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In honor of Valentine’s Day, we’d like to share the love stories of Elva Orton, whose life changed forever during a magical summer at Utah’s picturesque Bryce Canyon National Park, and her granddaughter, Paige, who recreated her grandmother’s memory 63 years later.
Throughout 2023, Bryce Canyon is celebrating its centennial year by encouraging visitors to share experiences that define the past, present and future of this special place. In fact, this is how the Orton’s story came to light.
The park is famous for its unique hoodoos — tall, thin spires of rock that rise up to 200 feet. The red, orange, and white colors of the rocks provide spectacular views for park visitors. The beautiful, otherworldly atmosphere of the park has made it a romantic destination. The park’s official slogan is “Hoodoo You Love” (a fun take on Bo Diddley’s 1956 classic).
Which brings us back to the story of a Salt Lake City girl named Elva and of small-town teenager named Steve Orton in the summer of 1959.
According to a Facebook post by the National Park Service, Elva first saw Steve while gazing out the window of a Utah Parks Company employee bus bound for a summer working at Bryce. The girl sitting beside her happened to know Steve, so Elva wished aloud, “I want him to ask me to go on a date.”
When the friend told Steve of Elva’s interest in him, he could hardly believe his luck. Why would a cheerleader from the big city be interested in him? Nevertheless, the timid Steve asked her to attend a Sunday fireside program and less than a week later they shared their first kiss.
She worked at the park as a waitress and he was a bellhop/assistant manager. Together they’d discover the park was full of romantic venues.
“We could walk straight out in front of the lodge to the rim,” she said. “There was a great place to make out. So we did that quite frequently. What can I say? We were madly in love.”
By the end of the summer, they were certain they would marry, but Steve was already scheduled to leave on a two-year church mission to Australia. They exchanged many letters and vowed to reunite at their beloved Bryce Canyon.
Two summers later, Elva was now working at Grand Canyon when she got word that Steve was back at Bryce. She caught the first bus available and remembered that the “gearjammer” announced to all the passengers that she was returning to Bryce to meet her sweetheart.
She said, “As soon as we got close to the lodge, he started honking the horn and they were all clapping for me… and [Steve] was standing there.”
The couple soon wed and during their 55 years of marriage often shared their romantic Bryce Canyon origin story with family and friends.
Steve sadly passed away in 2017, but in celebration of what would have been their 60th wedding anniversary, Elva returned to Bryce to be interviewed by the park staff and share some photos from her past.
She was accompanied by many of her children and grandchildren, including her granddaughter, Paige.
They toured the lodge deluxe cabins and a linen cabin where past employees have covered the walls and rafters with signatures. To the astonishment of all present, Steve Orton’s signature from 1957 was discovered near the door.
The next morning would bring even more amazement and tears.
Paige’s boyfriend, Garrett, drove through the night and surprised her with a sunrise marriage proposal along the canyon rim (She said, “Yes”).
In homage to Paige’s grandparents, they then recreated a photo taken of Elva and Steve at Bryce Point in 1959.
As Paige would tell her grandmother, “Growing up, this has been the most romantic place in the world to me because of your story.”
Said Elva, “Bryce Canyon has been in my life and my love for generations.”
Credits: Photos of Elva and Steve’s signature courtesy of the National Park Service; Photos of Elva and Steve, Paige and Garrett courtesy of the Orton family.