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 Bryce Canyon National Park
 Nature and Geology

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Introduction     Tour     Nature and Geology     History     Plan Your Visit     Questions











































Bryce Canyon is a scientist's laboratory and a child's playground. Because Bryce transcends 2000 ft. (650 m) of elevation, the park exists in three distinct climatic zones: spruce/fir forest, Ponderosa Pine forest, and Pinyon Pine/juniper forest. This diversity of habitat provides for high biodiversity. The park features over 100 species of birds, dozens of mammals, and more than a thousand plant species.



Bryce Canyon is known for its incredible geology and sweeping vistas, but equally impressive are the animals that make the uplifted plateaus of Utah such a unique environment.

Bryce Canyon is home to 59 species of mammals. Mammals are classified as higher vertebrates that have hair and nourish their young with milk secreted by mammary glands. Viewing mammals is a favorite activity of another mammal we know as humans, and Bryce is great place to see a lot of different kinds of mammals. 

Some of the more common mammals in the Park include the Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel, Mountain Lion, Pronghorn Antelope, Uinta Chipmunk, and Utah Prairie Dog.

Birds are feather vertebrates, most having flight capability, that reproduce from hard-shelled eggs. While everybody knows what a bird is, few think of Bryce Canyon when they think about birds. Nevertheless, 175 different species of birds have been documented to frequent Bryce Canyon National Park. Some are just passing through. Others stay for an entire season. Fewer still make this their year round home.  More information on the Park's birds is available on the National Park Service website.

Finally, 11 species of reptiles and four species of amphibians can be found at Bryce. 


Surrounded by deserts, Bryce's highland plateau gets much more rain than the lowlands below and stays cooler during hot summers. The relatively lush ecosystems that result are like fertile islands towering above a vast arid landscape.

Trees include Blue Spruce, Bristlecone Pines, Douglas-fir, Limber Pine, Pinyon Pine, Ponderosa Pine, Quaking Aspen and Rocky Mountain Juniper.

For more information, visit the National Park Service website.


Arches or windows are natural holes that form along cracks and weak spots in thin walls of rock called "fins." By convention these holes must be at least 3 feet in diameter in two perpendicular directions to earn the name arch or window. An imprecise distinction is often made between bridges and arches in terms of the processes that form them. It's important to remember that gravity is the key factor in either case. Nevertheless, the distinction is that bridges are carved by flowing water, whereas arches can be carved by everything else except flowing water. Indeed, in very few circumstances is it possible to say that flowing water had zero contribution in the development of one of these natural holes. Therefore, geologists often prefer the term window to collectively describe any large hole in a rock. At Bryce Canyon most of our windows are carved by frost wedging.

The Grand Staircase is an immense sequence of sedimentary rock layers that stretch south from Bryce Canyon National Park through Zion National Park and into the Grand Canyon. In the 1870s, geologist Clarence Dutton first conceptualized this region as a huge stairway ascending out of the bottom of the Grand Canyon northward with the cliff edge of each layer forming giant steps. Dutton divided this layer cake of Earth history into five steps that he colorfully named Pink Cliffs, Grey Cliffs, White Cliffs, Vermilion Cliffs, and Chocolate Cliffs. Since then, modern geologists have further divided Dutton's steps into individual rock formations.

What makes the Grand Staircase worldly unique is that it preserves more Earth history than any other place on Earth. Geologists often liken the study of sedimentary rock layers to reading a history book--layer by layer, detailed chapter by detailed chapter. The problem is that in most places in the world, the book has been severely damaged by the rise and fall of mountains, the scouring of glaciers, etc. Usually these chapters are completely disarticulated from each other and often whole pages are just missing. Yet the Grand Staircase and the lower cliffs that comprise the Grand Canyon remain largely intact speaking to over 600 million years of continuous Earth history with only a few paragraphs missing here and there.

Hoodoos are tall skinny spires of rock that protrude from the bottom of arid basins and "broken" lands. Hoodoos are most commonly found in the High Plateaus region of the Colorado Plateau and in the Badlands regions of the Northern Great Plains. While hoodoos are scattered throughout these areas, nowhere in the world are they as abundant as in the northern section of Bryce Canyon National Park. In common usage, the difference between Hoodoos and pinnacles or spires is that hoodoos have a variable thickness often described as having a "totem pole-shaped body." A spire, on the other hand, has a more smooth profile or uniform thickness that tapers from the ground upward.

At Bryce Canyon, hoodoos range in size from that of an average human to heights exceeding a 10-story building.

Walls or fins are narrow walls of rock, bound by joints or fractures on either side. As weathering and erosion opens the cracks wider and wider they form narrows or slot canyons. The wall left standing in between two slot canyons is called a fin. As fins develop, differential erosion accentuates different rock hardness leaving them with a rugose appearance.



  Images and text courtesy of National Park Service.




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