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 despite its name, is not a canyon, but a collection of giant natural amphitheaters along the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Bryce is distinctive due to geological structures called hoodoos, formed by frost weathering and stream 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 (2,400 to 2,700 m).
The Bryce Canyon 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 National Monument in 1923 and was designated as a National Park in 1928. The park covers 35,835 acres (55.992 sq mi; 14,502 ha; 145.02 km2) and receives relatively few visitors compared to Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon, largely due to its remote location.
Bryce Canyon National Park is located in southwestern Utah about 50 miles (80 km) northeast of and 1,000 feet (300 m) 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 (380 to 460 mm) 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, but extreme temperatures can range from −30 to 97 °F (−34 to 36 °C). The record high temperature in the park was 98 °F (37 °C) on July 14, 2002. The record low temperature was −28 °F (−33 °C) on December 10, 1972.
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The national park lies within the Colorado Plateau geographic province of North America and straddles the southeastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau west of the Paunsaugunt Fault (Paunsaugunt is Paiute for “home of the beaver”). 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 just beyond it (Paria is Paiute for “muddy or elk water”). The edge of the Kaiparowits Plateau bounds 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 Paunsaugunt Plateau. This erosion exposed delicate and colorful pinnacles called hoodoos that are up to 200 feet (60 m) high. A series of amphitheaters extends more than 20 miles (30 km) north-to-south within the park. The largest is Bryce Amphitheater, which is 12 miles (19 km) long, 3 miles (5 km) wide and 800 feet (240 m) 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 (40 km) to the west on the Markagunt Plateau.
Rainbow Point, the highest part of the park at 9,105 feet (2,775 m),is at the end of the 18-mile (29 km) 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 (2,020 m).
Little is known about early human habitation in the Bryce Canyon area. Archaeological surveys of Bryce Canyon National Park and the Paunsaugunt Plateau show that people have been in the area for at least 10,000 years. Basketmaker Anasazi artifacts several thousand years old have been found south of the park. Other artifacts from the Pueblo-period Anasazi and the Fremont culture (up to the mid-12th century) have also been found.
The Paiute Indians moved into the surrounding valleys and plateaus in the area around the same time that the other cultures left. These Native Americans hunted and gathered for most of their food, but also supplemented their diet with some cultivated products. The Paiute in the area developed a mythology surrounding the hoodoos (pinnacles) in Bryce Canyon. They believed that hoodoos were the Legend People whom the trickster Coyote turned to stone. At least one older Paiute said his culture called the hoodoos Anka-ku-was-a-wits, which is Paiute for “red painted faces”.