Bryce Canyon isn’t a canyon at all, but a magical amphitheater that millions of years of rain, snow, arid ice hollowed out of the pink and white limestone cliffs. Like a cave without a roof, its eerily shaped, stalagmite-like “hoodoo” pinnacles and pillars rise up out of the ground, unique for their brilliant, mineral-tinted colors and top-heavy shapes – the result of their harder upper levels staying firm as the lower levels eroded away.
The Paiute Indians believed these rocks to be early residents who were turned to stone for their evil deeds, frozen in time forever by a vengeful god. Like Rorschach blobs or cloud formations, the delicately sculpted spires can take on many guises depending on the viewer – one man’s giraffe is another man’s Elvis – though there’s no mistaking the arches, bridges, and peepholes that fill out the scene. To tap into the deepest spirit of the place, go to Sunset Point at its namesake hour and watch the sky imitate the colors of the stone.
The fantasy canyon was named after Mormon settler Ebeneezer Bryce, who tried his best to raise cattle in these harsh environs in the 1870s, famously commenting that it was “a helluva place to lose a cow.” Fifty years later, Bryce Canyon Lodge was built to house visitors to this gem-sized park, at 56 square miles about as big as the Grand Canyon’s broom closet. Constructed of large ponderosa- pine timbers and native stone, its cozy cabins encircle the Main Lodge, where you can get a pretty good meal.