Bryce Canyon Lodge
Bryce Canyon Lodge was the second structure in the Union Pacific Railway's "Loop Tours" building program. By this stage, the architect, NPS, and Railway were accustomed to working together. Even so, the Bryce Canyon development presented a few trying moments.
The UP wanted to build the Lodge on the very edge of the Canyon. But the NPS refused permission. As a result, the railroad treated the Lodge as a temporary structure, to be used only until a rim site was authorized. The short-term building techniques would lead to future problems.
The Bryce Canyon Lodge complex was designed and built over several years, expanding in response to increased visitor demand. Two guest wings were added in 1926, and an auditorium in 1928. The Standard and Economy Cabins were finished by 1927; Deluxe Cabins were completed by 1929.
A site was selected in 1923, and the UP immediately began stockpiling local timber, lumber, and stone. By choosing not to import wood from the Northwest, the UP was able to save considerable money. More importantly, hiring local companies and laborers helped to garner community support.
Building stone was quarried just a few miles from the site. Believing that the local timber would be of inferior quality, the railroad told the architect to specify stone walls "up to the snow line." But the blueprints only indicated masonry for the foundation, chimneys and steps (which were eventually made with brick). The stonework façade was a later addition.
Actual building got underway in 1924, and the main Lodge was ready to open in the summer of 1925. Attention then turned to construction of 15 Deluxe Cabins and 67 Standard and Economy Cabins.
Although the Bryce and Zion Canyon Lodges are distinctly different, Gilbert Stanley Underwood applied the same architectural principles to both properties. His design concept in both cases centered on a main building with satellite cabins. His choice of local building materials complemented the landscape, matching the palette and textures of each Lodge's immediate surroundings.
The Bryce Canyon Lodge and Cabins are typical of Underwood at his best. Repeated columnar forms and an irregular floor plan are reminiscent of the geology in nearby canyons. A low portico, topped with a single 52-foot-long beam, provides a firm horizontal sightline that echoes the surrounding mesas.
Underwood's use of natural building materials, combined with his unique flair for rustic design, was ideally suited to the emerging NPS attitude about architecture in the Parks.
The Union Pacific made generous use of advertising to tell the traveling public about the tours and accommodations that would soon be available in the Southwest. Both Bryce and Zion Canyon Lodges opened in the summer of 1925, and the response was tremendous.
After a day spent touring the countryside, guests could relax in the lobby. A gently rustic ambience was provided by hickory furniture, chandeliers crafted of logs, and a stone hearth with a hood of hammered copper.
When guests were ready to leave, all of the employees would line up in front of the Lodge to raise their voices in rousing choruses known as "sing-aways."
At the end of the opening season, the UP's concessions director contacted Railway headquarters in Omaha, requesting more facilities and doubled capacity at both Zion and Bryce Lodges.
Until the late 19th century, the only people to see this magical landscape were Native Americans, a few Spanish explorers, and the occasional trapper or trader. Then, in the 1870s, John Powell and Clarence Dutton came to conduct geological surveys of the area. In the same time frame, the Mormon Church was actively colonizing Utah.
The Mormons sent to the Paria River region in 1875 included a carpenter, Ebenezer Bryce. Bryce built a road up to the plateau so that he could harvest timber for lumber. He also made an irrigation canal for his crops and cattle.
The Bryce family homestead was located near the curious rock formations, so his neighbors called the area Bryce's Canyon. The name stuck, even though Bryce moved to Arizona in 1880, hauling along his wife Mary Ann and a dozen kids. Ebenezer died 33 yeas later, in the hamlet of Bryce, Arizona.
The Powell expedition that surveyed the region named several natural features, including the Paria River and Paunsaugunt Plateau. In the Paiute language, paria refers to muddy water, and paunsaugunt means home of the beavers.
Today Bryce Canyon is the smallest National Park in Utah (35,835 acres), but it contains the world's greatest concentration of hoodoos. The "canyon" is really a collection of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters along the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.
It was Clarence E. Dutton, geologist for the Powell expedition, who christened the colorful rock amphitheaters as the "Pink Cliffs." The unique hues of the landscape are due to minerals in the layers of limestone, sandstone and mudstone.
Paiute folklore says that the fantastic shapes and colorful forms are "legend people," turned into stone by Coyote.
People & Protection
The Bryce Canyon environment is ideally suited to biological soil crusts, also known as cryptobiotic soil. These distinctive crusts can occur almost anywhere in the world, but are unusually common in southern Utah, where about 75% of the groundcover is literally "alive."
The word cryptobiotic has ancient roots in Greek and Latin. Crypto means hidden or secret, and biotic refers to a mode of life, or life conditions. And "hidden mode of life" is an apt description of these communities of nearly invisible cyanobacteria, mosses and lichens.
These crusts are essential to the Bryce Canyon ecosystem, and they are extremely fragile. Off-trail hikers can easily damage or destroy the soil communities. Recovery is very slow. It can take 250 years for the miniature mosses and lichens to grow back.
The transportation histories of Bryce and Zion Canyons are nearly identical. In the early years, UP customers were ferried from Park to Park, and lodge to lodge, in multi-passenger touring cars.
When visitor interest grew, Utah and the railroad worked to improve Park access. As more people started coming to Parks in their own cars, traffic congestion became an issue. At Zion there is just one road, and since it isn't a loop cars must traverse each mile twice. Bryce is similar, with a few side roads departing from the main route. And Bryce is too small to handle many vehicles.
Both Parks now have shuttle systems that allow visitors to avoid the hassles of driving and concentrate on the beauty of the scenery. The Bryce Canyon shuttle was introduced in 2000, and provides an optional alternative to private cars. At Zion, no cars are allowed.