In Bryce Canyon (435/834-5322, www.nps.gov/brca , $25 per vehicle or $12 per bicyclist, pedestrian, or motorcyclist, entry good for seven days and unlimited shuttle use), a geologic fairyland of rock spires rises beneath the high cliffs of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.
This intricate maze, eroded from a soft limestone, now glows with warm shades of reds, oranges, pinks, yellows, and creams. The rocks provide a continuous show of changing color through the day as the sun’s rays and cloud shadows move across the landscape.
Looking at these rock formations is like looking at puffy clouds in the sky; it’s easy to find images in the shapes of the rocks. Some see the natural rock sculptures as Gothic castles, others as Egyptian temples, subterranean worlds inhabited by dragons, or vast armies of a lost empire.
The Paiute Indian tale of the Legend People relates how various animals and birds once lived in a beautiful city built for them by Coyote; when the Legend People began behaving badly toward Coyote, he transformed them all into stone.
Bryce Canyon isn’t a canyon at all, but the largest of a series of massive amphitheaters cut into the Pink Cliffs. In Bryce Canyon National Park, you can gaze into the depths from viewpoints and trails on the plateau rim or hike down moderately steep trails and wind your way among the spires. A 17-mile scenic drive traces the length of the park and passes many overlooks and trailheads. Off-road, the nearly 36,000 acres of Bryce Canyon National Park offer many opportunities to explore spectacular rock features, dense forests, and expansive meadows.
The park’s elevation ranges 6,600–9,100 feet, so it’s usually much cooler here than at Utah’s other national parks. Expect pleasantly warm days in summer, frosty nights in spring and autumn, and snow at almost any time of year. The visitor center , scenic drive , and a campground  stay open throughout the year.
The park's landscape originated about 60 million years ago as sediments in a large body of water (named Lake Flagstaff by geologists). Silt and calcium carbonate and other minerals settled on the lake bottom. These sediments consolidated and became the Claron Formation; a soft, silty limestone with some shale and sandstone.
Lake Flagstaff had long since disappeared when the land began to rise as part of the Colorado Plateau uplift about 16 million years ago. Uneven pressures beneath the plateau caused it to break along fault lines into a series of smaller plateaus at different levels known as the "Grand Staircase." Bryce Canyon National Park occupies part of one of these plateaus—the Paunsaugunt.
The spectacular Pink Cliffs on the east edge contain the famous erosional features known as "hoodoos," carved in the Claron Formation. Variations in hardness of the rock layers result in these strange features, which seem almost alive. Water flows through cracks, wearing away softer rock around hard, erosion-resistant caps. Finally, a cap becomes so undercut that the overhang allows water to drip down, leaving a "neck" of rock below the harder cap. Traces of iron and manganese provide the distinctive coloring.
The hoodoos continue to change—new ones form and old ones fade away. Despite appearances, wind plays little role in creation of the landscape; it's the freezing and thawing, snowmelt, and rainwater that dissolve weak layers, pry open cracks, and carve out the forms. The plateau cliffs, meanwhile, recede at a rate of about one foot every 50-65 years; look for trees on the rim that now overhang the abyss. Listen, and you might hear the sounds of pebbles falling away and rolling down the steep slopes.
From Bryce Junction (on U.S. 89, seven miles south of Panguitch ), turn east and go 14 miles on Highway 12, then go south three miles on Highway 63. Or, from Torrey  (near Capitol Reef National Park ), head west 103 miles on Highway 12, then turn south and go three miles (winter snows occasionally close this section). Both approaches have spectacular scenery.