Sunday, May 24, 2009

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park has been, for me, a highlight of 2 Roadtripping experiences. The first visit came about during a Roadtrip that originally was simply going to Yellowstone National Park. At Yellowstone, after seeing the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone we thought, wow, this Grand Canyon is pretty grand, let's go see the other Grand Canyon.

The route south to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon goes by Bryce and Zion National Parks. The first detour was to Bryce Canyon. I had no idea what to expect as I knew nothing about Bryce Canyon. I can still remember my feeling of amazement at my first look at Bryce Canyon. I'd never seen anything like it.

The second visit to Bryce Canyon was part of a Roadtrip to go mountain biking in the Moab zone and hiking in Arches National Park, including the Fiery Furnace Hike. After Moab we went through Capitol Reef National Park. It was the day before Easter, making it a bit difficult to find a motel room, but one was found at the Aquarian Inn in Bicknell. The intention had been to say in Torrey, right outside of Capitol Reef and going biking in the park the next day. That plan went out the window when I got a flat tire, with no way to repair it, biking around Bicknell.

The route from Bicknell to Bryce Canyon is Highway 12, considered by some to be the most scenic drive in America. The highest point on Highway 12 is at 9,400 feet, with a view through clear air over 200 miles in the distance, all the way to Navajo Mountain in Arizona. Highway 12 goes over a section called "The Hog's Back." Basically a narrow crest with multi-thousand feet drop-offs on either side. With no guard rails. The road twists and turns, up and down like a roller coaster descending along steep cliffs til you get to the bottom of Calf Creek Canyon. I found this road much more challenging to drive than Glacier National Park's Going to the Sun Road.

Eventually we got to Bryce Canyon, after a few sidetrips, like hiking in to see Calf Creek Falls and viewing Powell Point (a desolate white rock escarpment named after explorer John Wesley Powell, that was the furthest north he got in his explorations) finally reaching Bryce Canyon after driving through Kodachrome Basin State Park.

I'd made reservations at Ruby's Inn, which is just outside the entry to Bryce Canyon. Ruby's Inn has a cozy relationship with the National Park, due to Ruby Syrett having run a touring services business prior to Bryce Canyon becoming a National Park in 1923. Ruby Syrett also built a lodge, hence the name Ruby's Inn. It is now a sprawling complex of lodging, restaurants, campgrounds and a mall-like store.

The next morning was Easter. Ruby's Inn had an All You Can Eat Breakfast served by cowboys and cowgirls. It seemed we were the only non-German English speakers. Germans were all over the place. I don't know what it is with me and Germans, they sort of somehow make my skin crawl. It must be something to do with being half Dutch.

After breakfast we drove into Bryce to the Sunrise Point overlook. From there it was a hike down the Navajo Loop Trail that I'd also hiked my first visit. Hiking at a high elevation is way harder than at sea level, it's very easy to get winded. The Navajo Loop begins with a series of switchbacks dropping you down about 480 feet to a very narrow canyon, maybe 10 feet wide. The canyon is shades of pink, red and orange and sort of glows. The trail seems to draw you along as if you're entering another world.

After a mile or so we came to the Peekaboo Loop Trail junction, which is a half mile connector trial to the start of the Peekaboo Loop. Peekaboo Loop is my all time favorite trail I have ever hiked. It is a maze of ups and downs, dropoffs, tunnels and spectacular views. We did not realize we were going to get so drawn into the hiking. The hike started around 9, we carried no food or water. It was a bit past noon before we made it up the Navajo Loop switchbacks and back to Sunrise Point and water.

We then drove to the end of the road where at almost 10,000 feet there was a lot of snow. On the way back we stopped at every overlook, including Thor's Hammer. Back at Ruby's Inn it was time for lunch and a nap. After the nap we went to Inspiration Point and hiked the Queen's Garden, then walked the Bryce Rim Trail for 2 miles to Bryce Point. Bryce Point was closed due to a landslide, but we went out to the overlook anyway. By then the sun was setting which made for an amazing light show. The way back along Bryce Rim in dark was a bit unsettling.

Back at Ruby's Inn we did the All You Can Eat, again, this time dinner, with it being Easter that included ham. All in all it was the best day of hiking and site seeing I had ever done. Which made this the best Easter ever.

Go here for information about Bryce Canyon National Park's Free Shuttle Tour.

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