Lesson Plan

Bryce Canyon National Park: Hoodoos Cast Their Spell

Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon
Grade Level:
Middle School: Sixth Grade through Eighth Grade
Literacy and Language Arts,Science,Social Studies
Lesson Duration:
90 Minutes
Common Core Standards:
6-8.RH.2, 6-8.RH.3, 6-8.RH.4, 6-8.RH.5, 6-8.RH.6, 6-8.RH.7, 6-8.RH.8, 6-8.RH.9, 6-8.RH.10, 9-10.RH.1, 9-10.RH.2, 9-10.RH.3, 9-10.RH.4, 9-10.RH.5, 9-10.RH.6, 9-10.RH.7, 9-10.RH.8, 9-10.RH.9, 9-10.RH.10
Additional Standards:
US History Era 4 Standard 2E: The student understands the settlement of the West
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies from the National Council for the Social Studies


1. To describe the geological formations that both deterred settlement and encouraged tourism in the Bryce Canyon region;
2. To examine how the Bryce Canyon region was used by Mormon settlers, scientists, government agencies, and tourists;
3. To identify the major parties who promoted the scenic qualities of Bryce Canyon and influenced its development as a tourist attraction;
4. To research the history and use of a scenic attraction in their own community.


Time Period: 1870s - 1920s
Topics: The lesson could be used in U.S. history, social studies, and geography courses in units on westward expansion (especially the Mormon settlement of Utah) and the conservation movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It could also be used in a geology course.


“When lighted by the morning sun the gorgeous chasm is an immense bowl of lace and filigree work in stone, colored with the white of frost and the pinks of glowing embers. To those who have not forgotten the story books of childhood it suggests a playground for fairies. In another aspect it seems a smoldering inferno where goblins and demons might dwell among flames and embers."
- Union Pacific Archives Publication, 1929

This description is one attempt of many to capture in words the awesome beauty of Bryce Canyon, where erosion has shaped colorful limestones, sandstones, and mudstones into a spectacular array of spires, fins, and pinnacles known as "hoodoos." These whimsically arranged hoodoos remind viewers of church steeples, Gothic spires, castle walls, animals, and even people. Formations with names such as the Wall of Windows, the Chessmen, Thor's Hammer, Tower Bridge, and the Poodle, suggest but a few of the likenesses. A legend of the Paiute Indians, who inhabited the area for hundreds of years before the arrival of European Americans, claims the colorful hoodoos are ancient "Legend People" who were turned to stone as punishment for bad deeds. Surrounded by the beauty of southern Utah and panoramic views of three states, these hoodoos cast their spell on all who visit. The area, now protected as Bryce Canyon National Park, has been a popular tourist destination since the 1920s.

Lesson Hook/Preview

- Although the frontier had been declared closed by the last decade of the 19th century, several areas of the West remained relatively unpopulated. One such area, located in southern Utah, is now protected as Bryce Canyon National Park. Here fanciful rock formations called "hoodoos" dominate the scene. The park is named for one of the huge horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters within its boundaries that was carved from the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. This plateau, along with six others in southwestern Utah, was formed roughly 10 million years ago when pressure from within the earth caused rock beds to rise several thousand feet above sea level, crack along fault lines, and separate. Layers, once connected, were displaced vertically by several thousand feet, resulting in Utah's High Plateaus. Ancient rivers carved the tops and exposed edges of these massive blocks, removing some layers and sculpting intricate formations in others, resulting in the hoodoos visible today.

Few European Americans knew about the splendor of this remote and rugged terrain until the early 20th century when photographs and accounts of the region's beauty began to circulate. Yet Bryce Canyon remained mostly inaccessible to the public until the Union Pacific Railroad Company recognized the economic potential of providing transportation and lodging near southern Utah's natural wonders. In 1927, the year before its designation as a national park, an estimated 24,000 people visited Bryce Canyon to see the spectacular hoodoos for themselves.


Getting Started Prompt
Map: Orients the students and encourages them to think about how place affects culture and society
Readings: Primary and secondary source readings provide content and spark critical analysis.
Visual Evidence: Students critique and analyze visual evidence to tackle questions and support their own theories about the subject.
Optional post-lesson activities: If time allows, these will deepen your students' engagement with the topics and themes introduced in the lesson, and to help them develop essential skills.



Additional Resources

Bryce Canyon National Park
Visit the Bryce Canyon National Park website to learn more about the history of this geological wonder. Included on the site are details on the geological processes that created the landforms at Bryce Canyon, a photo gallery, educational resources, and much more.

The National Park Idea
The United States created the world's first national park (Yellowstone), as well as the first national park system. Two online publications that explore the evolution of the "national park idea" are The National Parks: Shaping the System and the Parks and People: Preserving our Past for the Future chapter of National Park Service: The First 75 Years.

Park Geology
The Park Geology web pages provide information on the National Park Service's programs in geology and minerals management. Visit “Colorado Plateaus" for detailed information on Bryce Canyon and other parks that have a common geological theme.

U.S. Geological Survey
The USGS website offer an online publication titled, "Geologic Time." The publication has essays on Geologic Time, Relative Time Scale, Radiometric Time Scale, and the Age of the Earth. It also provides time lines on Major Divisions of Geologic Time and a Fossils Index.

Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
Visit the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail websites to better understand why roughly 70,000 Mormons traveled along the Mormon Pioneer Trail from 1846 to 1869 in order to escape religious persecution. The general route is from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Salt Lake City, Utah, covering about 1,300 miles.

Library of Congress
Search the Digital Collections for resources on Bryce Canyon National Park. Most interesting is the Historic American Buildings Survey/Historic American Engineering Record's documentation on Bryce Canyon Lodge. There are drawings, photos, and pages of documentation in this collection. Also of interest is a large photograph collection documenting Bryce Canyon in the "History of the West." Also search the collection for further information on Mormon settlers in the west.

Union Pacific Railroad
The Union Pacific Railroad web pages provide a detailed history of this transportation medium that revolutionized tourism. Explore the photo gallery for an excellent collection of documents, such as old ads (including ads for Bryce Canyon); photos of scenic locations; and much more.

For Further Reading
Students and educators wishing to learn more about Bryce Canyon may want to read the following: John Bezy, Bryce Canyon (Las Vegas, Nev.: KC Publications, 1980); Susan Colclazer, Bryce Canyon (Las Vegas, Nev.: KC Publications, 1989); and Ruth Radlauer, Bryce Canyon National Park (Chicago: Children's Press, 1980).

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Last updated: October 16, 2020