Bryce Canyon is located in southwestern Utah. It not actually a canyon, but a series of natural amphitheaters and colorful hoodoos (tall pillars of rock) all formed by the powerful forces of wind, water, and ice erosion over millions of years.
Like most of the surrounding National Parks in the desert southwest, there is archaeological evidence that Native American tribes had been living in the area for over 10,000 years. The most recent being the Paiutes, who later moved out when overgrazing by the earlier settlers became a problem. Today, there are no Native Americans living in the Bryce Canyon area.
The first European Americans to settle in the area were sent by the Mormon church in the 1850s. One of those settlers was Ebenezer Bryce who grazed his cattle and grew crops right inside what is today’s current park borders. The area became known as “Bryce’s canyon” and the name stuck when the area later became federally protected.
By the early 1920s, the Bryce Canyon area was becoming a nationally recognized tourist destination. Increased visitation combined with unregulated grazing and logging still occurring started the movement to protect the area, and in 1923, President Warren G. Harding declared Bryce Canyon a National Monument. Five years later, in 1928, Bryce was upgraded to a National Park.
In 1934, the Rim Road was completed, and to this day, this is the most commonly used scenic drive that provides visitors with 13 overlooks into the surreal landscape. While it is the colorful hoodoos that draw visitors into the Park, there are also surrounding forests teeming with wildlife and plant communities specifically adapted to this high elevation desert ecosystem.
Zion National Park is also located in southwestern Utah, about 50 miles southwest of Bryce Canyon National Park. The Park consists of natural arches, slot canyons, mesas, buttes, rivers, mountains, and the 15 mile long Zion Canyon. Four distinct life zones can be found within the park borders: desert, riparian, woodland, and pine forest.
Like Bryce Canyon, Native American tribes such as the Anazasi, Ute, and the Southern Paiute first lived in the area thousands of years ago and was later settled by Mormon missionaries starting in the 1840s. The Mormons were not only fascinated by the beauty of Zion canyon, but also impressed with its potential for farming and grazing. In 1863, a settler by the name of Isaac Behunin, named the canyon “Zion”, referring to a place of peace in the Bible. In 1872, General John Wesley Powell visited the area and named it “Mukuntuweap”, based on its Paiute given name.
With vivid photographs and paintings capturing the beauty of the canyon at hand, in 1909, President William Taft declared the area into the Mukuntuweap National Monument using Powell’s name. In 1919, the canyon and additional surrounding areas were established as Zion National Park, with one historian noting that visitors may have avoided visiting the Park if they couldn’t pronounce the name, hence the name change.
Tourism and road infrastructure has increased greatly since those early years, and the Park established a mandatory public shuttle system on the Zion Canyon Scenic Drive to ease traffic congestion during the busier months between April and October.
Notable landmarks in the Park include Angel’s Landing, Checkerboard Mesa, the Temple of Sinawava, the Virgin River Narrows, and the “Subway”, a slot canyon to the west of Zion Canyon. Some of the side canyons of the Narrows hike are so narrow that one can touch both walls at the same time.
See the Lush greenery of Zion Canyon
Check out the breathtaking rock formations at Bryce Canyon