BRYCE CANYON, Utah — Utah? Who knew?
Utah hits us head-on as a land of vast discovery.
Driving to Bryce Canyon, with spectacular mountain horizons, we understand not just those cowboy movies, but how gargantuan dinosaurs could have roamed here, with so much space.
Bryce, with 1.7 million annual visitors, may be overshadowed by its larger, better-known Utah cousin, Zion, with 3 million visitors each year, but don’t let size fool you.
“Totally outlandish” is how John Boslough and John Gattuso, authors of “America’s National Parks,” describe Bryce. “This is a place that looks like it has been gouged out of the earth, then filled with orange and red rock pedestals so fancifully and bizarrely formed that they look like the inhabitants of a dreamworld.”
Bryce is not actually a canyon but a series of amphitheaters created by millions of years of erosion on a massive plateau. It is best known for hoodoos, whimsical rock spires that sometimes resemble armies marching up from the depths below.
Hoodoo is derived from voodoo, as in casting a spell, which plays into one legend that claims hoodoos are people turned to stone by trickster coyotes.
At 13 overlooks, formations boast names such as Thor’s Hammer, the Poodles, Wall Street and the Silent City. The Bryce Point overlook is perhaps the showiest with its megahoodoo collection, Bryce Amphitheater.
The red rock is the Claron Formation, created by a 40-million-year-old lake that stretched to Nevada, says geologist Tom Hill. The Colorado Plateau 10 million to 15 million years ago uplifted the Paunsaugunt Plateau, creating joints that were eroded by water, forming slot canyons and the hoodoos.
“There are hoodoos other places, but you’ll never find another Bryce Canyon,” Mr. Hill says. “You can hear the rocks cracking and moaning. When that stuff gets wet, it actually moves,” carving an ever-changing landscape. “These columns form by weathering, and these columns die by weathering,” he says. “Millions of hoodoos have been formed and died.”
Mr. Hill’s favorite is Fairyland Point. “Nobody’s ever there. To me, it’s the undiscovered part of the park,” he says.
Jim and Senia Wade from Kenwick, Wash., have visited four of Utah’s five national parks — Arches, Zion, Canyonlands and Bryce (the fifth is Capitol Reef) — and Bryce is their favorite.
“Every time you make a turn or step in a different direction, everything changes,” Mr. Wade says. “It’s one of the smaller ones, but you can branch out in so many different areas. We started at Sunrise Point and went to the other end. If I’d had the energy, I’d have gone down in the canyon, too.”
Dave Webb of www.utah.com suggests that visitors get that close-up view. “Hike down into Bryce Canyon to see it as you hike through it,” he says. “There are a lot of different options for trails — shorter and longer — so be comfortable with the length of the hike. Another option is riding a horse . … Usually horses go on different trails than [those] you hike on foot.”
Accommodations include the historic original lodge in the canyon. In the dining room, you can smell the ponderosa pines outside, and don’t miss the Bryce berry bread pudding. The Best Western Ruby’s Inn is near the park entrance, where Western stores, a grocery, indoor pool and excursions await.