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Pillars of Bryce Canyon, Utah
Bryce Canyon on the eastern edge of Utah's Paunsaugunt Plateau, is a spiky amphitheater of red and yellow pillars known by the native Paiute people as hoodoos. The Paiute believe that these odd rock formations are the ancient settlers of the region, encased in stone by the Coyote God. Today, Bryce Canyon is a place of pilgrimage for ambitious hikers and day-trippers who come to view the strange geological wonder from winding trails over the Paunsaugunt Plateau's ridge (for the most panoramic view of the canyon, make your way to Bryce Point on the Rim Trail, one of many lookouts on the network of park trails). How the plateau ridge was eroded away into this canyon of marvelous rock columns remains a mystery, as does the origin of the Native American petroglyphs on some of the pillars.
Follow the right path: The closest town is Bryce Canyon City, with plenty of lodging for day hikers. Alternatively, obtain a backcountry permit from the National Park Service at Bryce Canyon and depart on the 23-mile Under-the-Rim Trail: It descends from Bryce Point into the canyon, where you can hike among the hoodoos and sleep under the stars.
Photo courtesy of Jed Gallagher.