Bryce Canyon National Park

History of Bryce Canyon

The rugged topography of the Bryce Canyon area in southern Utah was an obstacle to early European-American explorers and settlers; however, this topography began to attract the attention of American scientists during the 1870s. Halfway through the decade though, a small group of Mormon pioneers decided to try to capitalize on the land's potential. They settled in the adjacent valleys that seemed suited for grazing livestock. Ebenezer Bryce and his family were among the Mormons who accepted the challenge to settle the region. He agreed to move from Salt Lake City to southern Utah because he thought the climate might improve his wife's poor health. In 1875, the Bryces joined several other families at Clifton (Cliff Town), which was named for its proximity to the pink cliffs of the canyon.

As Mormon settlers were establishing farms, ranches, and villages near the canyon, some scientists and surveyors found much of interest to study in the area. In 1872, Almon H. Thompson, a geographer working with the well-known explorer John Wesley Powell, reported the first description of the complex geological features that characterize southern Utah. Other scientists followed Thompson's lead and conducted surveys in the area during the 1870s.

Despite these studies, the wonders of Bryce Canyon remained virtually unknown to the American public. Other scenic areas of the West, however, were beginning to be recognized and promoted. In 1872 Congress set aside Yellowstone in Wyoming as the first National Park. Over the next two decades, more national parks were created. The isolation of most of these areas made the parks difficult for the public to reach, but around the turn of the century, railroad companies began playing an important role in promoting the development of national parks in the West.

By the 1910s, the American public, at last, would hear about the wonders of Bryce Canyon thanks to the efforts of J. W. Humphrey. In 1915 Humphrey became the Forest Supervisor for the Sevier National Forest in Utah. Since much of Bryce Canyon's scenic area was within national forest boundaries, it fell under Humphrey's jurisdiction. After seeing Bryce Canyon, he felt compelled to promote the area as a tourist attraction.

In 1919 the Utah State Legislature recommended that Bryce Canyon is preserved and protected for the public's enjoyment. It was not until June 1923, however, that President Warren G. Harding officially established Bryce Canyon National Monument. As the land was located within a national forest, responsibility for the monument's administration fell to the Forest Service. Five years later the area was designated Bryce Canyon National Park, at which time it passed to the National Park Service.

In 1927, the year before its designation as a national park, an estimated 24,000 people visited Bryce Canyon to see the spectacular hoodoos for themselves.

What is a Hoodoo?

Hoodoos are tall skinny spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins and "broken" lands. Hoodoos are most commonly found in the High Plateaus region of the Colorado Plateau and in the Badlands regions of the Northern Great Plains. While hoodoos are scattered throughout these areas, nowhere in the world are they as abundant as in the northern section of Bryce Canyon National Park. In common usage, the difference between Hoodoos and pinnacles or spires is that hoodoos have a variable thickness often described as having a "totem pole-shaped body." A spire, on the other hand, has a smoother profile or uniform thickness that tapers from the ground upward.

If you are interested in learning more about the geology of Bryce Canyon National Park, please visit the National Park Service website where they also talk about the other National Parks that surround the area.

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