After centuries of existence, and decades of inspiring quiet awe, the hoodoo known as “The Sentinel” succumbed to the erosional forces that continue to define the landscape of Bryce Canyon National Park.
Large sections of The Sentinel have fractured before. The most major of these transformations occurred in July of 1986 when a paddle-like section of the formation crumbled and was found on the trail below. Subsequent years of frost-wedging, wind, and rain reduced the remaining spire to a gravity-defying form recognizable to more recent visitors. “This is a hoodoo people would stop and look at and wonder if it would fall and if they would see it,” said Ranger Joel Allen.
Of the many factors that work to shape the otherworldly landscape found in Bryce Canyon, the 200-plus days of freeze-thaw cycles that the park undergoes each year has by far the greatest influence. Unlike hoodoos shaped primarily by wind or flowing water, the top riser of the Grand Staircase—known as the Pink Cliffs—is a jewel whose many facets are carved by ice. Fractures created in part during the gradual uplift of the Colorado Plateau beginning approximately 70 million years ago now provide cracks for rain and melted snow to collect, and eventually expand with rock-shattering force whenever temperatures fall below the freezing point. The life-cycle of a hoodoo is therefore often one of gradual formation, and sudden demise.
The exact time The Sentinel fell from its perch above the Navajo Loop is unknown; photos taken by visitors seem to place the event sometime during the evening of Friday, November 25th. Estimates place the section that fell at fifteen feet in height, having fractured at a point two feet in diameter; however rangers have yet been unable to locate debris from the collapse due to snow that has fallen since then.
“As its name implied, it appeared like a sentry or protector of the peace gazing to the east, and was a familiar and trusted form along the horizon,” said Ranger Jan Stock. “We consider this its End of Watch.”
As time passes and seasons change, untold formations continually await the revealing forces of erosion within the fins of limestone radiating into the Bryce Amphitheater and the depths of the Paunsaugunt Plateau below. Nevertheless, this one will be missed.
Additional information can be obtained at ww.nps.gov/brca or by calling the park’s information line at (435) 834-5322.