Bryce Canyon National Park

Legend of the Legend People

Dispatch by Simon Vaughan
Intro Photo by Jimmy Martinello

From Bryce Canyon National Park’s Yovimpa Point it’s possible to gaze across at the spectacular Grand Staircase of sedimentary rock layers, and observe over 600 million years of Earth history. But in a world that struggles to remember an age before the Internet, it takes a bit longer to process exactly what that means.

600 million years! 

Not only was there no email back then, but the ozone layer was the very latest in cutting edge technology and fungi was merely a figment of the most hyperactive multicellular organism’s imagination! 

It wasn’t until approximately 10,000 years ago that the first people set foot in the greater Bryce Canyon area. Archaeologists have determined that few if any of those first peoples actually lived there; rather, they used it as their hunting and gathering grounds, passed through on their way to other destinations or possibly stopped by to sketch a few rock drawings of hoodoos to send home to their friends. 

More than 9,000 years later, the Paiute people ventured into the Bryce Canyon area following in the footsteps of the Fremont and Anasazi peoples. The region’s harsh winters also prevented them from settling, but the Paiute told stories of the Legend People who had indeed lived in Bryce Canyon. They were not actually people at all and were so bad that coyote turned the Legend People into stone known to the Paiute as Angka-ku-wass-a-witts, the Red Painted Faces, more commonly known today as the hoodoos.

Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon during the Winter season
By the late 18th century the Spanish came close to Bryce Canyon and may well have even seen the park’s multicoloured rocks in the distance. A few decades after that came trailblazers and frontiersmen like Jedediah Smith, George C. Yount and explorer John C. Fremont, before Mormon settlers arrived in the mid-19th century.
Among those pioneers was Ebenezer Bryce, a Scottish ship’s carpenter who converted to Mormonism and moved to Utah at age 17. He and his wife Mary eventually settled in Henderson Valley, Utah in 1875, where he helped construct an irrigation ditch for the town and a logging road. The terminus of the road became informally known to the locals as Bryce Canyon, and even after the Bryce family moved to Arizona, the name stuck.
By the start of the 20th century, intrepid travellers were venturing to Bryce Canyon to take in the spectacular views. One such visitor was a U.S. forest service supervisor who was so taken by the scenery that he started lobbying Washington to have the area made a national park. His efforts also extended to sending photographs and film to the Union Pacific Railroad in the hopes of encouraging even more visitors. In 1923, U.S. President Warren G. Harding proclaimed Bryce Canyon a national monument, and five years later, in 1928, it became one of among the smallest national parks in the country—albeit one that today sees approximately 1.5 million visitors a year.  

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