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The Utah Gallery offers photographic coverage of the most famous spots in Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park in south Utah.

 
Zion National Park. 
 
Zion National Park is located on the western edge of the Colorado Plateau and the Grand Staircase in southwest Utah. 240 million years ago, the Zion region was usually part of a shallow inland sea and was more or less at sea level. It was a basin mostly surrounded by mountains. The area of the current Colorado Plateau was what geologists call a depositional environment, a basin, a place where sediment, coming from a variety of nearby sources, was reliably laid down for many millions of years, creating layers of sediment 10,000 feet thick. 
 
Those sediments were gradually compressed into rock and later on, over many millions of years, the entire Colorado Plateau area was gradually elevated, and sometimes tilted, due to forces deep within the earth. The result of all this activity is the various sedimentary rock layers that are visible in many places in the Colorado Plateau, from Bryce Canyon on the north side to the Grand Canyon on the south side. Bryce and Cedar Breaks show the top set of layers, Zion shows the middle set of layers, and the Grand Canyon shows the bottom set of layers.
 
Zion National Park is best known for the awesome massive canyon walls that line the Virgin River, both in the main region of Zion Canyon and also going upriver into the narrow portion of the canyon. Zion is also a very large park with plenty of backcountry on the high plateaus away from the main canyon. 
 
Although it is the spectacle of those amazing walls that makes Zion such a unique and beautiful place, Zion is interesting on a number of other levels. It is one of the few places in the western desert areas with almost continuous human habitation going back about 12,000 years. This is due to the geology and topography of the region which for many thousands of years has made the Zion region a refuge from the harsher locations of the southwest desert areas. Zion has a great range of elevation from 3700 to 8700 feet, a medium-sized reliable river, large flat areas near the river for crop cultivation, and abundant plant and animal life. These features are a magnet for human habitation. 
 
This ecosystem produces a relative abundance of plant and animal life, compared with more arid parts of the Colorado Plateau and the southwest desert region in general. For example, Zion has mule deer, wild turkey, gray foxes, ringtail cats, bighorn sheep and mountain lions. The park is home to a startling number of species of mammals, birds, reptiles and amphibians. 
 
This rich natural life exists partly because Zion is not completely in the desert. It sits in a kind of geographic boundary zone where the Great Basin, the Colorado Plateau and the Mojave Desert bump into each other. Off to the southwest, mainly in Nevada and California, is the Mojave. But to the north, not too far away, are the mountains and forests of central Utah.
 
The photographs in the Zion section of the Utah Gallery are entirely of the main part of Zion Canyon near park headquarters and the lodge.
 
 
Bryce Canyon National Park. 
 
Bryce Canyon National Park is in south central Utah and, like Cedar Breaks to the west, is at the north edge of the Colorado Plateau. It became a national park in 1928, after being a national monument for five years. Bryce is basically a long, skinny park that follows a high north-south ridge that roughly parallels the East Fork Sevier River to the west. 
 
Bryce may be the world's most stunning example of freeze-thaw erosion cycles. In other words, the rock formations were not eroded by regularly running river water but by other geologic forces. The rock spires or hoodoos are created because weak rock erodes much faster than stronger rock. At Bryce, the rock that gets eroded away the fastest is usually limestone. The rock erodes in a predictable formation pattern. A skinny plateau point becomes a wall, then a skinny fin, and then windows start to erode in that fin, and eventually the fin becomes a line of hoodoos. There are plenty of fins and slots to observe in the park. It's not all hoodoos. For example, Silent City is famous for its collection of fins and Wall Street is a famous slot.
 
Bryce is instantly recognizable. Scarcely anywhere else on earth looks quite like Bryce's weird collection of hoodoos (that forest of stone pillars). In North America, the area that comes closest to have a similar kind of geologic process is the Badlands of the Northern Great Plains. These rock formations at Bryce are presented in a variety of locations, so there is room to roam in the park, although it is true that most of the park's outstanding walls, fins, slots and hoodoos are concentrated in an area east of the visitor center from Fairyland Point south to Paria View. Half of the park, though, is south of Paria View. 
 
The park is not all rock. The park offers plenty of backcountry on the Paunsaugunt Plateau that is mainly forest and meadows. Since the park is so identified with rock, it may come as a bit of a surprise that Bryce is a good place for a backpack trip into the woods. The main backcountry trail is off to the east of the rim and it snakes along the ridge, paralleling the rim, all the way down to the south tip of the park. This trail starts near Bryce Point, which is in between Sunset Point and Paria View.
 
With its high elevation, low humidity, and local weather patterns, the park is famous for its clear views up to 100 miles. The same factors make Bryce a great place for star gazing.
 
Bryce has a rim elevation between 8,000 to 9,100 feet and an average snowfall of 95 inches, meaning it has more of a genuine winter environment than Zion or the Grand Canyon. Snow may stay on the ground. And the hoodoos are especially beautiful when blanketed with snow.
 
The Bryce Canyon section of the Utah Gallery offers some of the park's primary and most famous viewpoints.
 
Thanks for your interest in Utah landscape photography.
Paria View in Bryce Canyon National Park in south central Utah.

Paria View in Bryce Canyon National Park in south central Utah.