You are here

Park History: Bryce Canyon National Park

What's in a name? Would Bryce Canyon National Park be as popular if it was known as Temple of the Gods National Park?.

The was the name suggested by the Utah Legislature in March 1919 when it called upon Congress to "set aside for the use and enjoyment of the people a suitable area embracing 'Bryce's Canyon' as a national monument under the name: Temple of the Gods National Monument."

Whatever the name, more than likely this small park in southern Utah would still be a big draw, as it is today. Though covering fewer than 36,000 acres -- and most folks simply gaze down on most of that acreage -- Bryce Canyon National Park carries the impact of a park much, much larger.

One look at the rumpled and jagged Creamsicle-colored topography of this park in south-central Utah and you'd likely agree that a picture is worth a thousand words. Or more. Just look at the accompanying photo. How long would it take you to describe that scene to a friend over the phone?

Somehow Ebenezer Bryce managed to convey the gist of the setting in just six words. True story. As the legend goes, Ebenezer was a Mormon missionary who came to the region in the 1870s and settled with his family below one of the multi-hued amphitheaters that are the park's calling cards these days.

Bryce helped build a road into the pink cliffs found here to make timber more accessible. Not too surprisingly, people started to call the amphitheater where the road terminated, “Bryce’s Canyon.” Though Ebenezer Bryce and his family moved to Arizona in 1880, the "Bryce’s Canyon" name stuck.

Understandably, if you've seen these amphitheaters, when some of Ebenezer's cattle wandered off into the landscape, he had quite a dilemma on his hands. As he later put it, in words that live on today, Bryce Canyon is one "helluva place to lose a cow."

Here, thanks to the staff at Bryce Canyon, is some of the history surrounding how the area became a national park:

The person most responsible for Bryce Canyon becoming a National Park was J. W. Humphrey. Mr. Humphrey was a U. S. Forest Service Supervisor who was transferred to Panguitch, Utah in July 1915. An employee suggested that J. W. view the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. When Humphrey came to the rim, at the point now known as Sunset Point, he was stunned:

“You can perhaps imagine my surprise at the indescribable beauty that greeted us, and it was sundown before I could be dragged from the canyon view. You may be sure that I went back the next morning to see the canyon once more, and to plan in my mind how this attraction could be made accessible to the public.”

J. W. Humphrey had still photographs and movies of the canyon sent to Forest Service officials in Washington D. C. and to officials of the Union Pacific Railroad. Magazine and newspaper articles were written. In 1916, Humphrey secured a $50 appropriation to improve the road and make the rim accessible to automobile traffic.

By 1919, tourists from Salt Lake City were visiting Bryce Canyon. Ruby and Minnie Syrett erected tents and supplied meals for over night guests near Sunset Point. In 1920 the Syretts constructed Tourist’s Rest a 30 by 71 foot lodge, with eight or ten nearby cabins and an open air dance floor. In 1923, the Union Pacific Railroad bought the Tourist’s Rest land, buildings and water rights from the Syretts. Ruby and Minnie established Ruby’s Inn just outside the park.

Gilbert Stanley Underwood was hired by the Union Pacific to design a lodge near Sunset Point. The original main building was finished by May 1925. Additions were made and the final configuration completed by 1927. The standard and deluxe cabins near the lodge were constructed between 1925 and 1929.

President Warren G. Harding proclaimed Bryce Canyon a national monument on June 8, 1923. On June 7, 1924, Congress passed a bill to establish Utah National Park, when all land within the national monument would become the property of the United States. The land was acquired and the name was restored to Bryce Canyon. On February 25, 1928, Bryce Canyon officially became a national park.

In 1930, the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel was completed. This effectively tied Bryce, Zion, Cedar Breaks and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon together. Trains would transport passengers to Cedar City. Buses would leave Cedar City and transport tourists among the four parks.

The size of the park was increased to the current 35,835 acres in 1931, via two Proclamations by President Hoover.

In 1931, the Park workforce completed a total of 4.5 miles of foot and horse trails. This included Sunset Point to Bryce Point, Bryce Point to Peek-a-boo Canyon and Sunrise to Campbell Canyon. A short bridle path was laid out to prevent indiscriminate riding between the Lodge and rim.

The road to Rainbow Point was completed by private construction companies by late 1934.

During the 1930s the Civilian Conservation Corps made many improvements to Bryce Canyon National Park. These included Campground development, under the rim fire trail, Fairyland Trail, boundary fences, parking areas, museum-overlook at Rainbow Point, erosion control and insect pest control.


Bryce Canyon National Park

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide