Putting Zion in my rearview mirror will never be an easy thing to do. So much remains that I have yet to explore. The prospect of returning to Bryce, however, spurred me forward. Driving through dusk, we passed underneath shadowy cliffs and through sporadic tunnels, ending up in the hinterlands of Dixie National Forest. Down in Zion, we had grown used to temperate, but windy nights. Bryce Canyon, however, lies a few thousand feet above Zion, meaning that we had effectively returned to snow country. Over the course of the night, we both added blankets, curling up against the dropping temperatures. In the morning, I looked out to see traces of snow dusting the undergrowth beneath the ponderosa pines.
Holding out for a breakfast with a view, we sped off into Bryce Canyon, racing against the rising sun. Soon enough, we sat, banana and peanut butter sandwiches in hand, gazing out across a wonderland of layered hoodoos, tight, snaking canyons, and commanding plateaus of banded rock. Ranging from a dazzlingly translucent tan to a powerful bronze, the rocks before us held no relation to the Navajo Sandstone of Zion. Our increased elevation had placed us squarely among the Claron Formation of sedimentary rock. An extremely fragile formation, erosion has shaped the rock into the badlands that now stretched out below us. Hoodoos, an especially captivating formation, are pillars of rock that rise out of the ground like spears pointing skywards. Atop each pillar is a capstone of resistant rock that protects the fragile rock below from the elements. The forces of time and erosion will eventually collapse these existing hoodoos. The process, however, will simultaneously build new hoodoos in an endless cycle of erosion to replenish this bizarrely beautiful landscape.
After a leisurely breakfast, we loaded up once more and headed down into the maze of formations below. Despite its name, Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. The sloping plateau may contain a network of smaller canyons, but it has no opposing rim like the Grand Canyon or Zion. The name dates back to when Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon pioneer of the mid-nineteenth century who made his home in a place that became known as Bryce Canyon. Clearly, the name stuck. Wandering around the winding paths below the rim, I struggled to understand why someone would choose to homestead in a place like this. The relatively barren, but highly irregular landscape must have made frontier life a bit of a nightmare. That said, it would be hard to beat the view!
Further into the “canyon,” we encountered natural bridges, a hoodoo shaped like Thor’s Hammer, and tight steep canyons adorned with brutal switchbacks. Unlike many parks, Bryce Canyon vehemently discourages backcountry and off trail travel to protect the fragile landscape. This limited our exploration to tight set of trails delving into the most popular section of the formation. Bryce does have a twenty-three mile backcountry trail, but that would have to wait for another time. With our hike over before we knew it, we headed back to the car to begin visiting the viewpoints along the rim of the plateau.
With names like Sunrise Point, Piracy Point, Yovimpa Point, Rainbow Point, and Natural Bridge, the drive along the rim kept us busy for quite some time. We even snuck in another hike along the Bristlecone Pine trail near the southern limit of the park. Viewpoints like this, however, do tend to bleed together after awhile. I learned this lesson firsthand when I tried to pull off at every viewpoint along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I might still be doing so if I hadn’t started to space out my breaks a little more! By the end of our wanderings through Bryce, I think I had about a dozen different angles on the exact same horizon… I think ended up with the shot I wanted though!
Bryce ended up being a relatively quick stop for us, but I enjoyed every moment in the magical landscape. Next, we would set off across the vast public lands of Nevada.
Roads across Utah