Bryce Canyon National Park had somewhat of a lackluster beginning, being in the shadows of the more highly esteemed sister park, Zion. From almost changing Bryce’s name away from “Canyon” (since geologically it is NOT a canyon); to it almost becoming only a Utah state park; to being administratively under Zion Park until 1956; Bryce has had some major “what ifs?”
And, here are two others to add to that list:
1. In 1931, there was a failed proposal to create a loop road from Highway 89 through Red Canyon to Bryce and then back to Highway 89 at Long Valley Junction.
2. In 1951, there was a strong move to build a road on the floor of Bryce Canyon itself.
“Government plans new road to Bryce Canyon” was a March 28, 1931, headline in the Iron County Record newspaper (paywall) of Cedar City.
This tentative loop road reached Rainbow Point (where the Bryce park highway ends southward today) and then would head due west to Highway 89 at the Long Valley Junction of U-14.
“The entire road would be about 27 miles long, with five miles being private lands and most of the balance in the Powell and Dixie national forests,” the news article stated.
The article also stated, “The new road would make it possible to visit Bryce via the present route through Red Canyon and then return over an entirely different route, eliminating all retracing. Most of the route would be at 8,000 foot elevation and would add much to the pleasantness of the trip in hot summer months.”
Why didn’t this road ever get built? Constructing the loop highway was contingent upon Utah being able to cooperate and create five miles of road through the private lands. This apparently didn’t happen, likely because of property acquisition issues.
Yes, the later proposal in 1951 was to build a paved road below the rim.
“Civic clubs will support move for road on floor of Bryce Canyon” was an Aug. 30, 1951, headline in the Richfield Reaper newspaper (paywall) of Utah.
Bryce Canyon put Panguitch on the national map, as the entrance, the last town before the now popular national park. So, the Associated Civics Clubs of Southern and Eastern Utah, along with the Panguitch Lions Club, held a meeting in town to discuss the idea of a road at the bottom of Bryce.
“The Club agreed to support a suggestion by State Representative John Johnson of Tropic to the effect that a road can be built on the floor of Bryce Canyon so that visitors can view the real scenic attractions of the area,” the Richfield newspaper article stated.
It continued, “The main beauty of Bryce Canyon cannot be seen from the rim of the canyon.”
Of course, the inner road was never built, but it leaves little to the imagination to envision a road going through the bottom of Bryce. Many, many natural features would have had to have been demolished to make room for such a road. Hiking would also not be a big activity as it is today in Bryce with such a road. Why hike, when you can drive down?
More history about Bryce Canyon National Park:
• In 1920, Bryce was just picking up steam with tourists. “Volunteers repair Bryce Canyon road” was a May 6 headline that year in the Salt Lake Telegram newspaper. A “road day club” had just been formed in Panguitch, with up to 47 men volunteering their time to smooth out the dirt road from Panguitch through Red Canyon and onto Bryce so that automobiles had better access.
• Initially, for more than a decade, the road to Bryce Canyon ended at the northwest rim of the amphitheater, probably near today’s Sunrise Point. Walking or horse travel was the only way further south.
However, the Salt Lake Tribune of Dec. 6, 1929, reported that the National Park Service had allocated $13,700 to survey and begin to construct a road eight or more miles long southward along the rim of Bryce in the summer of 1930.
This road was “to afford visitors opportunity to view the canyon from many vantage points, instead of the one point now reached by the main highway,” the Tribune story stated.
(At the time, the Park Service allocated $280,000 to improve roads along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, particularly from the Bright Angel Camp to Point Imperial and Cape Royal.)
• Finally, while Zion has been host to a lot more accidents than Bryce, given its sheer cliffs and towering rocks, Bryce Canyon has also not been immune to accident from falls.
Here are three examples:
1 . “Fall from Bryce Canyon cliff seriously injures Cedar girl” was a June 23, 1932, headline in the Beaver County News. The girl slipped off a cliff near Point Supreme and suffered three breaks in her pelvis bone and a broken arm. It took rescuers several hours to reach her.
2. “Girl has close call in Utah park accident” was a July 13, 1946, headline in the Logan Herald-Journal. The 14-year-old-girl from Buffalo, New York, slipped off a sandstone cliff in Bryce and went down 100 feet “before she clutched the edge of a projecting chunk of sandstone — one of the many spires which have made the canyon famous,” the story reported. She was rescued with ropes by a park ranger. The girl’s physician father treated her many cuts and bruises, but nothing was broken.
3. The Ogden Standard-Examiner of April 22, 1954, reported that a 61-year-old woman tourist from Illinois died in a fall at the park on April 21 that year. She stepped over a log barrier at the Far View Scenic Point, lost her balance and plunged 90 feet to her death down a cliff. She died instantly.
Lynn Arave worked as a newspaper reporter for more than 40 years. He is a retired Deseret News reporter/editor, from 1979-2011. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org. His “Mystery of Utah History” blog is at http://mysteryofutahhistory.blogspot.com.