Bryce Canyon
Historic Resource Study
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On October 20-21, 1776, a Spanish entrada under the direction of the Franciscan Friars, Silvestra Vélez de Escalante and Francisco Atanasio Dominguez, crossed the northwestern Arizona plateau area—somewhat southwest of Bryce Canyon. The "Santa Gertrudis" camp, on the night of October 20, was one of the western branches of Kanab Creek, about 10 miles southwest of Pipe Springs. A night later the "Santa Barbara" camp was made in Kimball Valley near Johnson Creek, 8 miles southeast of Fredonia. At the time the friars' immediate aim was to search for a westward river crossing. Their long range goal was to establish a connecting route between the missions of New Mexico and California. Given the entrada's path, it is probable that the Pink Cliffs were visible on the far skyline to the northeast. [11]

In 1826 Jedediah Smith rediscovered the Sevier and Virgin, the westernmost rivers in Utah's high plateau country. Smith was the first American to travel overland to Spanish California. Four years later another American frontiersman named George Yount passed northwest of the park through the present sites of Circlevilie, Panguitch, and Cedar City. He, too, was enroute to California. In 1844, after a reconnaissance of the Great Basin, Captain John C. Fremont followed the old Spanish trail northward, past the present sites of Cedar City, Parowan, and Circleville. Fremont retraced his steps 9 years later enroute to California. Mormon scouts, sent out by the church to ascertain the location of favorable agricultural and grazing lands in southern Utah, first visited the Sevier River near Panguitch in 1852. This party probably had a good view of the Sunset Cliffs on the west edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. [12]

A party of Indian fighters, under the command of Captain James Andrus, was sent out from St. George in 1866 to pursue maurauding Navajo. These men traversed the upper Paria Valley and were probably the first white men to view the eastern escarpment of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The southern end of the Plateau was first visited in 1879 by Major J. W. Powell, a geographer working for the U.S. Geological Survey. On this trip his efforts appear to have been restricted to the area above Alton and the Kanab Creek drainage, Scarcely a year later Alvin Thompson and F. S. Dellenbaugh, subordinates under Powell's direction, traversed the bases of the Paunsaugunt and Aquarius Plateaus. They most likely followed a route previously established by the noted Mormon missionary, Jacob Hamblin. Later, Thompson and Dellenbaugh climbed into what is now Bryce Canyon from the south, near Rainbow Point.

This tentative probe into the future park set the stage for a quick succession of visits by Edwin E. Howell, Grove Karl Gilbert, and Lieutenant W. L. Marshall—all members of the mid-1870s Wheeler survey. Howell intensively studied the exposure of the Wasatch Formation at Table Cliffs. Gilbert's surveys centered on the Paunsaugunt Plateau and Paria Valley. An excerpt from his 1872 notebook follows:

Up the Sevier (East Fork) a few miles and then to the left a few miles more until we came suddenly on the grandest of views. We stand on a cliff 1,000 feet high, the "Summit of the Rim." Just before starting down the slope we caught a glimpse of a perfect wilderness of red pinnacles, the stunningest thing out of a picture. [13]

The Wheeler survey was accompanied by an artist, John E. Weyss, whose pencil drawing of erosional remnants is the first known illustration of what is now Bryce Canyon. [14]

During the clement months of 1875-77, Captain Clarence E. Dutton and his colleagues gathered material for two definitive studies of the high plateau region, published in 1880 and 1882. The later study is titled Tertiary History of the Grand Canon District with Atlas and includes a plate captioned "The Pink Cliffs (Eocene) upon the southern end of the Paunsaugunt Plateau." This "heliotype" plate was drawn from a photograph by W. H. Holmes, and appears to show a section of the rim above Willis Creek. [15]

On November 18, 1876, one of the most poetic descriptions of Bryce Canyon was written by T. C. Bailey, U. S. Deputy Surveyor, during a few moments of feverish inspiration. At the time Bailey was surveying a Guide Meridian and came onto what is now known as Sunset Point:

Immediately east and south of the last corner set, the surface breaks off almost perpendicularly to a depth of several hundred feet—seems indeed as though the bottom had dropped out and left rocks standing in all shapes and forms as lone sentinels over the grotesque and picturesque scenes. There are thousands of red, white, purple, and vermilion colored rocks, of all sizes, resembling sentinels on the walls of castles, monks and priests in their robes, attendants, cathedrals and congregations. There are deep caverns end rooms resembling ruins of prisons, castles, churches with their guarded walls, battlements, spires, and steeples, niches and recesses, presenting the wildest and most wonderful scene that the eye of man ever beheld, in fact, it is one of the wonders of the world. [16]


Neither Mormon reconnaissance during the 1850s nor the Federal surveys of the mid-1870s served to direct much public attention to the Bryce Canyon region. The Mormons did begin settlement near the eastern edge of the park in 1874, but this did nothing to directly popularize Bryce Canyon's uniqueness. [17] To some extent Bryce Canyon's obscurity, until the second decade of the 20th Century, can be attributed to its distance from railways and sizeable towns. Rough wagon roads to the general vicinity of the Paunsaugunt rim existed but required a slow travel, either through rocky Sevier Canyon or Red Canyon, and then on to the spongy top of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. For several months of the year heavy snow drifts impeded any kind of approach at all.

