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Determining the Facts

Reading 2: Interest in Bryce Canyon Increases

The rugged topography of the Bryce Canyon area in southern Utah was an obstacle to early European-American explorers and settlers. These same characteristics, however, began to attract the attention of American scientists during the 1870s. As Mormon settlers were establishing farms, ranches, and villages near the canyon, some scientists and surveyors found much of interest to study in the area.

In 1872 Almon H. Thompson, a geographer working with the well-known explorer John Wesley Powell, reported the first description of the complex geological features that characterize southern Utah. Other scientists followed Thompson's lead and conducted surveys in the area during the 1870s. In 1876 T. C. Bailey, a government land surveyor, expressed his wonder at the fanciful shapes of the hoodoos:

...the surface breaks off almost perpendicularly to a depth of several hundred feet--seems, indeed, as though the bottom had dropped out and left rocks standing in all shapes and forms as lone Sentinels over the grotesque and picturesque scene. There are thousands of red, white, purple and vermillion colored rocks, of all sizes, resembling Sentinels on the Walls of Castles; monks and priests with their robes, attendants, cathedrals, and congregations. There are deep caverns and rooms resembling ruins of prisons, Castles, Churches, with their guarded walls, battlements, spires and steeples, niches and recesses, presenting the wildest and the most wonderful scene that the eye of man ever beheld, in fact, it is one of the wonders of the world.¹

Despite these studies, the wonders of Bryce Canyon remained virtually unknown to the American public. Other scenic areas of the West, however, were beginning to be recognized and promoted. In 1872 Congress set aside Yellowstone in Wyoming as the first national park. Over the next two decades more national parks, including Yosemite in California and Mount Rainier in Washington, were created. The isolation of most of these areas made the parks difficult for the public to reach. Around the turn of the century, railroad companies began playing an important role in promoting the development of national parks in the West. These companies recognized the economic potential of providing transportation and lodging for tourists eager to witness natural wonders.

The lack of nearby railways and sizeable towns contributed toward Bryce Canyon's obscurity. Rough wagon roads to the vicinity of the Paunsaugunt rim were challenging at any time, but heavy snow drifts made the rim inapproachable for several months of the year. In the 1910s, however, the American public at last would hear about, if not witness, the wonders of Bryce Canyon thanks to the efforts of J. W. Humphrey. In 1915 Humphrey became the Forest Supervisor for the Sevier National Forest in Utah. Since much of Bryce Canyon's scenic area was within national forest boundaries, it fell under Humphrey's jurisdiction. After seeing Bryce Canyon, he felt compelled to promote the area as a tourist attraction.

With a small appropriation Humphrey built a primitive road to the plateau rim. He also brought in photographers to take promotional pictures. An article that appeared in a Union Pacific Railroad publication in 1916 was one of the first to reach the public and included the first photos taken of the canyon rim and bottom. In 1917 Humphrey constructed a trail from the rim of the plateau into the canyons below and a system of trails within the hoodoos below the plateau rim. Humphrey even led local citizens on guided tours of the area. Bryce Canyon also began to be promoted as a pleasant side trip for motor tourists traveling to the Grand Canyon, which had become a national monument in 1908 and a national park in 1919. These early promotional efforts resulted in public interest in Bryce Canyon, but more remained to be done before the area would be readily accessible to tourists.

In 1919 the Utah State Legislature recommended that Bryce Canyon be preserved and protected for the public's enjoyment. It was not until June 1923, however, that President Warren G. Harding officially established Bryce Canyon National Monument. As the land was located within a national forest, responsibility for the monument's administration fell to the Forest Service. Five years later the area was designated Bryce Canyon National Park, at which time it passed to the National Park Service.

Questions for Reading 2

1. What contributed to the fact that Bryce Canyon remained relatively unknown even into the early 20th century?

2. Does T. C. Bailey's description help you envision Bryce Canyon's hoodoos? Why or why not?

3. Why were railroad companies interested in promoting national parks in the West?

4. Who was J. W. Humphrey and how did he influence the development of Bryce Canyon as a tourist attraction?

Reading 2 is compiled from Janene Caywood, "Bryce Canyon Multiple Property Submission" (Garfield County, UT) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1994; and Nicholas Scrattish, "Historic Resource Study: Bryce Canyon National Park," U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1985.

¹T. C. Bailey, "Description of Bryce Canyon, 1876," in Zion-Bryce Memorandum for the Press, October, 1935.

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