You Need a Word at Least as Strong as MAGIC to Describe Bryce Canyon

Nature’s been luring people here for a very long time

Happy Anniversary, Bryce Canyon

The national park marks its 100th year within the National Park Service on June 8 with a centennial ceremony and live concert.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The outdoor ceremony will commemorate the exact date Bryce Canyon National Park became a National Monument. Following the ceremony, attendees are invited to bring their dancing shoes all the way up to the canyon’s rim for a free live concert by Utah’s very own, The Piano Guys. The event is free and open to the public (although registration is required). The incredible hoodoos and red rock background are truly the icing on the cake for this park’s 100th year celebration!

The national park and its partners plan to continue the celebration with special programs and events throughout the year for the public to enjoy.The centennial celebrations will consist of numerous unique opportunities for the local community and tourists alike to celebrate Bryce Canyon National Park’s rich past and promising future.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And there’s certainly a lot to celebrate. 

From its iconic hoodoo rock formations to its dazzling night sky, Bryce Canyon’s sights are simply breathtaking.

“I think this is a landscape that many people still don’t realize even exists on the planet, much less in their own country,” Bryce Canyon visual information specialist and spokesman Peter Densmore said in a video on the park’s website. “Coming here and seeing that for themselves, I think you need a word at least as strong as magic to describe what that experience is like.”

Here’s what visitors should know about Bryce Canyon, the latest national park to celenrate its centennial year.

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Why is Bryce Canyon so famous?

Bryce Canyon has the highest concentration of hoodoos in the world. Hoodoos are rocky spires that have been sculpted by erosion over time. Hoodoo comes from a Southern Paiute word oo’doo which describes something that is scary or inspires fear. This is connected to the Paiute legend of this area which tells of the Legend People being turned to stone by the trickster god Coyote as punishment.

The park also has some of the longest views on the continent. On especially clear days visitors at Yovimpa Point can see Humphreys Peak in Arizona, 150 miles away across the Grand Canyon

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Standing there at the southern edge of the plateau, one stands upon the top step of the Grand Staircase, a series of colorful cliffs linking the Grand Canyon to Bryce Canyon. This sequence contains one of the Earth’s most complete fossil records of the last 200 million years including the last supercontinents, the first dinosaurs and flowering plants, and within Bryce Canyon’s Pink Cliffs the dawn of recent life.

The park is also a stargazer’s paradise with official International Dark Sky status. The park’s clean air, high elevation, and remote location combine to offer some of the nation’s darkest skies accessible by a paved road. The park has the longest continually running astronomy program in the National Park Service going back to 1969. The 2023 festival is scheduled for June 14-17.

As always, the festival is free with park admission. This year’s festival will feature family-friendly daytime activities and ranger-led evening programs and constellation tours. 

Kevin Poe, a ranger and astronomer at Bryce teaches employees how to operate the telescopes and identify constellations, planets, and stars as part of a long-running astronomy program.

The park’s centennial also coincides with a morning solar eclipse in October where a ring of fire will encircle the moon against a backdrop of vivid red and gold rock spires.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is unique about Bryce Canyon?

Bryce Canyon is the only national park with Utah Prairie Dogs.

It has three different climate zones.

And it’s not actually a canyon because it doesn’t have a river but rather an eroding plateau margin that retreats 1 to 4 feet a century—about the rate your fingernails grow.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is the best time of year to visit Bryce Canyon in Utah?

There’s truly not a bad time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park. Winter is a fantastic and blissfully quiet time to visit as snow blankets the park’s red rocks. 

Summer and early fall are popular times to visit the park which is one of the most visited national parks in the country.

Due to its high elevation, Bryce Canyon is typically 10 to 15 degrees cooler than nearby parks in the summer. But that elevation is also why visitors need watch out for lightning strikes during monsoonal storms in July and August. 

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where is Bryce Canyon located exactly?

Bryce Canyon National Park is located in Southern Utah within a couple hours’ drive of both Zion National Park and Capitol Reef National Park.

They closest city is Cedar City which is about an hour and a half away by car though there are smaller towns nearby.

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Can you just drive through Bryce Canyon?

