This morning we were up and on our way by our target time of 9.00 am. We drove back into Zion National Park, up the mountain through the tunnel and then on our way to Bryce Canyon National Park.It was just a 160 km drive today so we pottered along through some tiny inconspicuous towns and stopping to buy fuel.
As a result of our shopping in Las Vegas, we now have a thermos flask so we were able to stop for a coffee along the road. We only saw one rest area along the way and that was at far too early a time for us to stop. In the end we had a ‘tailgate coffee’ from the boot door of our Jeep Cherokee SUV at Red Canyon.
Red Canyon is a relatively shallow valley in the side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau surrounded by much exposed orange and red limestone. The rocks are eroded into pinnacles, spires, columns and hoodoos as those found in the Bryce Canyon National Park to the east. These rock formations line the highway for about six kilometres, starting quite abruptly at the edge of the plateau then fading away as the road reaches the flat grasslands on top, The rocks are quite stunning.
After a few more kilometres, we turned off towards the town of Bryce Canyon and then into the National Park itself. The major feature of the park is Bryce Canyon, which despite its name, is not really a canyon, but a collection of giant natural amphitheaters along the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Bryce is distinctive due to geological structures called hoodoos (or pinnacles), formed by frost weathering and stream erosion of the sedimentary rocks. The red, orange, and white colors of the rocks provide a spectacularly impressive vista.
Bryce sits at a much higher elevation than does Zion National Park. The rim at Bryce varies from 2,400 to 2,700 metres and some of the ground at the higher levels within the park was still covered with patches of snow. The temperature during our visit today was fairly cool and ranged from 5C to 10C. We noticed it mostly as we ate our picnic lunch on a table surrounded by snow.
Mormon scouts visited the area in the 1850s to gauge its potential for agricultural development, for grazing, and settlement. The Bryce Canyon area was settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1850s and was named after Ebenezer Bryce, who built a homestead in the area in 1874. Small groups of Mormon pioneers followed and attempted to settle east of Bryce Canyon along the Paria River. In one area, these hard working people hand dug a ten-mile long trench to divert river water to their areas of settlement.
Bryce Canyon was not formed by erosion from a single stream, meaning it technically is not a canyon. Instead, headward erosion has excavated large amphitheater-shaped features into the rocks of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. This erosion exposed delicate and colourful pinnacles called hoodoos that are up to 60 metres high. This is the largest collection of hooded in the world. This erosion results in a series of amphitheaters extending more than 30 km north-to-south within the park. The largest is Bryce Amphitheater, which is 19 km long, 5 km wide and 240 metres deep.
We first stopped at Sunset Point because it is the most famous area to visit and then we drive right out to Rainbow Point, the highest, and furthest, part of the park at 2,775 metres It is at the very end of the 29 km scenic drive. From there, we worked or way back, stopping at all the lookouts along the way. Obviously all the views followed the same theme – red pinnacles in many shapes and sizes around the edge of the amphitheatres. However the views from each lookout were considerably different. One had an arch in the rock, others gave broad vistas across the landscape while others had close up views of pillars and giant rock stacks.
We are staying at the Bryce Canyon Lodge which was originally built by the National Parks Service in the 1930’s. Unfortunately, we are here very early in the season and not all the facilities are yet open so we had to drive back out of the park to Bryce Canyon City for dinner.
Utah has relaxed many of its restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol but we still had to find the government controlled liquor store in order to buy a bottle of or wine to bring back to or hotel. We could only pay cash and we had to choose from a very limited selection. The new liquor laws have now created two types of establishments (much like we have at home) where restaurants can serve alcohol with a meal (but not without) and bars can serve alcohol without the need to buy food. It’s a lot more flexible than a previous visit we had here when we had to buy a bottle of wine at the government controlled store (usually part of the restaurant anyway) and then take it to our table where it could only be opened once the food had been served.