On December 24, 1874, the David O. Littlefield and Orley D. Bliss [18] families laid out farms in the upper Paria Valley, near the junction of the Paria River and Henrieville Creek. These hardy souls were joined by eight additional families the following year. The settlement's proximity to the Pink Cliffs prompted the name Clifton (Cliff town). Ebenezer Bryce and his family, who came to Clifton in 1875 or 1876, became disenchanted with the settlement and moved upstream to Henderson Valley (New Clifton). Between 1878-80, with the aid of Daniel Coulding and others, Ebenezer Bryce began and completed an irrigation ditch 7 miles long from Paria Creek, to make possible the raising of crops and stock. Bryce was also instrumental in building a road to make nearby timber and firewood more accessible. Local people began to use the road and customarily called the amphitheater, in which the road terminated, "Bryce's Canyon." Ebenezer Bryce had originally moved into the upper Paria Valley because of his wife's fragile health. [19] Apparently, the climate was not kind enough. In 1880 the Bryce family left New Clifton for Arizona.

Clifton was abandoned in 1877. The majority of its settlers relocated to a site about a mile upstream, which they named Cannonville. Three families from Clifton established themselves on the present site of Henrieville, approximately 5 miles east of Cannonville. Three miles southwest of Cannonville a few families established a settlement on Yellow Creek which they called Georgetown—later transformed into a single ranch. Of all these settlements, Cannonville became the most successful and remained so until the late 1880s.

In 1889 a shortage of water for irrigation and the consequent limitation of arable land in the upper Paria Valley gave rise to a scheme for diverting water from the East Fork of the Sevier River, a 14 miles distance on the Paunsaugunt Plateau, over the east rim of the Plateau and 1500 feet down into the Valley. The proposed ditch may have originally been envisioned by Ebenezer Bryce, shortly before his departure for Arizona. Locally financed by the Cannonville and East Fork Irrigation Company work was begun on May 15, 1890. Confidence in the project was shown by James Ahlstrom and C. W. Snyder, who started to build houses on land which the ditch would supply water to. During the summer of 1891, local confidence increased and a town site was laid out, named Tropic to reflect the locale's summer climate. The Tropic Canal was completed on May 23, 1891. This not only insured the village of Tropic's future, but made it the most important settlement east of the future park. [20]

Attitude Toward Natural Phenomena

No, sir; I never have paid much attention to it; he frankly confessed. It is pretty common to us folks.

I was born right over behind that cliff in the fields of the town of Tropic—you can see them from here, only three or four miles away. I have trailed stock through here every summer since I could ride a horse, but I have never been off the trail this far in my life until I saw you fellows just now.

Yes, it is kind of interesting; rough country for critters off the trail, though, down in there; they used to call it Bryce's Canyon when "Bill" Bryce ran stock up here, before the government took the pasture over. Mother was born a little further down on the Paria, but she never was here until last summer. [21]

Twentieth-century chroniclers of Bryce Canyon have often expressed mild disapproval that Mormon settlers in the vicinity were so little impressed with the natural grandeur only a stone's throw from their back yards. [22] In fairness to these people, it is, perhaps, more just to empathize with the spirit of a different time—to perceive the situation as they perceived it. Mormon pioneers in the Bryce Canyon region were an assiduous, God-fearing group, whose struggle against the harsh realities of everyday life left little psychic energy for an appreciation of magnificent scenery. [23] The descendants of these hardy pioneers best express what was probably the real relationship between the people and their environment:

Our grandparents were thrilled with its (i.e. Bryce Canyon's) beauty and often referred to it as beautiful "Potato Valley Mountains." Many of us remember them telling us about this canyon as well as of Cedar Breaks. But they could do little about it. They were too busy trying to make a livelihood for their families. There were no roads, just poor trails, their wagons and wagon wheels were worn out, their horses or ox teams were poor and unable to make any trips, save for the bare necessities. [24]


Zion and the North Rim

After lying dormant for 40 years, it is difficult to imagine how Bryce Canyon could have attracted so much attention—beginning in the late teens—had it not been for the proximity of other scenic locations in the area, particularly Zion and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. It is worth stating as a principle of economic development for southern Utah that all scenic attractions could be tied into a tourist "loop." This had much to do with Bryce Canyon's subsequent popularization. Secondarily, a sprinkling of Mormon settlements east and northwest of Bryce Canyon brought with them an uneven but tangible improvement in the area's roads. Inadvertent explorers of lesser known byways, such as salesmen, were destined to drive some of the first automobiles into Tropic and Cannonville. Their accounts of the area encouraged visits by others. [25]

Forest Service

I shall always feel that the part I played in introducing Bryce Canyon to the world is the greatest accomplishment of my life.

