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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.