Bryce Canyon is a 35,835-acre national park in southern Utah. That’s relatively small for a national park. But what Bryce lacks in size, it more than makes up for with its remarkable natural features.
Bryce Canyon contains world-famous unique geology in the form of thousands of bright red, orange and white hoodoos, which are pillars of rock created by erosion. These hoodoos are concentrated in a section in the middle of the park known as the Bryce Amphitheater.
The Bryce hoodoos are primarily created by the repeated freezing and thawing of water in the soft sandstone. This occurs more than 200 days each year in this relatively cold park that sits at 8,000 feet elevation above sea level. When water freezes into ice, it expands, forming cracks between the rock and resulting in vertical spires.
Wind and rain then erode the edges of the spires to create fantastical shapes, such as Thor’s Hammer shown above.
We wonder how some of these spires can remain standing with their skinny necks and big heads.
It’s one thing to stand on the canyon rim and admire the beautiful hoodoos from a distance.
But to us, it’s a much more satisfying experience to hike down among the spires, some of which tower up to 50 stories above our heads.
We gain a much better understanding of the power of nature when we can see it up close, and touch and feel the spires with our own hands.
Hoodoos start as a plateau. Gullies develop along the edges to drain water off the top of the plateau. As erosion continues, gullies widen to produce freestanding fins. In Bryce, the freeze/thaw cycle mentioned above produces vertical cracks along the fins. Eventually big chunks of rock fall from these cracks to expose windows. The photo above shows the aptly-named Wall of Windows.
Eventually the windows grow from top to bottom, separating the rock into collections of spires.
And then over time the spires erode away into wavy, colorful dunes, like this hoodoo graveyard shown above.
The color of the hoodoos change with the sun angle. When the sun is high, the hoodoos are a bright orange and white.
As the day goes by, shadows begin to appear, providing more definition to the individual spires.
At sunset, the hoodoos glow a deep orange as if they were translucent.
Bryce Canyon National Park is home to the endangered Utah Prairie Dog. Prairie dogs are one of the most social species of mammals. They live together in large groups underground in an extensive network of burrows. They will post lookouts at each burrow entrance to warn the colony of approaching predators. These lookouts may even work together to tease the invader so it cannot concentrate on any one prairie dog.
Although most of the focus is on the hoodoos, Bryce Canyon also contains large forests full of fir, spruce, and Ponderosa pines, among other trees. We spotted about a dozen deer feeding in the forest late one afternoon.