Utah Parks Company

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The Utah Parks Company, a subsidiary of Union Pacific Railroad, owned and operated restaurants, lodging, and bus tours in Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, the north rim of Grand Canyon National Park, and Cedar Breaks National Monument from the 1920s until 1972. Operating as a concessionaire of the National Park Service, the company operated from a base in Cedar City, Utah. The company's bus tours connected there with Union Pacific trains as well as tour buses from Los Angeles, San Francisco and other west coast cities, and offered a loop tour of the region's parks and monuments, escorted by a Utah Parks Company driver/guide. The company also owned the landmark El Escalante Hotel in Cedar City where visitors intending to take the park loop on a Utah Parks Company bus were required to stay their first night in Cedar City. The venerable El Escalante was especially well known to escorts in the 1960s, many from Greyhound Bus Lines, arriving via bus for a tour of the Parks. With up to 39 travelers per tour, the groups confronted the El Escalante, offering only 23 rooms, some sharing bathrooms. It was a common joke among escorts that if you could survive that first night at the El Escalante with a full tour, you could survive most anything.

The Utah Parks Company was incorporated in 1923 and over the next several years constructed rustic-style, stone-and-log lodges at each of the Park Service locations it served. Most of the major buildings were designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood, a noted period architect. (Underwood also designed the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park, and Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park.) Underwood's surviving Utah Parks Company buildings are considered exceptional examples of the Rustic style of architecture, and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

As the twentieth century progressed, railroad passenger traffic declined and the Union Pacific's interest in supporting National Park tourism correspondingly lessened. The railroad's passenger trains to Cedar City ended in 1960, and in 1972 the Union Pacific donated its concession-related infrastructure to the National Park Service. The facilities at Cedar Breaks were razed, as were some of the developments at Bryce and Zion, but the remaining lodge facilities remain in use today. As of March 2007 the concessionaire at the former Utah Parks Company locations was Xanterra Parks and Resorts. As of March 2014 the concessionaire inside Bryce Canyon National Park is now Forever Resorts.

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