Geological History of Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park is like nowhere else on this earth . . . and that’s the truth. The thousands of gargoyles and castellated spires of the Bryce escarpment have been created by the relentless destruction and power of water, temperature and time. Nothing in Bryce Canyon National Park stays the same for very long, the weather makes sure of that. The rim is receding by one foot every 65 years, and in geological times 65 years isn’t even a nanosecond, just a summer cloudburst can carry away sand and gravel, thousands of tons of the stuff. Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the best and clearest places on earth to really see how forces of nature can and do shape the earth . . . into remarkable shapes at that . . . and it’s happening now, all around us!

Geological History of Bryce Canyon

Cast your mind back 60 million years or so . . . what, I can’t remember what I had for breakfast . . . anyway, around 60 million years ago southwestern Utah was covered by a great body of water, known today as Lake Flagstaff. Thousands and millions of years went by and sediments of mud, sand and gravel accumulated beneath the sea, to incredible thicknesses as much as 2000 feet. This was eventually cemented together by the sheer pressure, and minerals, becoming solid rock (now known as the Wasatch Formation).


Now then, around 34 million years later (16 million years ago) there were colossal movements of the earth’s crust which formed this formation skywards. The stress of these movements created breaks in the rocks, one of the chunks becoming known as Paunsaugunt Plateau. Towards the eastern side of this plateau, where Bryce is located, the fracturing of the rock left it extremely vulnerable to the forces of the weather, particularly the power of water.

You can still see the power of these forces in Bryce Canyon National Park, particularly during the late winter and early spring. The thawing of the ground on warmer days produces groaning and grinding sounds, the grumbling of erosion doing its work. Water runs into the crevices, pebbles and gravel shake loose, rocks tumble, it’s all happening there before your very eyes.

This erosion has been responsible for sculpting the thousands of limestone hoodoos at Bryce Canyon National Park, (the name comes from voodoo, which means bad luck), but the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon create a marvelous landscape rich in shapes and colors.

The wonderful display of colors at Bryce Canyon National Park changes throughout the day, starting at the blue end of the spectrum in the mornings towards the definite red hues of sunset. Bryce Canyon really is a very colorful place to be. Terra-cotta, pink, yellow and mauve colors are as a result of oxidized chemicals within the stones, the red and yellow from the iron, purple and blues from manganese.