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Bizarre Geology: The Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon

bryce canyon national park, hoodoos, paunsaugunt plateau, claron formation, utah national parks
(Image credit: Anand Rane/U.S. Department of the Interior)

Look below the fir trees at Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park to find the park’s famous out-of-this-world geology, called hoodoos.

 Not to be confused with the folk magic of the same name, hoodoos are the national park's trademark rock spires. Millions of years of erosion and weathering have carved the colorful limestone rock of the Claron Formation into bizarre shapes and seemingly impossibly stacked structures. The totem-pole-like hoodoos are more abundant here than anywhere else in the world.

 A hoodoo is a tall, spindly structure that forms within sedimentary rock and protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland. Hoodoos form over millions of years of erosion in areas where a thick layer of soft rock is covered by a thin layer of hard rock. Over time, hoodoos form as a small cap of the hard layer protects a cone of softer rock underneath from erosion.

 Hoodoos can be a squat 5 feet (1.5 meters) tall or soar to 150 feet (45 m). Depending on the minerals found within the different rock types, hoodoos often have lively color patterns.The hoodoos ofBryce Canyon are found in the park's horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.

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Brett Israel was a staff writer for Live Science with a focus on environmental issues. He holds a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology from The University of Georgia, a master’s degree in journalism from New York University, and has studied doctorate-level biochemistry at Emory University.