Monday, January 30, 2012

Utah's Eroded Fantasy

Photos seldom do
justice to those places
created on such a
grand magnitude.
In southwestern Utah, a land already filled with spectacular scenery and eroded landscapes, is a horseshoe-shaped basin that centuries ago the Paiutes named, "unka-timpa-wa-wince-pockich." The translation says, "red rocks standing like men in a bowl-shaped canyon." Today, this place has another name. The Pink Cliffs of Utah. Or perhaps, more popularly, Bryce Canyon National  Park.

Since the first time we
visited, some of the
formations have collapsed.
It is a large amphitheater, intricately carved and vividly colored--a paint pot of multi-hued rock formations that stretches in length for three miles, in width for two, and is hundreds of feet deep.

Thor's Hammer
A confusion of reds, yellows, oranges, whites, and pinks shaded with a subtle brown, the ravine is filled with fantasy shapes sculpted in stone. Some of the formations have names: Gulliver's Castle, The Queen's Garden, Thor's Hammer, The Temple of Osiris.

Named after Ebenezer Bryce, the first white settler to herd his sheep and cattle through this picturesque valley, the history of the Pink Cliffs goes far back in geologic time. Before the settlers and the Paiutes. Back to the early Eocene age--sixty million years ago.

Millenniums had passed since the last ocean covered southern Utah. Layer upon layer of sediments had already been deposited and hardened into rock beds 12,000 feet thick. Then the entire region of southern Utah began to move. Almost imperceptibly, at most a few feet at a time, the lands rose from what was once sea level to heights of 10,000 feet. Great beds of rock separated into blocks many miles in length and width. The earth strained. Fractures and breaks occurred. Southern Utah split into seven distinct plateaus with a variation in relative elevation of as much as 2,000 feet.

The Three Hoodoos
As the land pushed upward, it also eroded. Rivers and streams formed by melting snow carried off tons of loose material and exposed layer upon layer of rock. Deep canyons appeared. Forms developed in colored sandstone--windows, caves, bridges, and arches with hidden recesses and giant mushrooms standing atop isolated obelisks.

The trails into the canyon's
interior are easily accessible
and none are difficult.
For millions of years the erosional forces continued. They are still at work today. Almost invisibly the castles and pinnacles are re-shaped by rain, frost, and running water working through alternate strata of softer and harder limestone. Sometimes the erosion is so complete a formation collapses. New forms begin emerging. The process never ends and the canyon's rim wastes away at the rate of one foot every fifty years.

I've seen this canyon is
the heat of August and the
late snow of May. It is
beautiful in any season.
If you desire to see much of the park in a few hours, take the 20 mile Rim Drive from the entrance station to Rainbow Point. But be warned. Stay only a few hours and you'll be cheating yourself, for the time spent driving the rim or gazing at a single viewpoint will give only a slimmer of what this park is all about.

Rather not hike? The
park offers horseback rides
into the canyon's interior.
Stay a few days. Take time to enjoy the sun rising and setting against the pink cliffs. Listen to the wind whistling its eerie tune as it twists among the formations. Walk the trails descending into the chasm's awesome stillness.

The original Bryce Canyon Lodge, built
during this country's Arts & Crafts era,
is today listed in the National Register of
Historic Places.
This is a land inspiring silence. Eons have passed. Natural forces have eroded the already eroded, and rather than destroying, they have created anew. Bryce Canyon is continually producing yet another version of itself. It is old while it is young. It is the nature of this place--the Pink Cliffs of Utah.

The park has two campgrounds: North and
Sunset. We always stayed in Sunset. It
is close to the Visitor Center and is more
highly wooded.

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