Bryce Canyon National Park Created (1923)

In truth, Bryce National Park wasn’t created on this date—but that is just a technicality.  The protection of Bryce Canyon became law on June 8, 1923, when President Warren G. Harding proclaimed the area as Bryce Canyon National Monument.  A year later, Congress passed a law to change its status to a park, changing the name to Utah National Park.  Four years later, in 1928, when the land had been acquired and other administrative targets met, the area settled into its now familiar name of Bryce Canyon National Park. 

Bryce Canyon National Park has the highest concentration of “hoodoos” in the world (photo by Larry Nielsen)

            Southern Utah in 1900 was pretty far away from anywhere.  But as roads, for cars and trains, started to penetrate the area, more folks wandered upon an interesting canyon with some spectacular scenery.  In 1915, the new supervisor of what is now Dixie National Forest, J. W. Humphrey, visited a spot we now call Sunset Point; his reaction mirrored that of visitors ever since:  “You can perhaps imagine my surprise at the indescribable beauty that greeted us, and it was sundown before I could be dragged from the canyon view.  You may be sure that I went back the next morning to see the canyon once more, and to plan in my mind how this attraction could be made accessible to the public.”

            Humphrey took up the challenge to popularize Bryce Canyon, with great success.  In the next few years, the Union Pacific Railroad began bringing visitors to the area, and a still-operating motel, Ruby’s Inn, provided lodging and tourist services.  The park has become a central feature of southern Utah’s five national parks, and serves as a midway point between Zion and Grand Canyon (AZ) National Parks (learn more about Grand Canyon National Park here).  From about 20,000 annual visitors when it opened, Bryce Canyon now welcomes more than 2.6 million visitors each year, all as awestruck as Humphrey a century before.

Thor’s Hammer in Bryce Canyon National Park (photo by Larry Nielsen)

            Those visitors come primarily to view Bryce Canyon’s “hoodoos.”  Hoodoos are tall, thin, colorful towers of rock, eroded into delicate shapes.  Hoodoos occur elsewhere, but Bryce has more of them in a concentrated area than anywhere on earth.  All those hoodoos formed—and continue to form and dissolve—because of a unique sequence of geological and meteorological occurrences.  First, the entire region was once the bottom of a huge lake that accumulated sediment whose chemical composition varied through time; the sediment compressed into alternating layers of limestone, sandstone, dolostone, mudstone and siltstone.  Next, the crashing of tectonic plates raised the lake bottom to its current election of over 7,000 feet. 

            Then, and now, weather took over.  Bryce Canyon has about 200 days per year when the air temperature varies from below freezing to above freezing in the same day.  So, rain falls during the warm day, gets into cracks in the rocks, freezes over night, and cracks the rocks further apart.  In the morning, the ice thaws, seeps farther into the rock, and repeats the procedure. Then, and now, the wind eroded the rock layers, which have different levels of hardness, into pillars that look like the handiwork of a deranged lathe operator.  Nature’s sculpture garden is truly breathtaking.

            Bryce Canyon is quite small as national parks go, just under 36,000 acres (only 11 of 61 national parks are smaller).  But Bryce lies within a larger geological landscape that stretches from the Grand Canyon on the south to Capitol Reef National Park on the north.  The area is known collectively as “The Grand Staircase” because the geologic history of the earth is displayed here as a series of steps—exposed layers that have been little disturbed by earthquakes, volcanoes and other geological events.  Several other national parks, national monuments (including the controversial Grand Staircase Escalante) and national forests protect this landscape, together comprising a huge area some 200 miles long and 100 miles wide.

References:

National Park Service.  Bryce Canyon National Park.  Available at:  https://www.nps.gov/brca/learn/historyculture/park_history.htm.  Accessed February 20, 2020.

Scrattish, Nicholas.  1985.  Historic Resource Study—Bryce Canyon National Park.  September, 1985.  National Park Service.  Available at:  https://www.nps.gov/parkhistory/online_books/brca/hrs.htm.  Accessed February 20, 2020.

This Month in Conservation

January 1
NEPA Enacted (1970)
January 2
Bob Marshall Born (1901)
January 3
Canaveral National Seashore Created (1975)
January 4
The Real James Bond Born (1900)
January 5
National Bird Day
January 6
Wild Kingdom First Airs (1963)
January 7
Gerald Durrell Born (1925)
January 8
Alfred Russel Wallace Born (1823)
January 9
Muir Woods National Monument Created (1908)
January 10
National Houseplant Appreciation Day
January 11
Aldo Leopold Born (1887)
January 12
National Trust of England Established (1895)
January 13
MaVynee Betsch, the Beach Lady, Born (1935)
January 14
Martin Holdgate Born (1931)
January 15
British Museum Opened (1795)
January 16
Dian Fossey Born (1932)
January 17
Benjamin Franklin, America’s First Environmentalist, Born (1706)
January 18
White Sands National Monument Created (1933)
January 19
Yul Choi, Korean Environmentalist, Born (1949)
January 19
Acadia National Park Established (1929)
January 20
Penguin Appreciation Day
January 21
The Wilderness Society Founded (1935)
January 22
Iraq Sabotages Kuwaiti Oil Fields (1991)
January 23
Sweden Bans CFCs in Aerosols (1978)
January 24
Baden-Powell Publishes “Scouting for Boys” (1908)
January 25
Badlands National Park Established (1939)
January 26
Benjamin Franklin Disses the Bald Eagle (1784)
January 27
National Geographic Society Incorporated (1888)
January 28
Bermuda Petrel, Thought Extinct for 300 Years, Re-discovered (1951)
January 29
Edward Abbey, author of “Desert Solitaire,” Born (1927)
January 30
England Claims Antarctica (1820)
January 31
Stewart Udall, Secretary of Interior, Born (1920)
January February March April May June July August September October November December