Bryce Canyon National Park

Hoodoo? We do!

By Simon Vaughan

Have you ever wondered what those towering abstract pillars of rock that dot remote vistas across the globe are called?

It actually depends just where you are, what they’re made of and how they’re formed. In France, they’re sometimes called demoiselles coiffée. Elsewhere they’ve been dubbed pinnacles, tent rocks, fairy chimneys, earth pyramids, earth pillars or goblins. But regardless of their name, from Europe to North America, Asia to Australia, forests of odd-shaped soaring rock have captivated explorers, hikers and countless imaginations for centuries with their varied alien/human/naughty-appendage forms. 

Nowhere in the world are there more than in Bryce Canyon National Park, where they’re known as “hoodoos.” The origins of the word seem as varied as the shapes of the pillars themselves, but it’s generally accepted that the area’s first geologists so called them because of the spires’ ability to allure, captivate and perhaps even cast a magical spell or two. Whatever the magical moniker’s origin, there’s no denying that catching a glimpse of their odd and gangly forms silhouetted against a night sky or watching their elongated shadows writhe across the desert floor as day progresses leaves most witnesses positively spellbound.

Bryce may be best known for its hoodoos, but it’s certainly not the only natural beauty within the park’s boundaries. Although called a canyon, it is actually a group of large, natural amphitheatres within the Colorado Plateau. Perched higher than neighbouring Zion National Park and spanning more than 650 metres altitude from bottom to summit, the park offers three distinct climatic zones and spectacular biodiversity that includes more than 100 species of birds and over a thousand species of plants. With mule deer and pronghorn often seen, and elk, mountain lions and black bear spied occasionally, Bryce has plenty of natural treasures for everyone, though it’s the geology for which it’s most famous.

With deep reds, warm oranges and stark whites, Bryce’s famous rocks provide a unique and vivid backdrop for photographers, whether snowcapped in winter or bursting with wild flowers in spring and summer. Vast rock arches frame clear blue skies and ancient fossils await discovery while the spectacular Grand Staircase of multi-hued sedimentary rock layers preserves more than 600 million years of Earth history.

As for those hoodoos, although we may not know precisely why they’re called that, we do know how they were formed. While some similar formations were forged by the effects of wind or water, Bryce’s natural sculptures were largely created by frost weathering.

Just like Canadian roads ravaged each year by winter, water seeps into the rock, freezes and thaws causing potholes in our roads, but in Bryce where the rocks are exposed to as many as 200 freeze/thaw cycles every year, exquisite abstract shapes ranging from two to 45 metres in height are the result.

Hoodoo? Outpost do!


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