Winter at Work in Bryce Canyon

March 15, 2017

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Photographer: Ray Boren
Summary Author: Ray Boren

Bryce Canyon National Park’s spectacular rim-rock amphitheaters, and their weathered cliffs, hoodoos, niches and arches, are products of many natural forces and phenomena. Paramount among the sculptors at work in this fairyland on the edge of a high plateau (Bryce isn't really a canyon) are water — including snow and ice — and widely variable temperatures. This is called the freeze-and-thaw cycle, which results in frost wedging, and thus erosion.

This is beautifully obvious in winter, when the park’s red- and coral-themed architecture is blanketed and streaked by fresh snow, with a sprinkling of deep-green juniper trees, pinyon and ponderosa pines speckling the rims and distant vistas, as shown above in the top photo taken at Sunset Point (elevation: 8,000 ft/2438 m). The view is to the southeast. In the blue distance — about 80 mi (129 km) away — is the domed 10,348 ft (3154 m) summit of Navajo Mountain, a laccolithic peak with an igneous core that rose and pierced the sedimentary Colorado Plateau of what is today the Southwestern United States.

According to the National Park Service, frost wedging works like this: During fluctuating temperatures about 180 days a year, warming meltwater from snow and ice seeps into Bryce’s stacked and fractured rock. The stone is primarily Claron Formation limestone. Also known as the Pink Cliffs, these layers formed 35 million to 55 million years ago as a result of sedimentation in ancient lakes. When temperatures plunge, the water refreezes, expands, gradually fractures and erodes the rock. The national park’s signature hoodoos, or vertical columns, and its broken walls and even windows develop in the stone, as shown in a second photo, featuring Bryce’s lovely but misnamed Natural Bridge. It's technically an arch, not a bridge, which by definition has, or once had, a flowing stream beneath, helping to form it. Both photos were snapped on February 9, 2017.

Photo Details: Top - Camera Model: NIKON D3200; Lens: AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED; Focal Length: 70mm (35mm equivalent: 105mm); Aperture: ƒ/11.0; Exposure Time: 0.0020 s (1/500); ISO equiv: 360. Bottom - same except: Lens: Tokina AT-X 124 AF PRO DX II (AF 12-24mm f/4); Focal Length: 22mm (35mm equivalent: 33mm); ISO equiv: 400.