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Roger Weller, geology instructor                     

Bryce Canyon
Cindy Lotts
Physical Geology
Spring 2006

Red Painted Faces, Bryce Canyon, Utah

             Many of nature’s different phenomena have captured the imagination of the people who have inhabited this earth, and Bryce Canyon is not an exception.  The Native American’s who had lived there, the Paiute, describe Bryce Canyon’s red, yellow and orange rock columns and arches to be ‘Legend People’ frozen in time by a coyote.  As myth has it, the Legend People took the form of lizards, birds, and other animals, and although most were not bad, the ones who lived in Bryce were, and so a Coyote turned them to stone.  The Native Americans called the place Angka-ku-wass-a-wits, meaning red painted faces, for they could still see the red paints the legend people were wearing before they were turned to stone.


             As time went by, and science has taken a hold of society, we have learned the true reason as to why Bryce Canyon is the way it is.  We have come to know what has caused structures such as the hoodoos and the arches to form.


             The dry climate makes it hard to believe that Bryce Canyon was once underwater.  The Paria River had once flowed through Bryce, sculpting and eroding away the walls, until finally leaving what we know and love today, a labyrinth of natural bridges, hoodoos, and arches.



First, what is a ‘hoodoo?’  According to the dictionary, the definition is as follows;

Hoodoo: A column of eccentrically shaped rock, produced by differential weathering.

Here is a wonderful example of what the hoodoos look like.

( pictures/bryce-canyon/)

So how are they formed?

The definition that was given stated that they are formed by weathering, so what does it mean by that?

Bryce Canyon has been known for its intolerable winters, receiving average temperatures of 9 degrees Fahrenheit.  This cold temperature is perfect for ice to form and to perform the most common form of weathering, which is frost wedging.  Frost wedging is when water seeps into cracks of a rock, freezes overnight.  When the water freezes, it will expand by about 10%, forcing the cracks in the rocks to widen.  As time goes by, the cracks will get larger and larger, forming a fin, then a window, and finally, a hoodoo will be formed.

Four Step Hoodoo Formation (Plateau-Fin-Window-Hoodoos)



This process takes a great amount of time to complete. Some of the Hoodoos in the park are estimated to be about 60 million years old. Some other structures that have been formed by this weathering technique are bridges, and arches.

Twin Bridges

(Courtesy of pictures/bryce-canyon/)


Today, there are many ways for one to enjoy the show that nature puts on at Bryce Canyon.

The park offers many programs for you to do. There are trails that go deep into the canyon and horseback rides.  Those are just the tip of the iceberg though. If you would like to plan a trip to Bryce Canyon, I suggest you pay a visit to their main website that is located here:


Pictures of Bryce Canyon:



(Courtesy of R.Weller/Cochise College)




Sources: pictures/bryce-canyon/