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The rainbow that never fades.

The Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce, for whom Bryce Canyon in Utah was named, described it as "a h--of a place to lose a cow"; other Mormons, who tilled the fertile Virgin River Valley, were moved by the "towering temples of stone" and named the area "Zion," which means "the heavenly city of God." Indians were differently impressed--they referred to southern Utah's vivid countryside as the "Land of the Sleeping Rainbow."

The region's tilted layers of rock disclose a geological journal tediously written during the past 200 million years. The "plate tectonics" theory says southern Utah, composed of swamps and marshes and inhabited by giant reptiles and dinosaurs, lay in the approximate location of present-day southern Mexico during the Cretaceous period some 100 million years ago.

Massive "plate" movements created many mountain ranges; millions of years of erosion, volcanic activity and additional shifting forced the huge Colorado Plateau to rise 5,000 feet. Slow-moving rivers accelerated and cut deeply into the rising strata; incalculable tons of rock were pulverized by wind and rain and washed away, unearthing the original desert, now compressed into stone.

Man's interlude in Utah pales in comparison to that inconceivable length of time used to create this landscape. A "mere" 10,000 years ago cave dwellers roamed the area; the Anasazis, or Ancient Ones, inhabited the region from before Christ's birth to A.D. 1300. (Their disappearance is yet to be explained.) The Pueblo Indian culture took root; the numerous dwellings you can see nestled beneath lofty cliffs attest to their presence.

In 1776 Fathers Dominguez and Escalante became Utah's first white visitors while they searched for a route from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to the Spaniards' new colony at Monterey, California. Fifty years later American fur trappers--Jim Bridger, Jedediah Smith, and Etienne Provost and Peter Skene Ogden, for whom two major Utah cities are named--began arriving. Then in 1847 the Mormon leader Brigham Young was instrumental in opening up the territory when he and his followers settled in the Salt Lake City valley and began to migrate south to Zion Canyon.

Today "Color Country" is preserved by a patchwork of state and national parks: Zion National Park, Gunlock State Recreation Area, Snow Canyon, Pine Valley, Cedar Breaks National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park.

Among the best-known is Zion, chaperoned by imposing monoliths called the Sentinel, the Temple of Sinawava, the Altar of Sacrifice, the Great White Throne, the Mountain of the Sun and the Three Patriarchs. One of the best features of Zion is its abundance of green shrubbery and plant life that tends to soften the otherwise foreboding look of the rock formations here. This greenery ascends to the base of the red pyramids and results in pleasant hues not unlike the bellies of sunfishes.

North of Zion, Cedar Breaks National Monument embraces a limestone amphitheater where wind, rain, snow and ice have etched a series of spires and serrated ridges into the Markagunt Plateau.

Bryce Canyon, shaped by the elements over the last 12 million years at the geologically speedy rate of one foot every 50 years, is the subject of a Paiute Indian legend: Brycehs pillars are men turned to stone by an irate god and doomed to stand throughout eternity in stoic silence. Beyond its sweeping amphitheater studded with minarets in a 360-degree panorama that stretches 100 miles to the horizon, you can see the 11,000-foot-high Aquarius, Sevier and Markagunt plateaus, the snow-crowned Henry Mountains, the Paria River's domain and imposing Navajo Mountain. Southward the descending White and Vermilion cliffs plunge like a giant stairway to the Colorado River.

Bryce is actually not a "canyon" at all but rather is a series of so-called "breaks" contained in 12 enormous amphitheaters. Thousands upon thousands of orange, pink and red columns also "stand" in the park like so many tall pilgrims awaiting redemption. The breaks in Bryce Canyon carve intricate pathways through thousand-foot, brilliantly colored layers of limestone. The resulting windows, spires and walls give you the impression you are worshiping in an outdoor cathedral. And you are!

Don't be surprised if you run into a Hollywood film crew during your travels here. Many movie classics, from Drums along the Mohawk to The Electric Horseman, have been filmed on location to take advantage of scenery not even the most artful set designer can imitate.

Sprawling haphazardly across the landscape east of Bryce, the lesser-known but regal Land of the Sleeping Rainbow presents canyons, deserts, mountains, forests, obelisks, rivers and lakes. Here are petroglyphs and pictographs, petrified forests, canyons that contain natural bridges, ancient Indian storehouses, patina-streaked cliffs and mesas covered with pines and flecked with fish-filled lakes.

Vivid landscapes aren't the only rewards of a trip through southwestern Utah. Not far from Zion is the town of Saint George, boyhood home of the famed outlaw Butch Cassidy, where you'll find a 19th-century Mormon tabernacle and the winter quarters of Brigham Young. Outside of town are Pine Valley, a pioneer village hardly changed since the 19th century, and Silver Reef Ghost Town--old kilns, mining trails, a Wells Fargo Building and two cemeteries. Old Paria, near Bryce, and Old Frisco are two more ghost towns; and in the still-living town of Beaver, 60 percent of the structures boast historical significance.

Those tired of history and scenery can exert themselves boating, swimming and fishing at the Gunlock State Recreation Area, the Pine Valley Reservoir or the Minersville State Park and Reservoir. And year-round recreation is assured by Mount Holly and Brian Head ski resorts where both novice and expert can find the slope appropriate for their skill or lack of it; nonskiers can take advantage of the area's snowmobiling.

And culturally speaking, there's Cedar City's Utah Shakespearean Festival each August. We think Shakespeare would have preferred the Indian "Sleeping Rainbow" to the modern "Color Country"--but southern Utah by any other name looks just as good.
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Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Bryce Canyon, Utah
Author:Burkhart, C.J.
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Sep 1, 1985
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