Not even the most creative architects, nor the most eccentric Hollywood animators could have imagined such a wildly unique landscape as Bryce Canyon National Park. This is the magical world of looming "hoodoos," a labyrinth of colored stone of all shapes and sizes existing as towers, spires or pinnacles. Call the structures what you will, exploring Bryce Canyon is like gazing at clouds and naming their shapes, only with many more peculiar opportunities.
In a fantastic attempt to preserve the landscape from the harm caused by streams of tourists' cars, Bryce Canyon has created a convenient shuttle system. The Bryce Canyon Shuttle makes visiting the park a pleasure, eliminating crowded parking lots and long lines. Visitors leave their cars at the Shuttle Staging Area, and take the Blue Line to the Visitors Center, where they can hop aboard the Red Line, taking them to many of the park's viewpoints and trailheads.
Bryce Canyon is a part of the Paunsaugunt Peninsula, an area rich in wildlife. The park's inhabitants often remain hidden, but a keen eye may observe prairie dogs, coyotes, even the wily mountain lion. Bird-watchers might be privy to a peregrine falcon sighting -- the park features 4 official peregrine territories. Observing the park's flora is no less interesting; ancient Bristlecone pines, Ponderosa pines and the Pinyon pine can all be found on park grounds.
When the Cretaceous Sea covered this region more than 100 million years ago, sediments were deposited, forming the bases for the rock formations we see today. Water erosion from rain draining down the sides of structures -- known as slope erosion -- created the monoliths and hoodoos visible in the park.
With 13 viewpoints at which to stop, the drive to Rainbow Point is a great way to absorb the beauty of Bryce Canyon's rock formations. A variety of hikes let visitors mosey through the formations on foot, including the Fairyland Loop and the Peekaboo Loop. Both 2-hour and half-day horse and mule rides into the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater are available through Canyon Trail Rides, a concessioner in the park. Unique ranger-guided activities include Moonlight Hikes and a performing arts series (look for the "Old Time Fiddlers").
Where to Stay
Want to spend as much time as possible surrounded by the colorful, sprawling rock formations that have made Utah so famous? Spending a night or 2 at Red Canyon Campground lets visitors sleep among those famous limestone rock formations and Ponderosa pines. The campground also features trails, shower facilities, flush restrooms and fire rings.
Nearby Sights/Side Trips
Imagine, for a moment, the landscape of a Wild West movie, and you've probably just envisioned Monument Valley, the landmark of many Western flicks -- quite a few of them John Wayne classics. The looming red buttes and mesas, and the 300-foot high Totem Pole rock spire have become the paragon for images of the American West. Located within the Navajo Indian Reservation, Navajo-guided tours through the unpaved Valley Road are available from the Visitors Center located off route US-163.