Visitors can see Bryce Amphitheater and nine overlooks along the park’s main road which stretches 18 miles and climbs over 1,100 feet from start to finish.

It takes about two to three hours for a roundtrip including stops to take in scenery. I recommend driving straight to the Rainbow and Yovimpa view points at the end of the road then stopping at other outlooks on the way back.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Is Bryce Canyon or Zion better?

Both parks are spectacular in their own right and part of the Mighty 5 national parks of Utah which also include Arches, Canyonlands, and Capitol Reef.

Bryce Canyon is the smallest and highest of them with 56 square miles, an average elevation of 8,000 feet, and some areas topping 9,000 feet above sea level.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What Native tribes lived in Bryce Canyon?

According to the National Park Service, Fremont and Anasazi people lived near Bryce Canyon from around 200 to 1200 A.D. and Paiute Indians lived in the area starting at around 1200 A.D. 

“All directions around this canyon, there were different Southern Paiute bands that aren’t here today but were here in the past and their descendants still live on,” Glendora Homer of the Kaibab Band of Paiute Indians said in a video on the park’s website. “The Paiutes are still here.”

Hopi, Zuni, Ute, and Navajo peoples are also connected to the land.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More like this

Worth Pondering…

When lighted by the morning sun the gorgeous chasm is an immense bowl of lace and filigree work in stone, colored with the white of frost and the pinks of glowing embers. To those who have not forgotten the story books of childhood it suggests a playground for fairies. In another aspect it seems a smoldering inferno where goblins and demons might dwell among flames and embers.

The Union Pacific System, 1929

Bryce Canyon: Preparing a National Park for the Summer Season

This summer may be the busiest yet for Bryce Canyon which is celebrating its centennial this year

The majestic peaks, desert blooms, and geological wonders of the United States’ national parks have beckoned to billions since Yellowstone was established in 1872. Nearly 312 million people visited last year (2022) signaling a return to pre-pandemic levels.

Spring and summer months are particularly packed at the hundreds of sites managed by the National Park Service.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To prepare for peak season at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah—essentially, an island of crimson rock spires perched at about 8,000 feet—rangers begin restoring trails and training staff before the snows even melt.

This summer may be the busiest yet for Bryce Canyon which is celebrating its centennial this year.

Conservation is a key part of the National Park Service’s mission and Bryce has played an important role for one species in particular: the Utah prairie dog.

The park celebrated prairie dogs May 11 with rangers donning costumes, leading sightseeing walks, and judging a calling competition. Contestants try to mimic the animal’s distinctive sounds (some akin to a staccato squeak) which make up a complex vocabulary that can alert the colony to a predator’s size, shape, color, and speed.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Families met Petey the Prairie Dog, the park’s mascot, and observed the prairie dogs in their natural habitat.

Petey’s costume can get stuffy and rangers trade off wearing the suit which comes with a small fan at the back of the head.

Endemic to the state and considered crucial to its ecosystem, the Utah prairie dog was once abundant but habitat loss, intentional poisoning, and disease put it on track for extinction by 2000.

Establishing colonies in the meadows of Bryce Canyon helped preserve the population and today more than 600 prairie dogs call the park home.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The day lent biologists and rangers the opportunity to teach young wildlife enthusiasts about the conservation history of the species—inspiring some to become junior rangers.

The park’s 78 miles of hiking trails offer an up-close view of its rock spires. After months of snow and rain, rangers focus on clearing the way for visitors.

Every fall and winter, rain and snow saturate the soft-limestone formations at Bryce causing rockslides and degrading the trails. Every spring, crew members remove debris from hiking paths on the Navajo Loop Trail—an iconic 1.4-mile trek between the park’s colorful hoodoos, the name for the eroded towers of rock that date back tens of millions of years.

Unusually heavy storms and a wet winter last year wrought severe damage delaying the loop’s opening. One side of the trail remains closed as crews continue repairs, digging out the surface of the route and installing wire baskets filled with large rocks along the perimeter to divert water and facilitate drainage.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One sunny day, crew members picked up fallen bricks from a retaining wall by hand then excavated areas of trail and removed debris with pickaxes, rock bars, and shovels, and used rakes to smooth it out. This crew had five people—four working by hand and one driving a small bulldozer.

