When we stop to pull off jackets, I take in the snow-draped hoodoos towering above us. What was it like for Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce to wander into this amphitheater for the first time back in the mid-1870s? Did he believe that he had found some version of God’s country? Or did he view the slots and twists created by the hoodoos as obstacles in which his livestock might get lost? Undaunted, he made Bryce his workplace, and built a logging road into the heart of this place named for him.
Up on the rim of the Bryce amphitheater, visitors gather to take in the spectacle of the Bryce Amphitheater. At the major stops on the 18-mile scenic drive that winds towards Bryce Point, buses full of Chinese tourists, visiting during their New Year’s holiday, empty into otherwise empty parking lots. But here on the floor, where Bryce once logged the pine trees, and less than mile from the rim, we are the only hikers on this warm February morning.
The National Park Service worries a lot about visitors numbers. This being America, more is always better, especially because some bureaucrats in the Park Service believe that more visitation translates into political support that yields the increased appropriations needed to support more visitors.
National park visitation statistics are a complex beast. At some parks, declining visitor numbers cause concern while at others, increases in visitation create problems. In Utah’s five national parks, however, attendance is steadily rising, with visitation to Bryce Canyon almost doubling from 2006 to 2015, from about 890,000 in 2006 to 1,745,804 in 2015.
If today was a summer day at Bryce Canyon, a wall of visitors would be crowding the rim, shooting pictures. Here on the Navaho Loop Trail, I would be confronting a small army of day hikers, backpackers, and walkers in flip-flops and sandals
Today, on this winter morning, our family of three wanders among the hoodoos, and wonders.
Sources and resources
For more information on Bryce, see the Bryce Canyon site at the National Park Service.
For more on the human history of Bryce Canyon, see the National Park Service’s Bryce Canyon Historic Resource Study. Bryce Canyon is named for Ebenezer Bryce; he did not “discover” the canyon, but settled in the vicinity in the 1870s. and built his road.
We also visited busy (but not summer-busy) Zion National Park on this trip, and, after Bryce, experienced the wonder of being the only park visitors at Capitol Reef National Park, outside of Torrey, Utah.