My path to Bryce Canyon took me farther down UT 9, through Zion, and an early departure from Springdale assured I only had a minimal wait at the Zion entrance station. After traversing the surprisingly narrow and dark Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel I was soon out of the park and in the surrounding pastures. That’s the thing about canyons; you can’t really tell they’re there until you’re right on top (or inside) of them. In Mt. Carmel I hit north on US 89 for a few decades (of miles) before turning east on to UT 12, which apparently is some sort of super special highway or something. Not long after that it was south on UT 63 to the entrance of Bryce Canyon NP. After getting some beta at the visitor center I decided to start my visit by driving to the southern end of the park to check out Rainbow Point. This point (and Bryce in general) is surprisingly high (Rainbow pt. is at 9,115 feet) and as a result it was pretty darn cold and the ground was still covered with snow. From Rainbow Pt. you could see most of Bryce “Canyon” (more of an eroded plateau, but w/e) and for what seemed like ever out to the southeast across the Colorado Plateau. In fact, Bryce is basically the top of this plateau and the so-called Grand Staircase leads from its high cliffs down across multiple “steps” (layers in the earth) to the rim of the Grand Canyon 4,000 feet below. I had lunch and enjoyed this commanding vista of one of my favorite parts of this country.

The edge of Bryce Canyon and a view across the Colorado Plateau
An arch in the hoodoos

On the way back to the main section of Bryce (the Bryce Amphitheater) I stopped at a few view points. All of them offered new views onto a scenery of pink hoodoos basking in the Sun. At one there was a pretty big arch that was cool. Check it out.

Soon I was at Sunset Point, which offered a gorgeous view of the Bryce Amphitheater and was appropriately overflowing with the squawking masses. The basic geologic story of Bryce is that relatively soft limestone protruding from the edge of its escarpment is easily eroded by water and ice into the fantastical spires (hoodoos) that visitors enjoy today.

The Bryce Amphitheater
Hoodoo vs. Sun

At the recommendation of, well, everyone I decided to do Bryce’s #1 hike: down into the Queen’s Garden with a return up the Navajo Loop. This hike finally brought me down between the hoodoos and the deeper I got the more amazing the formations seemed. There was even one that seemed to be punching the sun in defiance of the weather cycle that would eventually lead to its destruction.

Perhaps uniquely among famous geologic sites, the size of the formations in Bryce make them very accessible. Unlike the great canyons elsewhere in Utah the scale of Bryce is roughly human; a hike among the hoodoos feels intimate and the closeness of the formations means each turn in the trail results in a new and interesting view.

Hoodoo views

At the bottom of the trail was the Queen’s Garden, so named because of a stately hoodoo that bears an uncanny resemblance to Her Majesty the Queen. What oh!

The Queen of the hoodoos

From up on the canyon rim Bryce might appear to be a one trick pony, but from below you discover that there is a seemingly endless variation in that one trick. It’s a very good trick. The hoodoos themselves stand in strange arrangements of pink, white, and orange, and perhaps even stranger is the contrast provided by the trees that grow seemingly impossibly between them. This is a very unique place; truly unlike anywhere I have ever been. Driving this fact home are the vivid memories I have of being here when I was 8 years old. While walking between the spires I could remember standing in that exact spot 20 years ago. I don’t have similar memories of, e.g., Zion, even though I visit it at the same time. Such is the power of Bryce’s unique scenery.

Trees in Bryce

After the hike I found a campsite on some free land just outside the park (I could literally see the boundary fence from my camp), cooked a very spicy pot of beans, and lit a fire. I had forgotten, and hope not to forget again, how wonderful a fire can be. It is the perfect object for meditation in the wilderness and I suspect that many of humanity’s best ideas came through the hypnotic dance of fire’s flames.


It was cold up at 8,000 feet and when I awoke the thermometer read 22 F inside. Brrr. I was up quick, enjoyed a free breakfast at the local Best Western, and was soon back below the rim, this time on the Fairyland Loop trail.


This trail made its way down, around, and through a smaller and younger version of the Bryce Amphitheater. It’s a little more off the beaten path and this, combined with my early start, meant that I hardly saw anyone as I headed into the canyon.

The trail into Fairyland

Fairyland, being a younger, less-developed canyon, had fewer amazing features of the kind found in the main amphitheater. Instead the draw of the trail was a very pleasant walk down ridges, around points, and through sparse pine forests. Of course, there were plenty of interesting features as well. My favorites were the Tower Bridge and something I thought might be the castle of Fairyland.

Tower Bridge and Castle Fairyland

This might sound crazy, but this trail (and the trails of yesterday, now that I think about it) were very “friendly”. I’m not sure exactly how to explain what that means other than I felt like every aspect of the scenery was open and welcoming. Bryce might be a small park that can be enjoyed quickly, but that doesn’t mean the enjoyment or appreciation is any less special than the other parks that dot this country. They are all testaments to the power of a place to lift up our spirits and leave us with a renewed connection to the wild of our heritage.


  • It seemed like 90% of the visitors to Bryce were foreign. Mostly French, German, and Russian if I had to guess from the languages I heard. Bryce is a great park, but it seems like a strange place for such a high concentration of Europeans.

  • As I was prepping to leave Bryce a nice old man came up to me and said he was taking a chance, but would I mind driving him to a different trailhead, where he had left his car. Apparently he had planned to do the Fairyland loop, but the last 2.5 miles back to his car were more than he cared to do. Of course I was happy to take him and we had a lively chat during the few-minute drive. He was actually heading to Las Vegas and when I recounted tales of the Stage Door’s hot dog deals his face lit up; he loves hot dogs! When we reached his car he insisted on compensating me, even though it was a short drive and he was good company. I protested a bit, but in the end left $20 and a new experience richer.


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