Letters From a Bus
April 2008: Springtime Desert
10th entry for April

Bryce Canyon National Park

Hatch, UT, Day Three at Cherokee Springs Golf & RV Resort, Site: I-18

Sunday, April 27, 2008 — Eleven Months

Sunday, April 27.  We sightsee in Bryce Canyon National Park
We took a long nap yesterday with the result that we woke at four and then slept until seven-thirty — very unusual for us.  Dennis had a headache yesterday afternoon and I had one this morning.  I think the high elevation has an effect on us. The temperature outside this morning was 17° but if you stood in the sun it felt warmer.  There was no wind. 

After our restful Saturday we decided to go sightseeing so we were in Hatch by 10:30 and got fuel.  It was Sunday in a small Mormon town.  We needed a few groceries but nothing was open.  We stopped at Bryce Canyon Pines Restaurant where we had a delicious breakfast and then we went on to spend an hour in the Bryce Canyon Visitor’s Center. 

Prepared with books and maps, we drove eighteen miles south to the end of the road at Rainbow Point. At 1:00 we came to our first big view — the immense “amphitheater” and the Pink Cliffs that are Bryce.  It is an amazing sight.  Then we drove back northward with the view points on the east to our right and stopped at each one: Yovimpa Point,  Blackbirch Canyon, a viewpoint, Ponderosa Point, Agua Canyon, a viewpoint, Natural Bridge, Fairview Point, Trailheads to Sheep Canyon and Swamp Canyon, Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, and Sunset Point. 

“The Paunsaugunt plateau was formed when two large blocks of the earth’s crust began to move along the great Paunsaugunt fault.  The Table Cliffs and Paria River Valley are part of the block which was lifted upward, and the Paunsaugunt plateau is part of the block which moved downward.  Over time, the Paria River carved away a large portion of the upper block to expose the eastern edge of the lower block to erosion.  This set the stage for the formation of Bryce Canyon.” —Photograph and quote from an informational sign located at Bryce Point.
Bryce Canyon National Park straddles the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, the south-easternmost of the High Plateaus of Utah.

We drove south on SR-63 through Bryce Canyon National Park. It is 18 miles from the Visitor Center on the north end near the entrance to the vista points at the end of the road in the south. We started at the south end and worked our way north because all the views from the cliffs are on the east — or the right side of the road. We pulled off at each named stopping point and took photos. They are listed on this map.

It is difficult to describe Bryce Canyon. It is enormous. There are many scenic canyons that drain the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The rim of Bryce Canyon extends north-south for the entire 18 miles and it falls into a series of amphitheaters. The valleys below are 2000 feet or more dropping from elevations of 8500' to 9000' down to the town of Tropic on the Paria River at 6500' or Cannonville at 6000 feet.

The scenery from the various viewpoints is a panorama of architectural oddities from the Claron formation. Differential erosion and weathering, and seeping groundwater have sculpted windows, arches, caverns and rooms. The formations resemble ruins of prisons, castles, churches with guarded walls, battlements, spires, steeples, niches, and recesses.

Beyond the pinnacles and spires the view continues eastward across vast plateaus that comprise the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The rich, red rock badlands of Bryce Canyon continue far beyond the park itself.

Ranks of elegant spires and pinnacles are the most characteristic of the landforms carved from the Claron formation — the sediments of the vanished Claron lake system. Innumerable wet weather drainages are eroding upward into the soft Claron formation rocks that cap the Paunsagunt Plateau. This formation is fractured by a dense network of small cracks or joints. Erosion and weathering widens and deepens these joints into slot canyons. The bedrock between the narrow canyons remains as knifelike, pinnacle-crested ridges. The maze-like landscape of dead-end slot canyons and vertical walled ridges was named "badlands" by early explorers.

The Pink Cliffs of Bryce Canyon derive their rich colors from minute amounts of mineral compounds found throughout the rock. Red and pink are from the mineral hematite. Yellowish tints are produced by limonite. Blue, purple, and lavender result from the oxidation of manganese. Pure beds of limestone are white while dolomite are grey/cement looking.

