right up to his remaining property, pretty much surrounding it on all sides, and would extend many miles in all directions. In other words no place for any competition to move in. He then moved his “Tourist Rest”, to the location of his ranch and named it Ruby’s Inn. Many years later near the end of the 20th century, Utah state laws changed permitting residents to get together to form and incorporate their area as an official city or town. The only real requirements were that it not already be part of a city or town, all the land must be contiguous and all the landowners involved had to agree and they would need to have things like a charter, elections, a mayor, a city council and the like. One thing the law didn’t specify was how many land owners were required in order to become a town – including just 1. So, Ruby’s ranch became a property in Bryce Canyon City – actually the only property in the city.
The major rock formation in Bryce is a collection of giant natural amphitheaters containing distinctive “hoodoos”. . Hoodoos are formed from river and lake bed sedimentary rocks that have succumbed to weathering forming tall thin columns of rock. The hoodoos at Bryce are red, orange, and white and provide spectacular views for park visitors. At night in the winter, water that has seeped into cracks expands when it freezes prying the stone apart a fraction of an inch. Then the next day the ice melts and new water fills up the now enlarged crack. That night it freezes again repeating the process over and over – usually more than 200 times a year. Eventually the pieces of rock are pried far enough apart that gravity pulls large hunks off the column and it crashes to the base of the hoodoo. Then in the summers they get monsoon proportion rain storms from time to time which wash the debris down into the valley leaving free standing fins and columns called hoodoos.
Legend has it that before there were Indians around, the area was occupied by the Legend People. These beings looked like people but were actually birds, animals, lizards, and the like. For some reason, the Legend People in this area were a bad lot, always causing mischief and problems. This eventually got so bad that Coyote turned them all to stone where they were at the time. Because of this, some were standing alone while others were in rows as if waiting in line and still others were in groups. Some were standing and some were sitting and some holding on to others. To the native Paiutes, Bryce Canyon was a place of mystery and legend but to pioneer Ebenezer Bryce it was just one hell of a place to lose a cow.
Hoodoo’s From Inspiration Point (11:10 am)
Hoodoo’s From Inspiration point (11:18 AM)
Hoodoo from Agua Canyon Overlook
Lay of the Land
The entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park is on UT63 at Ruby’s Inn and Resort -- about 1.5 miles from the intersection of Utah RT-12. There is only one entrance to the park and within the park there is only one paved which leads you to a series of overlooks. This developed part of the park is on top of the Paunsaugunt Plateau so you are looking down on the hoodoos that have formed along the eastern edge of this plateau. Now this isn’t to say that there aren’t other areas of the park you can hike too but other than the hoodoos the only other noteworthy attraction is a field full of prairie dogs.
If you’re not a hiker, you can still see most of the park from your car with only very short walks from parking area’s to the rim. However, if you’re more fit there are dozens of trails that mostly lead you down into the hoodoos themselves. These trails are not plowed in the winter so can be covered in snow or ice but you can still use them. Outside of winter you can also go down into the hoodoo canyons on a guided horse tour. If you go, remember that you’re at 8,000 ft, and you’re starting your hike at the top going downhill which is easy. It’s the coming back up later that is difficult. In this regard it’s similar to hiking down into the Grand Canyon. Be sure to bring water, a hat, and sunscreen as the sun is strong at this altitude and the summer temperatures can be high.
In the main area of Bryce there is a campground, venerable old lodge, restaurant (in season), general store, post office, etc., all of which are near the rim overlooking the main Bryce Amphitheater formation. This is a horseshoe section of the eroded plateau sort of like a cove or bay on the coast with the hoodoos being where the water would be. This section has many named viewpoints along the ‘above the rim” trail which goes right along the edge of the plateau. There is also an “under the rim trail” which is more down in the Hoodoos, as well as many trails going up and down. In the winter the paved trails from parking areas to all the named viewpoints are plowed.
Main developed area of the park where all the services are
The two most popular viewpoints in this area include Sunrise Point and Sunset Point. Let me digress for a moment. It seems that many national and state parks in canyon or cliff areas seem to have either a sunset or sunrise point or both. It also seems that in most cases the photography is usually better at sunset from Sunrise Point and better at sunrise from Sunset Point. On this trip I realized how many times this had been true at parks we’d visited and I went to work trying to figure out why. Well, as odd as this might seem, in the pioneer days when most of these points and look outs were named, the people doing the naming typically did not have cameras dangling from their necks. So, when they decided to name something like Sunrise Point, it was because it was the easternmost point in the area – not because the view was best at sunrise. And, likewise, Sunset points were the westernmost points. But, if you’re at an eastern (e.g Sunrise Point) most of the scenery is west of you which is where the sunset will happen making the view much better at sunset than sunrise, and vice versa. Oh well, the musings of a frustrated photographer as I quickly scurried from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point for my sunset shooting.
From Sunrise point (6:10 pm)
From Sunset Point (7:50 am)
From Sunset point (7:50 am)
Ok, back to geography. You’ve all been taking notes, right? The park is laid out along about a 20 mile paved road that runs north-south more or less along the edge of the plateau. Not so close that you could accidentally drive over the edge but close enough that every few miles there’s a pull off and parking lot right on the rim where you can look down into the labyrinth of canyons formed by the hoodoos. A couple of these viewpoints are down a short spur road (normally between ¼ and 2 miles). You can drive the whole route, stopping at every marked viewpoint for a good long photo stop all in one day. In fact you should plan to do that. And as you’re about it, with your handy mobile phone app which shows where the sun will rise and set for the days you’re there, keep notes on good spots for sunrise and sunset shots. It’s also advised to just drive all the way to the southern end of the road, then work your way back stopping at viewpoints along the way. By doing it this way the canyons, viewpoints and parking areas will be on your right making it easier all around to utilize the viewpoints.
Bryce Park Map
Now comes the hard part.......Selecting a sample of photos to show you.
From Sunset Point (7:50 am)
From Sunset Point (8:00 am)
From Sunset Point (7:55 am)
From Sunset Point (8:00 am)
From Sunset Point (8:05 am)
From Sunset Point (8:16 am)
From Sunset Point (8:19 am)
From Inspiration Point (11:08 AM)
From Bryce Point (12:32 pm)
From Inspiration Point (11:21 AM)
From Inspiration point (11:23 AM)
From Inspiration Point (11:26 am)
From Bryce Point
From Farview Point
From Sunset Point (PM)
From Sunset Point (AM)
From Rainbow Point
From Agua Canyon Overlook
- Images of this trip can be found on my website at.
This blog is posted at: http://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2016/11/a-week-in-red-rock-country-6
I hope you have enjoyed reading my series of Red Rock Country travel logs. This is the last installment of this series. Other series available on my website include Iceland, Ireland, and a short trip to the NW (Mt. Rainier and SE Washington plus NE Oregon. These can be found at www.danhartfordphoto.com. Select the “Blogs” menu item and pick the series you want.
Thanks for reading -- Dan
Keywords: Agua Canyon Overlook, Blog, Bryce, Bryce Canyon, Bryce Canyon National Park, Bryce Point, Dan Hartford Photo, DanTravelBlog, DanTravelBlogRedRock, Farview Point, Hoodoo, Inspiration Point, Rainbow Point, Red Rock Country, Ruby's Inn, Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Utah
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