Bryce Canyon – how can Earth produce such a masterpiece of colors, cliffs, rock formations that speed us back into childhood where we strongly believed in dwarfs, princesses and castles ?
Bryce Canyon is the youngest wonderland within the Colorado Plateau – “only” 65 million years old. In terms of geology, it is dating back to late Mesozoic epoch (100 mio years) to early Cenozoic epoch (20 mio years).
In the picture, which is a scan of a graphic from the booklet “The story behind the scenery”, it can be seen how and where this is located in Earth history. During these times, the location which is Bryce Canyon today, did undergo many processes – it once was sea, seashore, coastal plain and in the younger geologic aera a lake. This makes it’s uniqueness for geologists, who can almost read like in a book in each of the strata layers of Bryce Canyon.
The plate tectonic theory tells us that Earth crust (which consists of several mobile plates), is under more or less constant movement. The plates have moved and collided several times over the eons, giving rise to dramatic changes in the surface – e.g. the Continental Drift, which separated South America from Africa.
Over the eons, Grand Staircase has started to develop or build-up her strata and at a point in time, where now is Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon was once a sea.
Fondest memory: The Story Behind the Scenery
Wasatch Formation is not uniform in its texture. Pure limestone swap with mudstones and sandstones and conglomerate. All layers are bound together by the varying content of calcium carbonate.
Wasatch Formation cemented now and compacted into a 2000 ft thick sequence of rock layers – of which we see most of today in Bryce Canyon.
However, it was covered by Brianhead Formation, tight conglomerate, which holds together Wasatch Formation – without it, erosion would have blown or wept away much of Bryce Canyons todays’ wonderland.
Lake Flagstaff eventually drained and vanished and left exposed the textured rock strata of Wasatch and Brianhead Formation to the weather forces – sculpturing of the soft rocks started.
Clearly visible in the amazing maze of Bryce Canyon are the “geometrics” of erosion – the rock strata are sitting horizontally on top of each other, while cracks or joints kind of vertically separate them from each other.
These cracks are formed on the one hand by the still constant earth movements, which started to cleave the layers a bit. On the other hand by the water, intruding into these fine lines, freezing during cold climate and thus enlarging the lines to cracks or joints.
The picture is a close shot into Silent City at Inspiration Point.
In addition to weathering, also chemical erosion takes place. Rain water can carry traces of acid. These dissolve calcium carbonate, cemented between the individual grains. The result are constantly increasing and forming holes, cavities, alcoves.
Oxidation takes place as well. Remember, the layers contain iron and manganese.
Iron bearing minerals – in contamination with water – will rust (oxidize) and form haematite, the red colored mineral.
If more water is in contact with the iron bearing minerals, yellow colored limonite is formed.
And finally, manganese oxide adds a little blue or purple or lavender to the scenery.
The beforesaid – horizontal layers and vertical joints is very distinctively seen in the hoodoos all over the place.
The hoodoos are formed by frost wedging on the one hand – which results in the joints and cracks.
In addition, the slightly acidic rainfall dissolves the limestone and over the years
the little-rocks-standing-like-men are carved out of the Bryce Canyon layers –
- which brings us back to the legend of how Bryce Canyon was formed.
Different sculptures are formed where different chemistry is involved in the layers.
The upper layers of white fresh-water limestone is quite massive and it’s “missing” impurities makes it more resistent to erosion than the reddish silt and clay parts in the layers below.
In the picture, an example for this is seen – a close-up into Sunrise Point – alternating beds of carbonate rich (white) and carbonate poor (red) rocks, which are so characteristic for Bryce Canyon formation.
Although we all here in VT do our best to describe our experiences and give tips on the different locations to go, sometimes it's also good to check official websites of places.
Ok - sometimes it's not a good idea, as mostly we here are the best (:-)
in the case of Bryce Canyon I am fascinated abou the NP Services' Website.
It contains all - really all - the visitor wants to know.
They have a nice virtual tour on all the points of interest, and what is even more exciting, they have sections about flora and fauna, with each animal and plant described - for the plants even if they are edible or dangerous.
Good hiking maps are available as well.
Fondest memory: Please check their website !!
Bryce Canyon is photographers’ heavenly wonderland. If you are seriously into taking pictures, you will easily leave the canyon with 10 rolls of film or 500 digi pictures….
