A Paiute Take On Bryce Canyon's Hoodoos

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The red spindly rock formations that make up the views at Bryce Canyon National Park are called hoodoos. Geologists say they were formed by erosion, but Kevin Poe, chief of interpretation at Bryce, shares his take on the Paiute legend about hoodoos.


Bryce Canyon National Park in the Utah desert is famous for reddish-limestone rock in bizarre shapes, towering formations called hoodoos. Geologists say they were shaped by centuries of erosion. But the Paiute people tell a different story.

Kevin Poe, the chief of interpretation at Bryce Canyon, has his own take on that legend.

Mr. KEVIN POE (Chief of Interpretation, Bryce Canyon National Park): The version I like to tell talks about how the To-when-an-ung-wa, as they were called, the Legend People, were notorious for living too heavily upon the land. They would drink up all these streams and the rivers in the springtime so there would be no water left for all the other creatures come summer.

And if that's not bad enough, then in the fall, they would gobble up all the pine nuts; there would be no pine nuts for the other animals to eat to help them survive the winters. This behavior by the To-when-an-ung-wa went on for years and years and years, and all the other animals and all the other creatures complained about how rude they were and how reckless they behaved. And they finally got the attention of the powerful god, Coyote.

And because Coyote if famous for being a trickster, he decided he would punish the To-when-an-ung-wa in a very creative way. What he did is he invited them to a banquet and he promised enough food to be able to eat all day long. And, in fact, that's quite an offer. I mean, even in modern times, you know, Bryce Canyon, on this barren desert landscape.

So, of course, all the To-when-an-ung-wa came and they came dressed in their finest, most-colorful clothing or in their most elaborate war paint, and they sat down to Coyote's great big banquet table. But before anyone could take a single bite, he cast a spell on them that turned them to stone. The To-when-an-ung-wa tried to flee up over the top of the canyon rim, and in so doing -almost like a scene from the "Titanic" - you see them trampling on top of each other, writhing bodies trying to escape over the edge of the canyon, and clustered right on the brink.

And so here they stand to this very day stuck like rocks. The geologic forces of weather and erosion have worn them away to the point they just look like towers of rock and no longer like statuesque cursed beings.

SIEGEL: That's Kevin Poe, chief of interpretation at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. That story was produced by NPR's Amy Walters.

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