J. H. Humphrey [26]

Nevertheless, it is not to these anonymous businessmen that the origins of popularization of Bryce Canyon can he traced, but rather to Forest Service Supervisor named J. W. Humphrey. [27] On July 1, 1915, Humphrey was transferred from Moab, Utah, to Panguitch—then headquarters for the old Sevier Forest. Humphrey could not take over management of the Sevier Forest until early August, so he used the interim to familiarize himself with the area. During one of his forays into the East Fork Range, Humphrey was prompted by Forest Service Ranger Elias Smith of the East Fork Division to view the eastern escarpment of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Humphrey showed little interest in the suggestion, but Smith was insistent. When Humphrey came on to the rim, just south of where Bryce Lodge stands, 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. [28]

First hand accounts imply that Mark Anderson, foreman of the Forest Service grazing crew, was elected by Humphrey to publicize the "find." Anderson states that immediately after viewing Bryce Canyon for the first time in the spring of 1916, he rode into Panguitch and telephoned a telegram, by way of Marysvale, to the District Forester in Ogden. In it Anderson requested that Regional Forest Service photographer George Coshen be sent down to Bryce Canyon with movie and still cameras to take pictures of the grazing crew "at work" near the plateau rim. Coshen, escorted by Forest Service Ranger Wallace Riddle arrived in Panguitch the following evening with his equipment. All the next day he took pictures which Anderson captioned. The movie and a number of still pictures were sent to Washington, D. C., and shown to Forest Service officials. According to Anderson, these pictures, or copies of them, were also made available to Union Pacific Railroad officials in Omaha. [29]

Another member of the Forest Service grazing crew, Arthur W. Stevens, wrote a short, illustrated article late in 1916 for Outdoor Life an early Union Pacific publication. [30] At about the same time Humphrey dictated an article, published under the name J. J. Drew, [31] for the Red Book, a periodical issued by the Denver and Rio Grande Western Railroad. These were the first descriptive articles of Bryce Canyon to be published.

Late in the spring or early summer of 1916, Humphrey with the support of Anderson and James T. Jardine—then in charge of National Forest Service grazing studies—secured an appropriation of $50. The money was used to build rough bridges across the East Fork of the Sevier River and Tropic Canal. Dead timber was also cleared out of "Dave's Hollow." [32] Homesteaders did most of the roadwork; the Forest Service furnished the necessary materials for the bridges. The finished product was a dry weather road that made the plateau rim near the present lodge accessible to automobile traffic. To traverse the corral at Dave's Hollow Ranger Station it was necessary to open and close a gate on both the north and south sides of the station. [33] When the road between Panguitch and Tropic was later altered, Humphrey was granted an additional appropriation of $150 to connect the "rim road" to it.

The year 1917 saw Bryce Canyon really opened to the world. While engaged on a business trip in Cedar City, Humphrey encountered a photographer, Adams, who had heard of the canyon. Humphrey agreed to take the photographer up to the rim, if Adams could get over to Panguitch. Apparently, Adams managed to do so, and in Humphrey's words "secured some of the best pictures taken up to that time . . . and these he placed on sale [as postcards], and they added to the advertisement of Bryce Canyon." Later in the year Humphrey also showed Marcus Jones, a botanist-photographer, and J. Cecil Alter the wonders of Bryce. Alter, the U.S.D.A. meterologist in Salt Lake City, wrote an article on Bryce, Improvement Era published March 1919 in the Utah journal. [34] During the clement months of 1917, C. B. Hawley, a director of the Utah State Automobile Association, made the trip to Bryce Canyon and reported his "find" to officers of the Association in Salt Lake City. F. C. Schramm, another director of the Association, was sent out shortly afterward to confirm Hawley's description. Schramm's report was even more flattering than Hawley's had been. Hawley, Schramm, and State Senator William Seegmiller of Kanab then encouraged Oliver J. Grimes, official photographer of the Salt Lake Tribune to visit Bryce Canyon. [35]