The rocks of Bryce Canyon date from the late Mesozoic and early Cenozoic eras. During that time many geologic processes took place. This region was at various times a sea, a seashore, a coastal plain, and a lake bottom. Today's topography is the cumulative result of sediments deposited here during these ancient environments, as modified by changes throughout a long sequence of succeeding geologic events.

Map scanned and information quoted or paraphrased from "Bryce Canyon; The Story Behind the Scenery" by John Bezy. I added the larger red dots and type.
The Agua Connecting Trail extends along the rim of the canyon from Ponderosa Point to the next highway view point and then drops down Agua Canyon.

That's Dennis just ahead on the trail. Throughout Bryce on all the trails, there are rarely fences or guard rails.

Ravens are common scavengers at park overlooks.
Imaginative and comical names have been applied to delicate spires such as The Pope and Thor's Hammer.
Clusters of spires resemble castles. Whimsical names have been applied to various areas, such as the Queen's Garden Trail or Fairyland Loop.
Natural Bridge
Natural Bridge is misnamed; this "bridge" is technically an arch. Natural bridges are carved by rushing streams, whereas subtler forms of weather have sculpted this opening. The arch began as a recess in a narrow limestone fin. As moisture seeped into cracks, freezing and thawing combined with gravity and chemical weathering to erode the rock. Hollows may have developed on both sides of the wall, gradually deepening until sky showed through. Gaps usually form beneath harder caprock. Though the gully below did not carve the arch, runoff washes away debris and deepens the span. It is impossible to predict when the span might fall. At Arches National Park similar spans have collapsed without warning, leaving pillars to erode more slowly.
Map of Farview Point
Map of Sheep Creek & Swamp Canyon
Map of Bryce Pt. & Inspiration Pt.
A north-south rim trail connects the two points.
The Rim Trail between Bryce and Inspiration Points, abounded with French tourists. We heard no English while we were there. The photo-graphy couple showed a blase lack of concern for the precipitous drop from the edge. She just stepped up from her stance on the extreme edge.
Looking down into the canyon towards the town of Tropic, Utah.
Ebenezer and Mary Bryce
Arrived in the Paria River Valley, 1875-1880
"Ebenezer and Mary moved to Paria Creek, settling at the mouth of a canyon with colored and towering walls. They homesteaded land adjoining what is now the town of Tropic, Utah. Ebenezer dug ditches to take water out of Paria Creek for irrigation purposes and built a road to the timber to obtain logs for a house, fences and firewood. The people from Cannonvlle, three miles down Paria Creek, also used the road to get timber and wood, and they called the canyon 'BRYCE.' The town of Tropic has expanded and covers the area where Ebenezer's farm was located. It is said he remarked of the Canyon, 'It's a hell of a place to lose a cow.'"
—A. Elnora Bryce, Biography of Ebenezer Bryce, 1959
Inspiration Point features pinnacles and spires and a "Wall of Windows."
A radial pattern of joints below Sunset Point produce ridges caused by large-scale twisting and deformation of the bedrock during periods of faulting and folding. Other causes are contraction as the sediments dry, compression by the weight of overlying rocks, and pressure release as erosion strips away these rocks.

I was too tired to walk or look around much at the last two stops.  We will have to return to see more.  It would be nice to take time at each point and walk on some of the easier trails.

On the way back we stopped at All American Fuel Store in Hatch to buy bread and jugs of water and firewood.  We got back to the bus at 4:45 and I was happy to lie down and look at my new books and maps.

In the Visitor’s Center I bought more books about this area including “The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons” by J. W. Powell and “Highway 12” by Christian Probasco.  We are now beginning to understand that we have landed in the middle of a gigantic scenic area.  I am trying to understand the “lay of the land” above and beyond the national parks we planned to see. 

Elsa Walton, Cherokee Springs Golf & RV Resort, Hatch, UT, Sunday, April 27, 2008