Great Lodges of the National Parks
Canyon Lodges: Bryce Canyon
Until the late 19th century, the only people to see this magical landscape were Native Americans, a few Spanish explorers, and the occasional trapper or trader. Then, in the 1870s, John Powell and Clarence Dutton came to conduct geological surveys of the area. In the same time frame, the Mormon Church was actively colonizing Utah.
The Mormons sent to the Paria River region in 1875 included a carpenter, Ebenezer Bryce. Bryce built a road up to the plateau so that he could harvest timber for lumber. He also made an irrigation canal for his crops and cattle.
The Bryce family homestead was located near the curious rock formations, so his neighbors called the area Bryce's Canyon. The name stuck, even though Bryce moved to Arizona in 1880, hauling along his wife Mary Ann and a dozen kids. Ebenezer died 33 yeas later, in the hamlet of Bryce, Arizona.
The Powell expedition that surveyed the region named several natural features, including the Paria River and Paunsaugunt Plateau. In the Paiute language, paria refers to muddy water, and paunsaugunt means home of the beavers.
Today Bryce Canyon is the smallest National Park in Utah (35,835 acres), but it contains the world's greatest concentration of hoodoos. The "canyon" is really a collection of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters along the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.
It was Clarence E. Dutton, geologist for the Powell expedition, who christened the colorful rock amphitheaters as the "Pink Cliffs." The unique hues of the landscape are due to minerals in the layers of limestone, sandstone and mudstone.
Paiute folklore says that the fantastic shapes and colorful forms are "legend people," turned into stone by Coyote.
People & Protection
The Bryce Canyon environment is ideally suited to biological soil crusts, also known as cryptobiotic soil. These distinctive crusts can occur almost anywhere in the world, but are unusually common in southern Utah, where about 75% of the groundcover is literally "alive."
The word cryptobiotic has ancient roots in Greek and Latin. Crypto means hidden or secret, and biotic refers to a mode of life, or life conditions. And "hidden mode of life" is an apt description of these communities of nearly invisible cyanobacteria, mosses and lichens.
These crusts are essential to the Bryce Canyon ecosystem, and they are extremely fragile. Off-trail hikers can easily damage or destroy the soil communities. Recovery is very slow. It can take 250 years for the miniature mosses and lichens to grow back. (To learn more about cryptobiotic soils, go to Trivia.)
The transportation histories of Bryce and Zion Canyons are nearly identical. In the early years, UP customers were ferried from Park to Park, and lodge to lodge, in multi-passenger touring cars.
When visitor interest grew, Utah and the railroad worked to improve Park access. As more people started coming to Parks in their own cars, traffic congestion became an issue. At Zion there is just one road, and since it isn't a loop cars must traverse each mile twice. Bryce is similar, with a few side roads departing from the main route. And Bryce is too small to handle many vehicles.
Both Parks now have shuttle systems that allow visitors to avoid the hassles of driving and concentrate on the beauty of the scenery. The Bryce Canyon shuttle was introduced in 2000, and provides an optional alternative to private cars. At Zion, no cars are allowed.