Grime's visit to the canyon is notable for several reasons. His full page article on Bryce Canyon, titled "Utah's New Wonderland," appeared in the Sunday Magazine Section of the Salt Lake Tribune on August 25, 1918. A profusely illustrated article, it was probably read by more people than anything on Bryce Canyon up to that time. Grimes convincingly put forward the case that Bryce Canyon was open to automobile traffic, and furnished explicit directions from Panguitch to the Plateau rim:

0.0 miles - Leave Panguitch on the Kanab road
7.3 - Road forks, turn left and cross river [the Sevier]; go through Red Canyon and some sand and washes and, at
18.2 - Road forks at corral on right; turn right and, at
20.0 - Gate—Go through it; (I didn't and got lost).
24.8 - Bryce's canyon.

Grimes later became State Secretary to Governor Bamberger (1917-20). The Governor himself was no supporter of scenic attractions. [36] Grimes, however, found it within his power to help influence the State Legislature. His unceasing efforts, abetted by an article on Bryce Canyon included in the October 5, 1918, issue of the Scientific American, [37] seemingly influenced the Utah Legislature. On March 13, 1919, a Joint Memorial passed the Legislature which reads as follows:

On the public domain within the boundaries of the Sevier National Forest, in the Pink Mountain region, near Tropic, Garfield County, Utah, there is a canyon popularly referred to as "Bryce's Canyon" which has become famed for its wonderful natural beauty. Inasmuch as the State and Federal Governments have indicated a desire that the natural attractions of our State and our Country be protected and preserved for the enjoyment of posterity, therefore, your memorialists respectfully urge that the Congress of the United States set aside for the use and enjoyment of the people a suitable area embracing "Bryce's Canyon" as a national monument under the name of the "Temple of the Gods National Monument."

General recognition of Bryce Canyon as an area of National Park caliber dates from this time. [38]

Private Party—the Syretts [39]

When the Forest Service made the first attempt to publicize Bryce Canyon in the spring of 1916, Reuben (Ruby) Carlson Syrett and his wife, Clara Armeda (Minnie), were living in Panguitch. The Syretts had been scouting the area to start up a ranch. Six weeks after the birth of their first daughter on March 15, 1916, the Syretts decided to homestead a quarter section near Bryce Canyon. Their choice of land, approximately 3-1/2 miles north of what is now Sunset Point, was a fortunate one. Apparently, the Syretts lived at the Bryce ranch 6 weeks before a Tropic rancher, Claude Sudweeks, introduced them to the rim: "They were speechless, just stood and looked. When they could talk, they could only whisper." [40]

During the late summer of 1916 the Syretts began to invite their friends in Panguitch up to see the canyon. This was an amateurish but effective way for them to advertise the area's scenic qualities. Most people in Panguitch thought the Syretts were foolish to homestead in such a desolate locale, [41] but Ruby and Minnie tenaciously hung on to their homestead claim, and even began to purchase additional land near the homestead. Because of the severe winters, the Syretts spent some time between 1916-19 in Escalante—about 30 miles due east of Cannonville. Here Ruby helped his brother run a flour mill. Agricultural pursuits in Tropic also occupied the family.

By 1919 word had spread to Salt Lake City that Bryce Canyon was eminently worth visiting. On a Sunday in the spring or summer of 1919 a sizeable group from the capital did make the trip. To accommodate these people the Syretts erected a tent near Sunset Point and served a noon meal. Later in the day Ruby went back to the Bryce ranch and brought up five or six beds, which he dispersed under the pine trees near the Plateau rim. The Syretts provided an evening meal and breakfast the following morning. Before noon on that Monday more people arrived. Whether by design or chance the Syretts began accommodating tourists. [42] They remained near Sunset Point until the fail of that year.

During the spring of 1920 the Syretts decided to build a permanent lodge on the southeast quarter of Section 36 of Township 36 South, Range 4 West, Salt Lake Base and Meridian. This land had been set aside as a school section by the State, so before Ruby started construction he obtained "verbal" permission from the State Land Board. [43] The lodge, soon named "Tourist's Rest," was made of sawed logs and measured 30 feet by 71 feet. It contained a sizeable dining room with a fireplace, a kitchen, a storeroom, and several adjoining bedrooms. In keeping with the Syrett's informal nature, the lodge's double front doors served as a guest register. Visitors thoroughly enjoyed carving their names onto the doors. Eight or ten functional cabins were built near the lodge, as well as an open air dance platform, measuring 35 feet by 76 feet. [44] This modest complex accommodated tourists from all over the world, [45] and the Syretts did well by it until it was sold to a subsidiary of the Union Pacific System in September 1923.

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Last Updated: 25-Aug-2004