Utah’s Bryce Canyon: Greatest Photos and Backstory on Legendary National Park

by Jon D. B.

Have you seen the hoodoos? Utah’s brilliant Bryce Canyon is home to millions of them alongside infinite natural beauty, and a history just as fascinating.

The American West is chock-full of absolutely breathtaking natural formations. While most of us think of the Grand Canyon first and foremost, it is but the tip of the iceberg. Or cliffside, rather.

Home to the greatest concentration of hoodoos on Earth, Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park gives any and all other Western sights a run for their money. But what is a hoodoo, exactly? We’ll dive into this and much more as we cover the most gorgeous photographs from the park’s Instagram, as well as the incredible, diverse history of the land itself.

According to their official US.gov site, over two million visitors experience the “otherworldly magic” of Bryce Canyon National Park every year. Most are repeat visitors, as well. Why? Because Bryce Canyon is far from a single canyon. In reality, it’s a series of natural amphitheaters, or “bowls”, that have eroded into the edge of a very high plateau. The most famous sight in the park is Bryce Amphitheater, which is where you’ll find the most hoodoos by far. Other marvels include Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point.

The Limestone Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon

The short answer is that hoodoos are irregularly eroded columns of rock. The long answer is, well, far more complicated! These unique and beautiful spires are made of softer rock and mineral, such as limestone, that erodes away after exposure to the elements over time. Erosion from rainwater is keenly responsible, but gravity and wind take their toll, as well. They can range from five inches to several hundred feet tall. Bryce Canyon, however you slice your hoodoos, houses the most on our planet.

Moreover, hoodoos, such as these absolutely gorgeous limestone examples in Bryce Canyon above, typically need an arid drainage basin, or “badland”, for their creation. Generally, these columns will form within sedimentary and volcanic rock.

So what separates a hoodoo from a typical rock spire, then? Hoodoos, by definition, must have a “variable thickness” to them. This usually gives each a “head” at the top, and a “totem pole” shape to the body. Spires, however, have smooth profiles and a uniform thickness from the top down.

Furthermore, the more pliable nature of the mineral required to form hoodoos can produce remarkable natural events. Bryce Canyon details one such phenomenon for the gorgeous photo above.

“Here along this high plateau, the arc of the late November sun means less daylight hours for exploring,” their Instagram begins. “Yet a winter sun brings its own gifts, such as the especially vibrant glow of limestone hoodoos as lower angles of light bounce between them.” This results in the incredible glow seen above – one that immediately brings Bryce’s hoodoos to fiery life.

Bryce Canyon: Home to The Southern Paiute, Hopi, Zuni, Navajo, Ute, and More Indigenous Peoples

“This is our heaven–this is the human people’s heaven and we need to appreciate that.”
Leigh Kuwanwisiwma, Hopi Tribe

While Bryce Canyon has enjoyed a long, fruitful life as a U.S. National Park, it is first and foremost the home of many Native American tribes. November hosts Native American Heritage month in the U.S., and Bryce Canyon holds extensive programming to honor their “homeland of many tribes.”

Among the indigenous peoples that call Bryce Canyon home are the Unka tumpee wun-nurrx tungwatsini xoopakichu ahnax (Paiute), Anka-ku-was-a-wits (Paiute), Sikyaatutukwi (Hopi), and Bios ta chi bi kool (Navajo). At least a dozen other peoples have, or still do, reside within Bryce Canyon’s lands. As the park itself puts it, “these connections go back to time immemorial. They come forward and carry on from this very moment.”

As Americans, we have a shameful, poor habit of speaking of Native Americans in the past tense. The indigenous peoples of this continent, however, are still very much present and thriving within the places their ancestors were born unto.

Speaking to this, Bryce Canyon places the following quote from Charley Bulletts, Kaibab Band of Paiutes, with his striking portrait above.

“I’d like visitors that come to Bryce Canyon to know that Southern Paiutes are still here,” Bulletts states. “We’re not ‘these people’, ‘these people once lived here’, ‘these people once thrived’, ‘these people survived in a harsh environment’. Those type of statements to me are not true because it’s who I am, and I am still here, we are still here.”
Charley Bulletts, Kaibab Band of Paiutes

Founder’s Day, President Wilson, And Bryce Canyon

The brilliance of the above shot comes courtesy of the last Founder’s Day in Bryce Canyon. Speaking to the majesty of this site, the park cites that “the hoodoos are aglow like so many candles as we celebrate this day, 104 years ago, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act of 1916.”

A major milestone for America as a nation, the Organic Act created a new service to “conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wildlife therein,” and to “leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

According to the National Park Service, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Organic Act on On August 25, 1916. Within, it states that the purpose of the newly formed National Park Service was, and is, “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wild life therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

When the Organic Act was first signed into law in 1916, there were 35 national parks in the U.S. system. Bryce Canyon would join them seven years later in 1928. As such, the park will celebrate its centennial in just seven short years come 2028.

Snow on the Desert Hoodoos

Yes, that’s snow! And a lot of it. Many who view photos of Bryce Canyon for the first time may be surprised to see snow in the desert, but it is a relatively common occurrence for the national park. December, in particular, is known for a lovely snow-coating.

Winter temperatures in the park are typically around freezing, making it a perfect candidate for holding onto snow. Bryce’s plateau rim’s highest elevations in the south rise to over 9,000 ft / 2,743 m. These high peaks will hold snow year-round, as well.

The park itself even recommends visitors find time to visit during winter, too. “The stark white of freshly fallen snow, red rocks, blue sky, and evergreen trees, some say Bryce Canyon is even more beautiful in winter!” their site details. “Here at 8,000 feet (2,438 m) the scenery changes dramatically in the colder months, providing unique opportunities to see the park and requiring a very different packing list. Begin by reviewing regular closures and regulations, read about typical weather, and then explore the many ways you can experience this winter wonderland.”

Winter wonderland, indeed. Count us in for spotting some snowy hoodoos.

Ready to head to this incredible national park or another just-as-gorgeous option the U.S. has to offer? For our New England friends, these gorgeous photos from Acadia National Park will have you visiting Maine in no time.

Or, if you’re looking for somewhere even more iconic, Yosemite National Park awaits.

Carlsbad Canyon is calling for those looking for more incredible rock formations, as well.

[H/T Bryce Canyon National Park]