Visitors to Bryce Canyon National Park overwhelmingly love the views down into the park's colorful amphitheaters with their whimsically eroded hoodoos, but aren't quite as enamored with the spectacular night skies overhead.
Just 47 percent of the respondents thought it was "extremely" or "very" important that the night skies over Bryce Canyon were dark and starry. "Clean air" got such ratings from 85 percent of the visitors, while 98 percent thought the park's "scenic vistas" were either "extremely" or "very" important.
That night-sky response is a bit surprising in that Bryce Canyon has been offering stargazing programs since 1969. The park currently offers more than 100 astronomy programs a year, is home to one of the National Park Service's "Dark Rangers," and boasts some of the darkest, most star-filled skies in the National Park System.
The insights into the popularity, or lack of, Bryce Canyon's night skies were gleaned by the Park Studies Unit at the University of Idaho, which surveyed Bryce Canyon visitors during the summer of 2009.
Social scientists and statisticians likely will find many of the answers contained in this survey interesting. For instance, while 62 percent of the folks who stayed inside Bryce Canyon slept in a campground, and just 39 percent (rounding errors can lead to a combined percentage above 100 percent) stayed in the lodge facilities, those who stayed outside the park did almost exactly the opposite: 67 percent stayed in a hotel or motel, while 31 percent stayed in a campground. Does that speak to the quality of the park's campgrounds, the cost of lodging in the park, or the availability of lodging in the park?
Of those who stayed in the Bryce Canyon Lodge, 84 percent gave the facility a "very good" or "good" quality rating. The lodge restaurant was not as warmly received; the percentage of respondents who gave it a similar rating dropped to 67 percent.
Overall, the highest quality rating -- 97 percent who cited either "very good" or "good" -- was bestowed on the park's trails and its horseback trail rides.
Also interesting was that visitors learned something about staying safe in the park during their visit. For instance, while 58 percent of the respondents were "very aware" about the benefits of hiking with hiking boots when they arrived at the park, that percentage grew to 75 percent by the end of their stay. Only 43 percent of visitors were "very aware" of lightning safety when they reached Bryce Canyon, but that grew to 69 percent by the end of their visit.
How to cope with altitude sickness, which could be an issue for visitors coming from sea level as Bryce Canyon's rim ranges in elevation from 8,000 feet to 9,100 feet, is a lesson that needs more work, however. Just 24 percent of the park's visitors were "very aware" of how to deal with altitude sickness, and 39 percent were "somewhat aware" when they arrived in the park. That "very aware" number improved only slightly, to 31 percent, while the "somewhat aware" number dipped to 37 percent, and 32 percent left the park not knowing how to deal with the problem.
Fewer than half (48 percent) of the visitors surveyed said they used the park's shuttle bus. Those who didn't most often said they had their own transportation or preferred the convenience of using their own vehicle. Those who commented on ways to improve the shuttle system most often suggested that its route be extended, that the schedule of operations be expanded, or that the frequency of buses be improved.
Other data from the survey included:
* U.S. visitors comprised 60 percent of total visitation during the survey period, with 23 percent from California, 12 percent from Utah, and smaller proportions from 41 other states and Washington, D.C.
* International visitors were from 25 countries and comprised 40 percent of total visitation, with 25 percent from Netherlands, 21 percent from France, 13 percent from Germany, and smaller proportions from 22 other countries.
* Seventy-six percent of the visitors were seeing Bryce Canyon for the first time. Twenty-one percent had visited the park two or three times.
* Thirty-seven percent of visitors were between the ages of 41 and 60 years, 24 percent were 15 or younger, and 8 percent were 66 years or older.
* Of those visitors who stayed overnight in the park or in the area within 50 miles of the park (81 percent), 40 percent spent two nights in the park, and 40 percent spent one night in the area outside the park.
* The average length of stay in the park was 24 hours.
* The most common site visited by visitor groups was Sunset Point (89 percent) followed by Sunrise Point (84 percent).