Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in the southwestern portion of Utah in the United States. The park holds 35,835 acres of land that was once inhabited by Native American tribes like the Basketmaker Anasazi and the Paiute Indians. The first explorers of European and American ancestry visited the area in the 18th and 19th centuries. Many explorers searched the area for viable farming and ranching grounds. A scientific expedition traveled into the area in 1872, led by John Wesley Powell. This group held mappers that helped to create maps of the area and others in Colorado. Smaller groups of Mormon settlers arrived in the area shortly after this expedition, settling along the Paria River east of Bryce Canyon. The canyon itself was discovered by Ebenezer Bryce, a Scottish immigrant who settled directly next to it. The canyon was called “Bryce’s Canyon” by other settlers, but was given its formal name later. Most settlers and Native Americans left the area after overgrazing, drought, and flooding occurred, including Bryce and his family.

The establishment of Bryce Canyon National Park began in the 19th century, when many citizens began to see that appeal of the area. Railroads took interest in the area and private tour business began to show visitors the canyon and surrounding area. However, logging, unregulated tourism, and overgrazing were becoming an issue for the area’s ecosystem, and conservationists soon pushed for some protection for the region. Stephen Mather, the director of the National Park Service at that time, suggested that the area become a state park, but Utah state legislators and the governor of Utah supported that the area should be federally protected. Mather soon proposed the idea to President Warren G. Harding, who established the area as a national monument in 1923. In 1924, legislators proposed that the monument should be included in a national park that would be named Utah National Park, and the Utah Parks Company began acquiring state and privately owned lands. In 1928, after all of the desired land had been transferred, the area was officially designated as a national park.

Bryce Canyon National Park can be found only fifty miles from Zion National Park. Its main feature, Bryce Canyon, is actually grouping of naturally created amphitheaters that occur along the eastern portion of Paunsaugunt Plateau. The park also contains hoodoos, which are created from stream erosion and frost weathering. Other features in the park include the youngest portion of the Grand Staircase, which overlaps over Bryce Canyon National Park, Zion National Park, and the Grand Canyon. The park’s highest area occurs at Rainbow Point, reaching an elevation of 9,105 feet. Because of the park’s higher elevation, ranging between 8,000 and 9,000 feet, the weather is cooler than in Zion National Park. Average temperatures in the park range between 9 °F in January to 83 °F in July, although extremes between −30 °F and 97 °F have been recorded. The area also receives more rainfall than Zion National Park, with an average of fifteen to eighteen inches each year.

Bryce Canyon National Park holds over four hundred endemic species, which are supported by three distinct habitats. Areas that are located at the lowest elevations in the park hold small juniper, pinyon pine, and serviceberry, among other species. Areas located at high elevations hold aspen, Engelmann spruce, and white fir trees, among other species. The most extreme areas of the park hold Great basin bristlecone pine and limber pine. These forested areas, along with the meadows that occur throughout the park, hold many species of animals including foxes, bobcats, small mammals, and birds. The park is home to the California condor, Utah prairie dog, and southwestern willow flycatcher, all of which are listed in the Endangered Species Act.

Bryce Canyon National Park offers visitors many activities including horse riding, hiking, camping, and sightseeing. There are thirteen viewing points overlooking the amphitheaters throughout the park and visitors can hike to in other areas including Queens Garden, Rim Trail, and Fairyland Loop. The air quality in the park is pristine, creating clear views of the daytime and nighttime sky. This makes the park a popular area for stargazers and park rangers host educational programs about astronomy, night sky conservation, and nocturnal wildlife. The park holds a visitor center with a bookstore that is managed by the Bryce Canyon Natural History Association.

Image Caption: amphitheater at Bryce Canyon National Park. Credit: Yo/Wikipedia  (CC BY 3.0)