The best picture taking times of the day and the locations would be:
Dawn: of course Sunrise Point to get the best shots of the Main Amphitheartre. Also Bryce Point is nice for that.
However, I’ve seen a picture in the web (please see link below) with the sun rising over Aquarius Plateau directly “behind” Thor’s Hammer, providing him with a kind of halo which spectacular. You might want to get a similar shot !
Midmorning to early afternoon: the best time now for vanishing into the hiking trails, as the sun is not that intense and “light destroying” as up on the rim. Plus, deep in the trail canyons, you have the chance to get exciting shoots of the red-orange rocks set against the everpresent blue sky. Like in the one in my picture – almost incredible contrast !
Late afternoon: you will need to find your spot like a sardine in a can among all the visitors huddling to get the best shots in Sunset Point or Bryce Point.
But – you’ll be happy when you get your rolls developed or work on the digi ones on your computer :-)
Fondest memory: The Hunter with the morning glory
The lowest layer in this sea was Dakota Formation, followed by Tropic Shale with dark grey clay muds. More and more sea sediments were deposited to result in the marine sandstones of Straight Cliff Formation. Then, water was drained away, and rivers dropped their sands, gravels and shales - Wahweap and Kaiparowits formation have been built.
Finally, Wasatch limestone was deposited, which is Bryce Canyons most prominent rock formation.
This was the time when “Lake Flagstaff” captured the basin which is now seen again east of Bryce Canyon.
As mentioned earlier, Paiute Indians did call Bryce Canyon unka-timpe-wa-wince-pock-ich - which means bowl-shaped-canyon-filled-with-red-rocks-standing-up-like-men.
There is even a legend about this name:
The canyon was built as city for the people of god coyote (four legged creatures, birds, lizzards and human-like beings). However, the coyote people spent too much time to beautify their city – which the God did not like.
Furiously, he poured all of their paint buckets over their heads and transformed them into rocks.
This is what we see today – red rocks, standing up like men :-)
…. but now it's 3 a.m. in Central Europe - I am too tired now to write more on explaining how bridges and arches have been formed over the years.
For more information on Geology of Bryce Canyon – please visit Bryce Canyons Website – as below – they can do it much better than me :-)
Fondest memory: Bryce Canyon NP Website
If your time in Bryce is limited, at least take the scenic drive. The Bryce Canyon scenic drive is an 18 mile road that begins near the park entrance and ends at Rainbow Point. There are several places along the way to stop and admire the view, including Aqua Canyon, Paria View and the natural Bridge overlook. The scenic drive is a good way to get an overview of the fantastic rock formations that make this park famous.
Since the turnoffs are on the left side of the road, the best way to see Bryce by car is to drive to Rainbow Point at the end and then head back in the other direction, stopping at each viewpoint turnoff on the return route.
There is a spur road which leads to Sunrise Point, where the Rim Trail and several others, including the Fairyland Trail leading to the bottom, can be found.
Southern Utah has some incredible scenery and this park is one of the greats. Bryce Canyon is a unique place with its "hoodoo" formations created by wind erosion. Although it's called a canyon, there's no river at the bottom. It's carved out of a high plateau, at elevations up to 9,000 ft. The hoodoos are constantly changing slowly over time.
I recommend hiking in among the hoodoos on one of the park trails to experience the best of the spectacular scenery. Colors in this area are brilliant and dramatic. The park is open all year round and I'd like to see it under its winter blanket of snow someday.
Bryce Canyon is located a few miles south of the intersection of Hwy 12 and Hwy 63. There are plenty of signs along the adjoining highways that will point you in the right direction and the park is easy to find.
Bryce Canyon National Park is about 150 miles from St. George, 80 or so miles from Cedar City and about an hour's drive from Zion National Park.
Bryce Canyon is open year round, although at this elevation, there can be quite a bit of snow during the winter which may close some roads and trails. During the summer months, the higher elevation keeps things cooler than neighboring park Zion to the south.
Favorite thing: Bryce has many naturally occuring and unusual rock formations and this is one of the most striking and most accessible since its located at one of the overlooks along the Bryce Canyon Scenic drive. Its really an arch and not a bridge, but that's just technical information. The arch/bridge was carved by frost erosion on top of rock. The arch is 85 feet long and 125 feet high and is pretty impressive. The lighting is a bit off in this picture, but the arch has a deep rust color which contrasts sharply with the usually bright blue sky.