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Setting the Stage


Although the frontier had been declared closed by the last decade of the 19th century, several areas of the West remained relatively unpopulated. One such area, located in southern Utah, is now protected as Bryce Canyon National Park. Here fanciful rock formations called "hoodoos" dominate the scene. The park is named for one of the huge horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters within its boundaries that was carved from the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. This plateau, along with six others in southwestern Utah, was formed roughly 10 million years ago when pressure from within the earth caused rock beds to rise several thousand feet above sea level, crack along fault lines, and separate. Layers, once connected, were displaced vertically by several thousand feet, resulting in Utah's High Plateaus. Ancient rivers carved the tops and exposed edges of these massive blocks, removing some layers and sculpting intricate formations in others, resulting in the hoodoos visible today.

Few European Americans knew about the splendor of this remote and rugged terrain until the early 20th century when photographs and accounts of the region's beauty began to circulate. Yet Bryce Canyon remained mostly inaccessible to the public until the Union Pacific Railroad Company recognized the economic potential of providing transportation and lodging near southern Utah's natural wonders. In 1927, the year before its designation as a national park, an estimated 24,000 people visited Bryce Canyon to see the spectacular hoodoos for themselves.

 

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