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The Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon Utah: You don't have to hike to love Bryce

Looking down from the rim trail of Bryce Amphitheater stretches a huge panorama much wider than the eye can see. Huge fairy spires, hoodoos, tent rocks, whatever one chooses to call them, stretch upwards from the basin floor. The complicated facts of their geology can never prepare a visitor for the playland of upthrusts in earth-hued colors, some as tall as 10 stories.

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Hoodoos have another meaning -- they are also magical spells, and these geological marvels are well-named. To see them is to believe something bewitching had occurred.

It was a complicated bit of geological prestidigitation that turned limestone sediment into hoodoos. The first step involves transforming the sediment into stone (called lithification). You also need different layers of limestone to get the multi-color effect. Then add many cycles of freezing and thawing to crack the stone apart at weak points. Add doses of heavy rains to remove the debris and dissolve some of the edges of the remaining rock. You can also form some window formations and watch the break apart. Repeat until you have Bryce Canyon National Park. Step back and prepare to be astounded.

Although found in other parts of the USA and the world (Hoodoos are a tourist attraction in the Cappadocia region of Turkey) there is no greater concentration anywhere on earth than in Bryce Canyon.

Bryce is Accessible

Bryce is definitely a user-friendly park. Even if the altitude saps your hiking strength, or you are more a stroller than a hiker, at Bryce you can do a drive and walk to see the astounding overlooks. There are plenty of short segments of trails and walks, and the park has been designed to be easy to drive to almost all of them along the main road.Park the car, walk to the overlook and drive on to the next. In fact, many of the viewpoints as well as the trail between Sunset and Sunrise points are wheelchair accessible.

Bryce Amphitheater is the largest in the park. You can walk along the rim trail from one overlook to another for a stream of gorgeous panoramas, drive from one to the other, or do a combination. You'll be about 8000 feet above sea level at Bryce and if you're used to lower altitudes, remember to pause and take deep breaths.

Bryce Amphitheater Trails

The Rim Trail links Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point and Bryce Point but there is an altitude gain along the way 8017 at Sunrise Point to 8296 at Bryce Point.

If you're a hiker, enjoy one of the trails down into the ampitheater, or some of the the other trails in the park. Pick up a map and trail description at the Visitors Center. If you have the stamina, you can pick up the Queens Garden Trail at Sunrise Point. This will take you down to the bottom of the amphitheater where you'll be able to look up at the foot of the hoodoos. This 2 mile (round trip) trail is considered the least difficult descent trail. The Navajo Loop trail, accessed at Sunset Point, is shorter (1.3 mile round trip) but the hike is steeper.

A totally different view can be found at Natural Bridge. It's only a few steps from the parking lot to the overlook but you'll see the pretty Natural Bridge, which is actually more of an arch, formed like most arches by rain and cycles of frost. It is possible in a gazillion years it will be another striking hoodoo and you'll have seen it "before" the change.

If You Go

Bryce Canyon Lodge: Within the park

Bryce is one of the very few International Dark Skies parks in the United States, making it perfect for star-gazing. The Lodge at Bryce Canyon is the only lodging within Bryce. If you are a star-gazer this might be a good lodging choice.

Outside Bryce Canyon

The town of Bryce Canyon City is at the edge of the park providing not only easy access, but with easy access to the National Park Shuttle that runs May through September every 15 minutes. It stops at the Visitor Center and viewpoints of many of the scenic spots. The shuttle is free with park entrance fee.

There are two lodging options in town. I stayed at the Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel, a Best Western Plus, and can happily recommend it. The breakfast was free and far superior to the usual complimentary breakfasts. Rooms were comfortable and the hotel itself is comfortably and beautifully rustic. It doesn't have an associated restaurant but there are several dining options near the hotel. The town also offers opportunities for trail rides, mountain bike rentals and ATV tours.

If you're RVing, Ruby's Inn -- RV Park -- Campground is also well-located near Bryce Canyon. You can learn more about Bryce Canyon City, and attractions/activities in the area at their official tourism site Bryce Canyon Country You can also download their free interactive Bryce Canyon Country Tour App at

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Neala McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: August 7, 2016

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