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Determining the Facts

Reading 3: Accommodating Tourists at
Bryce Canyon

By the early 1920s the following four parties recognized the benefits of making Bryce Canyon accessible for public enjoyment: 1) the National Forest Service; 2) the newly-created National Park Service; 3) the Union Pacific Railroad Company; and 4) Utah's state government. Each group had different reasons for wanting to develop the area as a park, but they agreed to enter negotiations to construct roads, develop auto tours, and build structures to accommodate tourists.

As early as 1916, National Forest Supervisor J. W. Humphrey recognized the need to provide lodging for the people who would undoubtedly come to witness the scenic beauty of Bryce Canyon. Nothing was done at first to carry out his idea, however, so the earliest motor tourists who arrived at the rim of the canyon left before nightfall. In 1919, local homesteaders Ruby and Minnie Syrett set up a tent and began serving meals to friends who came to see the canyon. The following year they built a permanent lodge called Tourist's Rest to accommodate the growing number of visitors to the rim of Bryce Canyon. Guests stayed in nearby tent cabins and enjoyed meals in the lodge. Tent camps such as this were popular with auto tourists of the time as an alternative to hotels.

In 1922 the Union Pacific Railroad Company announced plans to promote the scenic attractions of southern Utah by investing about $5,000,000 to complete railroad branches to Cedar City and construct lodges at Bryce Canyon and nearby Zion National Park. The company created a "Grand Circle Tour" that allowed tourists to visit several parks in one trip. After arriving in Cedar City, Utah, by train, tourists could take motor buses on the loop connecting Cedar Breaks, Zion, the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, and Bryce Canyon.

The Utah Parks Company was created to handle accommodations and other services at the parks in southern Utah. The company purchased prime property in the middle of the canyon from the state of Utah to establish a tourist center and build a lodge. In 1923 an arrangement was made with the Syretts allowing them to operate Tourist's Rest until the Union Pacific's lodge was completed. The couple then received $10,000 and permission to operate accommodations outside of the park boundaries. The Syretts continued to house summer visitors who could not afford to stay at Bryce Canyon Lodge and winter visitors who wanted to enjoy the canyon when the lodge was shut down for the season.

In the spring of 1923, Gilbert Stanley Underwood, a Los Angeles architect, was hired to design the buildings for Bryce Canyon, Zion, and Cedar Breaks. At Bryce Canyon, Underwood wanted the lodge to be close to the edge of the plateau but not interfere with the view from the rim. He designed the buildings in the "rustic" style favored by the National Park Service because it blended well with the natural surroundings and did not detract from the scenic settings in which the structures were placed.

Rustic style buildings are built of local materials and have a hand-crafted appearance. Accordingly, the stone for the Bryce Canyon lodge and cabins was quarried a short distance from the site and logs were cut from the national forest. Half logs, some with the bark left on, were used as exterior siding. Large, whole logs became structural supports at major entries. Peeled logs were used for elements such as interior stairway railings; on the exteriors they were used as supports for the porches of smaller buildings. Native-stone foundations and fireplaces, as well as the use of wood shingles on steeply pitched roofs contributed further to the rustic design.

By May 1925, the building was ready for its first tourist season. In addition to the main lodge there were several smaller cabins nearby. Accommodations at the lodge were luxurious and meant to appeal to wealthy tourists who could afford to travel by railroad and motor bus. The lodge had a comfortable lobby with a large fireplace and a radio set. The spacious dining room seated 200 guests. The main floor also held retiring rooms and shower baths for men and women. The lodge even boasted a barber shop and an ice cream parlor. During their stay guests of Bryce Canyon Lodge could hike in the canyon, go horseback riding, attend talks by park naturalists, and participate in social events. Additions and improvements continued to be made, and by 1928, the year Bryce Canyon earned its status as a national park, the lodge complex was nearly complete.

During the Forest Service's administration of Bryce Canyon National Monument from 1923-28, tourism increased dramatically. In 1927, an estimated 24,000 people visited Bryce Canyon. Forty percent of visitors arrived in Utah Parks Company vehicles and stayed at Bryce Canyon Lodge. The remaining tourists traveled in their own cars and camped. Under the National Park Service, visitation still increased, but more and more tourists arrived by private car. The quality of roads, trails, and amenities in the park continued to improve. In 1941, a record 124,000 people visited Bryce Canyon National Park. Today the park receives close to 1.75 million visitors annually.

Questions for Reading 3

1. What four major parties were interested in the potential of Bryce Canyon as a scenic park? Why do you think each party was interested in promoting it?

2. What is the "rustic" style and why is it seen as appropriate for structures in national parks?

3. What comforts did guests find at Bryce Canyon Lodge? What activities could they participate in?

Reading 3 is compiled from Janene Caywood, "Bryce Canyon Multiple Property Submission" (Garfield County, UT) National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1994; Nicholas Scrattish, "Historic Resource Study: Bryce Canyon National Park," U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1985; and "Bryce Canyon National Park: The Early Years, 1916-1946," an unpublished manuscript by Patti Bell.

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