Rangers anticipate that the entire Navajo Loop Trail will be ready for visitors in June.

Rangers make sure humans stay safe learning to navigate the steep cliffs and towering pillars of the park when visitors run into trouble.

Bryce averages about 40 search-and-rescue operations a year with many emergencies arising because of the high elevation.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park employees are taught to perform basic first aid such as CPR. In addition, some staff members are specifically trained as emergency medical workers and focus on prevention by monitoring hikers to make sure they are wearing proper footwear and are adequately hydrated.

Rangers and local volunteers undergo basic technical training, learning to use ropes, harnesses and other high-angle equipment needed for more complicated rescues.

To join the firefighting team, participants must complete a fitness test in which they have to carry 45 pounds over three miles in less than 45 minutes.

During one session for rescue training, some participants assembled at the canyon rim, a more remote area free of visitors. Outfitted with helmets and safety equipment, they tied lines to the trees to practice rescues and rappelling into the canyon to assist victims.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some situations call for solo missions while others require teams and the use of a stretcher.

Last summer, a visitor could not complete the Fairyland Loop trail, a strenuous eight-mile hike. She tried to take a shortcut to return to the starting point and became separated from her grandchildren. Hours later, rangers found her clinging to a precipitous slope, unable to move. Securing ropes, they descended and lifted her to safety.

Rangers hope to prevent such incidents by encouraging would-be visitors to be aware of trail conditions and the risks of altitude sickness.

Horseback riding is a popular draw for tourists and one family has guided people through the canyon for years.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like all national parks, Bryce Canyon contracts with private companies to run concession stands, lodges and guided tours.

One such company, family-owned Canyon Trail Rides has provided horse and mule rides into the canyon for a half-century.

From April to October, cowboys arrive at the stables at 5:45 a.m. to feed and groom the horses. Crystal Mortensen, whose parents started the business in 1973, loves summer days in the park particularly “when you can smell the pine trees and hear the locusts chirping in the manzanita bushes on the rim.”

In the winter, horses are put out to pasture while a few employees oil and repair stirrups and other equipment and make their own saddles. Heavy snowfall delayed the rides by two weeks this year. Because the company has to maintain its own trails, employees manually cleared two miles of snow—piled 7 feet high in some sections.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The corral is a short distance from the park lodge. Horses are tied together and travel in groups.

Visitors are assigned a horse based on experience (many have never ridden) before sloping down into the canyon. On early mornings, rays of sunshine peek over the hoodoos.

The horses are trained to walk near the edge to provide clearer views of the spires, inspiring the rule “Don’t lean and don’t scream.” The proximity can be thrilling or terrifying.

Simply looking up adds a whole new dimension to the park’s vistas.

At night, less than 1 percent of Bryce Canyon is lit by artificial light resulting in one of the darkest skies connected to a paved road in North America. In 2019, Bryce was designated a dark sky park meant to preserve the quality of the night sky.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Astronomy has always featured prominently at Bryce where rangers say the darkness is celebrated almost as much as the geology. Nocturnal views attract far more visitors during peak season so the park hires staff to meet the demand.

The park’s annual Astronomy Festival is scheduled from Wednesday, June 14 through Saturday, June 17. As always, the festival is free with park admission. This year’s festival will feature family-friendly daytime activities and ranger-led evening programs and constellation tours. 

Kevin Poe, a ranger and astronomer at Bryce teaches employees how to operate the telescopes and identify constellations, planets and stars as part of a long-running astronomy program.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park’s centennial also coincides with a morning solar eclipse in October where a ring of fire will encircle the moon against a backdrop of vivid red and gold rock spires.

Worth Pondering…

When lighted by the morning sun the gorgeous chasm is an immense bowl of lace and filigree work in stone, colored with the white of frost and the pinks of glowing embers. To those who have not forgotten the story books of childhood it suggests a playground for fairies. In another aspect it seems a smoldering inferno where goblins and demons might dwell among flames and embers.

The Union Pacific System, 1929