Photo Credit: National Park Service
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The Bryce area was settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1850s and was named after Ebenezer Bryce, who homesteaded in the area in 1874. The area around Bryce Canyon became a U.S. National Monument in 1923 and was designated as a national park in 1928. The park covers 35,835 acres (55.99 sq mi; 145.02 km2) and receives relatively few visitors compared to Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon, largely due to its remote location. The town of Kanab, Utah, is situated at a central point between these three parks.
Geography and Climate
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southwestern Utah about 50 miles (80 km) northeast ofâ€”and 1,000 feet (300 m) higher thanâ€”Zion National Park. The weather in Bryce Canyon is therefore cooler, and the park receives more precipitation: a total of 15 to 18 inches (38 to 46 cm) per year. Yearly temperatures vary from an average minimum of 9 Â°F (?13 Â°C) in January to an average maximum of 83 Â°F (28 Â°C) in July, but extreme temperatures can range from ?30 Â°F to 97 Â°F (?34 Â°C to 36 Â°C). The record high temperature in the park was 98 Â°F (37 Â°C) on July 14, 2002. The record low temperature was ?28 Â°F (?33 Â°C) on December 10, 1972.
The national park lies within the Colorado Plateau geographic province of North America and straddles the southeastern edge of the Paunsagunt Plateau west of the Paunsagunt Fault (Paunsagunt is Paiute for "home of the beaver"). Park visitors arrive from the plateau part of the park and look over the plateau's edge toward a valley containing the fault and the Paria River just beyond it (Paria is Paiute for "muddy or elk water"). The edge of the Kaiparowits Plateau bounds the opposite side of the valley.
Bryce Canyon was not formed from erosion initiated from a central stream, meaning it technically is not a canyon. Instead headward erosion has excavated large amphitheater-shaped features in the Cenozoic-aged rocks of the Paunsagunt Plateau. This erosion exposed delicate and colorful pinnacles called hoodoos that are up to 200 feet (61 m) high. A series of amphitheaters extends more than 20 miles (32 km) north-to-south within the park. The largest is Bryce Amphitheater, which is 12 miles (19 km) long, 3 miles (4.8 km) wide and 800 feet (240 m) deep. A nearby example of amphitheaters with hoodoos in the same formation but at a higher elevation, is in Cedar Breaks National Monument, which is 25 miles (40 km) to the west on the Markagunt Plateau.
Rainbow Point, the highest part of the park at 9,105 feet (2,775 m), is at the end of the 18-mile (29 km) scenic drive. From there, Aquarius Plateau, Bryce Amphitheater, the Henry Mountains, the Vermilion Cliffs and the White Cliffs can be seen. Yellow Creek, where it exits the park in the north-east section, is the lowest part of the park at 6,620 feet (2,020 m).
The Bryce Canyon area shows a record of deposition that spans from the last part of the Cretaceous period and the first half of the Cenozoic era. The ancient depositional environment of the region around what is now the park varied. The Dakota Sandstone and the Tropic Shale were deposited in the warm, shallow waters of the advancing and retreating Cretaceous Seaway (outcrops of these rocks are found just outside park borders). The colorful Claron Formation, from which the park's delicate hoodoos are carved, was laid down as sediments in a system of cool streams and lakes that existed from 63 to about 40 million years ago (from the Paleocene to the Eocene epochs). Different sediment types were laid down as the lakes deepened and became shallow and as the shoreline and river deltas migrated.
Several other formations were also created but were mostly eroded away following two major periods of uplift. The Laramide orogeny affected the entire western part of what would become North America starting about 70 million to 50 million years ago. This event helped to build the ancestral Rocky Mountains and in the process closed the Cretaceous Seaway. The Straight Cliffs, Wahweap, and Kaiparowits formations were victims of this uplift. The Colorado Plateaus were uplifted 16 million years ago and were segmented into different plateausâ€”each separated from its neighbors by faults and each having its own uplift rate. The Boat Mesa Conglomerate and the Sevier River Formation were removed by erosion following this uplift.
Vertical joints were created by this uplift, which were eventually (and still are) preferentially eroded. The easily eroded Pink Cliffs of the Claron Formation responded by forming freestanding pinnacles in badlands called hoodoos, while the more resistant White Cliffs formed monoliths. The brown, pink and red colors are from hematite (iron oxide; Fe2O3); the yellows from limonite (FeO(OH)Â·nH2O); and the purples are from pyrolusite (MnO2). Also created were arches, natural bridges, walls, and windows. Hoodoos are composed of soft sedimentary rock and are topped by a piece of harder, less easily eroded stone that protects the column from the elements. Bryce Canyon has one of the highest concentrations of hoodoos of any place on Earth.
The formations exposed in the area of the park are part of the Grand Staircase. The oldest members of this supersequence of rock units are exposed in the Grand Canyon, the intermediate ones in Zion National Park, and its youngest parts are laid bare in Bryce Canyon area. A small amount of overlap occurs in and around each park.
Most park visitors sightsee using the scenic drive, which provides access to 13 viewpoints over the amphitheaters. Bryce Canyon has eight marked and maintained hiking trails that can be hiked in less than a day (round trip time, trailhead): Mossy Cave (one hour, State Route 12 northwest of Tropic), Rim Trail (5â€“6 hours, anywhere on rim), Bristlecone Loop (one hour, Rainbow Point), and Queens Garden (1â€“2 hours, Sunrise Point) are easy to moderate hikes. Navajo Loop (1â€“2 hours, Sunset Point) and Tower Bridge (2â€“3 hours, north of Sunrise Point) are moderate hikes. Fairyland Loop (4â€“5 hours, Fairyland Point) and Peekaboo Loop (3â€“4 hours, Bryce Point) are strenuous hikes. Several of these trails intersect, allowing hikers to combine routes for more challenging hikes.
The park also has two trails designated for overnight hiking: the 9-mile (14 km) Riggs Spring Loop Trail and the 23-mile (37 km) Under-the-Rim Trail. Both require a backcountry camping permit. In total there are 50 miles (80 km) of trails in the park.
More than 10 miles (16 km) of marked but ungroomed skiing trails are available off of Fairyland, Paria, and Rim trails in the park. Twenty miles (32 km) of connecting groomed ski trails are in nearby Dixie National Forest and Ruby's Inn.
The air in the area is so clear that on most days from Yovimpa and Rainbow points, Navajo Mountain and the Kaibab Plateau can be seen 90 miles (140 km) away in Arizona. On extremely clear days, the Black Mesas of eastern Arizona and western New Mexico can be seen some 160 miles (260 km) away.
The park also has a 7.4 magnitude night sky, making it one of the darkest in North America. Stargazers can therefore see 7,500 stars with the naked eye, while in most places fewer than 2,000 can be seen due to light pollution (in many large cities only a few dozen can be seen). Park rangers host public stargazing events and evening programs on astronomy, nocturnal animals, and night sky protection. The Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival, typically held in June, attracts thousands of visitors. In honor of this astronomy festival, Asteroid 49272 was named after the national park.
There are two campgrounds in the park, North Campground and Sunset Campground. Loop A in North Campground is open year-round. Additional loops and Sunset Campground are open from late spring to early autumn. The 114-room Bryce Canyon Lodge is another way to overnight in the park.
A favorite activity of most visitors is landscape photography. With Bryce Canyon's high altitude and clean air, the sunrise and sunset photographs can be spectacular.
Description from Wikipedia under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License
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