Bryce Canyon National Park is a national park located in southwestern Utah in the United States. The major feature of the park is Bryce Canyon which, is not a canyon but a giant natural amphitheater created by erosion along the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Bryce is distinctive due to geological structures called hoodoos, formed by wind, water, and ice erosion of the river and lake bed sedimentary rocks. The red, orange, and white colors of the rocks provide spectacular views for park visitors.
Bryce sits at a much higher elevation than nearby Zion National Park. The rim at Bryce varies from 8,000 to 9,000 feet. The Bryce area was settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1850s and was named after Ebenezer Bryce, who homesteaded in the area in 1874. The area around Bryce Canyon became a U. S. National Monument in 1923 and was designated as a national park in 1928. The park covers 56 square miles, and receives relatively few visitors compared to Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon, largely due to its remote location.
The town of Kanab, Utah, is situated at a central point between these three parks. Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southern Utah about 50 miles northeast of—and 1,000 feet higher than—Zion National Park. The weather in Bryce Canyon is therefore cooler, and the park receives more precipitation, a total of 15 to 18 inches per year. Yearly temperatures vary from an average minimum of 9 °F (?13 °C) in January to an average maximum of 83 °F (28 °C) in July.
The national park lies within the Colorado Plateau geographic province of North America and straddles the southeastern edge of the Paunsagunt Plateau west of the Paunsagunt Fault Park visitors arrive from the plateau part of the park and look over the plateau’s edge toward a valley containing the fault and the Paria River. The edge of the Kaiparowits Plateau is on the opposite side of the valley. Bryce Canyon was not formed from erosion initiated from a central stream, meaning it technically is not a canyon. Instead headward erosion has excavated large amphitheater-shaped features in the Cenozoic-aged rocks of the Paunsagunt Plateau.
This erosion exposed delicate and colorful pinnacles called hoodoos that are up to 200 feet high. A series of amphitheaters extends more than 20 miles north-to-south within the park. The largest is Bryce Amphitheater, which is 12 miles long, 3 miles wide and 800 feet deep. A nearby example of amphitheaters with hoodoos in the same formation but at a higher elevation is in Cedar Breaks National Monument, which is 25 miles to the west on the Markagunt Plateau. Rainbow Point, the highest part of the park at 9,105 feet is at the end of the 18-mile scenic drive.
From there Aquarius Plateau, Bryce Amphitheater, the Henry Mountains, the Vermilion Cliffs and the White Cliffs can be seen. Yellow Creek, where it exits the park in the north-east section, is the lowest part of the park at 6,620 feet. It was not until the late 18th and the early 19th century that the first European Americans explored the remote and hard-to-reach area. Ebenezer Bryce and his family lived in Bryce Canyon, in this cabin, here photographed circa 1881. The first major scientific expedition to the area was led by U. S. Army Major John Wesley Powell in 1872.
Powell, along with a team of mapmakers and geologists, surveyed the Sevier and Virgin River area as part of a larger survey of the Colorado Plateaus. His mapmakers kept many of the Paiute place names. Small groups of Mormon pioneers followed and attempted to settle east of Bryce Canyon along the Paria River. In 1873, the Kanarra Cattle Company started to use the area for cattle grazing. A combination of drought, overgrazing and flooding eventually drove the remaining Paiutes from the area and prompted the settlers to attempt construction of a water diversion channel from the Sevier River drainage.
When that effort failed, most of the settlers, including the Bryce family, left the area. Bryce moved his family to Arizona in 1880. The remaining settlers dug a 10 miles ditch from the Sevier’s east fork into Tropic Valley. More than 400 native plant species live in the park. There are three life zones in the park based on elevation. The lowest areas of the park are dominated by dwarf forests of pinyon pine and juniper with manzanita, serviceberry, and antelope bitterbrush in between. Aspen, cottonwood, Water Birch, and Willow grow along streams.
Ponderosa Pine forests cover the mid-elevations with Blue Spruce and Douglas-fir in water-rich areas and manzanita and bitterbrush as underbrush. Douglas-fir and White Fir, along with Aspen and Engelmann Spruce, make up the forests on the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The harshest areas have Limber Pine and ancient Great Basin Bristlecone Pine—some more than 1,600 years old—holding on. The forests and meadows of Bryce Canyon provide the habitat to support diverse animal life, from birds and small mammals to foxes and occasional bobcats, mountain lions, and black bears.
Mule deer are the most common large mammals in the park. Elk and pronghorn antelope, which have been reintroduced nearby, sometimes venture into the park. Bryce Canyon National Park forms part of the habitat of three wildlife species that are listed under the Endangered Species Act, the Utah Prairie Dog, the California Condor, and the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher. The Utah Prairie Dog is a threatened species that was reintroduced to the park for conservation, and the largest protected population is found within the park’s boundaries.
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