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Bryce Canyon National Park

October 8, 2010


From Zion National Park, we drove to Panguitch for the night. Bryce Canyon National Park is a 30min drive from Panguitch. With all the hiking activity in Zion and driving around the previous day, getting up at 4AM for a sunrise in Bryce the following morning seemed pretty much impossible. This was our first time in Bryce and finding our way around in the dark amongst the canyons felt daunting. The good thing is that sunrises happen every day – yay! – so in the interest of a good night’s rest, we planned to spend the next day in Bryce comfortably and catch the sunrise over the hoodoos on our second morning instead.

As one drives towards Bryce, the landscape grows redder and redder. There is something to be said about these red rocks. It makes one feel like they’re on Mars and that the green and blue Earth we are familiar with is a far sight in memory. Seeing a Martian alien popping it’s head around a corner somewhere would not be out of place at all.

At Red Rock Canyon which is on the way to Bryce, we more time than intended, admiring the glowing totem poles of rock and looking hard at precariously balanced piles of stone to see if one would succumb to gravity (sadly, none did!).

Upon entering Bryce Canyon National Park, we drove to Sunrise point. Here we got our first glimpse of the famed hoodoos. And our first thought was – why, they look exactly like groups of people, gathered around in silence, awaiting something. And then we heard about the story. The story that the wily coyote turned all the Legend people of Bryce Canyon into these totem poles of stone. Aren’t mythological stories of places and people fascinating?! The hoodoos really do look like people. Squint enough and you will be able to make out facial features, a  head, torso, a body. And they are of different heights, so the groups look like families of people, a mom and dad here, a couple kids there. It’s guaranteed to be a sight you have never seen anywhere else before.

The hoodoos are of course the main highlight in Bryce. Hues of orange, red, white give them an unearthly glow. Glimpsing them first on the floors of the canyons and then walking amongst them on the hikes inside is magical because you get to appreciate their size and layers and colors only when next to them. From the rim of the canyon, we started off on the Queen’s Garden trail from Sunrise point. This hike goes all the way down right to the bottom of the canyon and you start appreciating the hoodoos for their size once you’re up close. It was a wonderful day when we were hiking, every time we looked up, we saw these towering hoodoos looking like they were gilded in gold, and the turquoise blue skies above, it was just spectacular.

Wind, water, gravity and time are the sculptors of these marvelous hoodoos. The Queen’s Garden trail is so named because – you guessed it! – there is a hoodoo which is shaped like a seated Queen Victoria. Do you see the resemblance in the picture? It does look exactly like the seated Queen’s profile. But what is she seated on? It’s definitely not an ordinary throne. To me, it looks like a fire-breathing dragon! What do you see?

 

 

 

Walking amongst the hoodoos on the canyon floor is pretty easy. But we cannot say the same about the climb up! Whew,  that was definitely arduous. There were these switchbacks like a zig-zag Z ahead of us, steeply climbing up on one of the canyon walls and it seemed never ending. The sun was out in full force that day, and you feel the heat more on the canyon floor where there is not much wind. Plenty of water and taking rest frequently in the shade helps preserve energy and sanity. Once we got to the top, the view was just spectacular!

 

 

 

 

 

This was one of the our most favorite scenic points. You can see why!

All that hiking made us hungry! We headed to Bryce Lodge for some lunch. Like I’ve said before, the food inside restaurants in national parks always tastes so great! We splurged on chicken sandwiches and black-bean burgers. Energized by food and drink (H2O!), we set out after lunch to explore the Rim Trail.

Every canyon has to have a rim. So there would of course be a Rim Trail. Crater Lake does, Grand Canyon does, so does Bryce Canyon. The Rim trail connects several of the vista points, we did the hike from Sunrise point to Inspiration point via Rim Trail (a couple miles, easy walk). Inspiration point is named so because it has the highest density of hoodoo formations and richer redder color palettes and most people find this view most inspiring.

Whatever you do in Bryce Canyon – do NOT miss the sunsets and sunrises! Inspiration point and Bryce point are both highly recommended for sunrises. And after seeing both from various vista points, we can vouch for them as being some of the most gorgeous we’ve ever seen! The hike along Rim Trail was long, but our spirits were high and we absolutely enjoyed it, frequently stopping for photos and taking in the surrounding vistas and beauty. In the distance the thick, green forests of Dixie National Forest were clearly visible. It’s unreal to see a forest in the middle of a what feels like a red desert, but there it was! Dusk was approaching so we continued on to Bryce point to catch the sunset here. Waiting for the sunset is always fun. I like waiting for sunrises better though, because with a sunset, everything goes dark and cold so soon.

Bryce Canyon also has one of the darkest night skies in the United States. It’s no surprise then that star gazing in Bryce is what most people look forward to doing, after the sun has set. There are several ranger-led star-gazing programs at night. But one has to wait until after 11PM especially in the summer months for the sky to become reasonably dark enough for the stars to start popping in. All the ranger-led programs are free. Near Bryce Lodge, they had a nightly program, where several telescopes had been setup by the rangers and anybody could go up to the scope and peek into the depths of the universe. It was not just stars we saw that day, but planets – the rings of Saturn, the reddish glowing Mars and our very own moon. We were freezing our you-know-what off, the night was very chilly, but one look into the telescope to see  a double-nuclei galaxy (however faint and fuzzy it might be) and the brain just explodes with ideas and thoughts and questions. There were 3 rangers updating the 4 or so telescopes to point out to interesting things in the sky. Another ranger had a high-beam flashlight,  and was pointing up in the sky and explaining the constellations. We had heard maybe two out of the 20 names which he pointed out and explained the mythology behind each. We were there till 12:30AM or so and with stars in our eyes, headed back to Panguitch for a good night’s rest.

Up at 4AM the next morning, excitedly looking forward  to catching the sunrise from Inspiration and Bryce point! Wrapped up cozily in warm clothing and armed with flashlights, we made our way to Inspiration point. Tripod – check, camera – check, hats and scarves and jacket – check. Now comes the waiting. In the distance, the sky started turning a light blue shade, with orange and yellow bleeding into the pale horizon. There were only a handful of people waiting with us.

As the sun arose above the horizon, the hoodoos in the canyon below started lighting up, one by one. Just their tops, like orange birthday candles. It was the one of the most spectacular sunrises we’ve ever seen. As the sunrays hit them, the hoodoos glowed and appeared to come alive.

We went on to Bryce point which a ranger had said was equally great for sunrises and we were not disappointed! The sun was not yet high up, and the hoodoos at Bryce were also just waking up. There was a bigger crowd here, so we were kind of glad to have been at Inspiration point earlier. One of the must-do things at Bryce is to see the sunrise, because the hoodoos make it very magical and you wouldn’t get to see such a sight anywhere else.

Sunrises and sunsets are very personal experiences. There might be a crowd of a hundred people watching a sunrise or sunset, and nobody speaks a word. Everybody just watches, most with bated breath. We all feel connected for that one instant, connected to the generations before us, who have witnessed these same sunrises and sunsets again and again, in a distant, more primal time. It’s the same with star gazing. Whenever I look up at a star lit sky, and see the band of the milky way arching across the dome above, I cannot help but wonder what our ancestors looked up and thought, what emotions they felt, what they wondered and questioned about and how they saw themselves in this universe. I do know that they saw what I am seeing now and for some reason, that by itself is comforting.

After our fill of the hoodoos in Bryce that morning, we set off for our next destination along the Grand Circle – Arches National Park (a 5 hour drive away). We absolutely loved Bryce Canyon National Park, but Arches is by far our favorite park along the Grand Circle and we will tell you why in the next post!

 

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