Silent City Ain’t Silent No More

By Andrea Leigh

unedited version of an article that appeared in the Sierra Club, Angeles Chapter newspaper, Southern Sierran

copyright December 2000

Standing erect and close together, the whimsical “hoodoos,” or pinnacles that comprise Bryce Canyon National Park’s Silent City collect in an abstract cluster reminiscent of ancient ruins. Although the formations probably look the same as they did 200 years ago, too often lost in the scene is that the area doesn’t sound like it once did.


The Wilderness Adventures Section organized a Columbus Day weekend bustrip to Bryce Canyon. Staying footsteps away from Bryce Canyon’s rim at the park’s historic lodge, the group ventured onto trails linking to some of the park’s most crowded scenic overlooks. Although there was no question that the scenery was nothing short of breathtaking, what many found annoying were not the expected sounds of busses idling, car doors slamming, or hiking boots hitting the pavement. What caught the group off guard were the regular sights and sounds of the sightseeing helicopters.


Former Angeles Chapter Conservation Coordinator, Dick Hingson, who now resides in Southern Utah and is active in restoring natural quiet to Grand Canyon National Park, spent time over the summer measuring the decibel levels of the sightseeing overflights that continuously interrupt and nullify Bryce Canyon’s soundscape. In mid-summer near prime vista points, Hingson measured decibel levels as high as 70-76 dBA. As he phrases it, the overflights were “in your face and in your ear frequently, from near sunrise to near sunset. The situation [at Bryce] is really out of control.”


Bryce Canyon, at only eighteen miles long and up to 5 miles wide cannot weather the constant intrusion of aircraft noise. “There’s no way anyone can escape it,” Rick Wallen, national park resource manager for Bryce Canyon comments. According to a recent article focusing on natural quiet in USA Today, in a 1998 study by the Federal Aviation Administration, aircraft could be heard 88 percent of the time along the popular Queen’s Garden Trail during one hour on a summer afternoon.

During the time Wilderness Adventures spent in the park, one participant, Anne Marie Bestor, spent a good portion of a day reading outside near Bryce Canyon’s rim. Although she mentioned that her view was nothing short of spectacular, she prefaced it by stating in annoyance, “I heard and saw helicopters regularly the entire time I was there.”


While hiking inside the canyon along the less congested Fairyland loop trail, Wilderness Adventures hikers noted that the sounds of the aircraft were noticeably louder and, at times, directly above them. This is particularly intrusive since part of the point of visiting a spectacular location such as Bryce Canyon is to experience the tranquil and peaceful surroundings, a little respite from the hustle and bustle of suburban life. Ideally, there should be areas that are set aside where people are able to escape the constant reinforcement of a busy, technological world.


If not in our national parks, then where?