A lot of folks have asked me what is there in a National Park?
While it is almost impossible to describe all the splendors of Yellowstone, Yosemite, Badlands, Grand Canyon, Death Valley or for that matter any National Park merely through words or pictures; I have usually found a way to exemplify all the marvelous sights across these parks in a few words or sentences. However, after our visit to Bryce National Park, I realized I would probably need more than just a few words to describe the grandeur at Bryce Canyon National Park.
The primary reason why millions are drawn each year towards Bryce is the abundant concentration of ‘Hoodos’ that exist all across the park. Hoodoos are tall skinny spires of rock that have variable thickness and protrude from the bottom of arid basins. The main reason for this peculiar shape is erosion due to frost and rain spanning over 35-40 million years and resulting in Hoodos that vary in height from a few feet to being as tall as a 10-story building!
The best view is from the Bryce amphitheater (Inspiration Point, Paria View and Bryce point) about 2 miles from the Visitor Center in the northern part of the Park. Looking down on these bright red Hoodos from these vantage points would leave even the most avid traveler transfixed by their grandeur. If you can ignore the crowds around you, and take a moment to soak in your surroundings, it is almost like being transported to a completely different world. The whimsically arranged patterns and shapes of these Hoodos makes one’s imagination run wild and that’s probably the reason why the more shapely ones have names like ‘Wall Street’, ‘Thor’s Hammer’, ‘Queen Victoria, ‘Chessmen’, ‘Tower Bridge’ and ‘The Poodle’!
The most convenient way to see the park is to travel all the way up to Rainbow & Yovimpa Points at the southern end of the park after having visited the Bryce amphitheater and then start travelling northwards to see the Black Birch Canyon, Ponderosa Canyon, Agua Canyon, Natural Bridge, Farview Point, Piracy Point and Swamp Canyon. Following this approach will ensure that all the lookout points will always be to your right and allow you to leave the road and park conveniently in order to enjoy every one of these spectacles.
While we were at Rainbow Point, I did the Bristlecone hike which is a 1-mile loop trail that gains almost no elevation and offers a relaxing tour of Blue spruce, Douglas firs and white firs before leaving the trees to get really close to the edge of the Canyon and see the cliffs and views across the Paunsaugunt Plateau and as far as the eyes can see. On the walk back I passed by some bristlecone pines that were up to 1,800 years old!
While most people who visit Bryce Canyon national Park only view hoodoos from the overlooks along the canyon rim; the most rewarding way to see them is by hiking the trails that descend into the canyon. If there was only one thing you could do at Bryce Canyon, it should be the Queens/Navajo Combination Loop Trail during sunset or sunrise. This 3 mile long trail is hands down the best way to see the hoodoos rise up from the canyon floor. Since it is a loop, it can be done clock wise or counter clock wise. We had chosen to do the counterclockwise loop which starts at Sunset point, connects with the Queen’s Garden Trail up to Sunrise Point and then returns back to Sunset Point along the Rim Trail.
Almost immediately after the start, the trail descends almost 520 feet to an area called Wall Street. This narrow canyon, named for its resemblance to the New York City street and its skyscrapers, is one of the many highlights along this route. Emerging from Wall Street, the trail swings to the left where it follows Bryce Creek for a short while. Just a little further down the trail, at the 0.7 mile marker, the trail comes to a junction with the Peek-a-boo Trail. We opted to just hike up the Queen’s Garden Trail and as we continued hiking we reached the formation known as Queen Victoria. This lightly colored rock formation bore a resemblance to the statue of Queen Victoria! From this point it was only about 0.8 miles to Sunrise Point with a gain of roughly 320 feet in elevation. The remainder of this amazing hike is no less spectacular than the start, winding through ever more sculptured spires and colorful pinnacles, passing through picture perfect tunnels, each turn in the trail bringing yet another fantastic view of Bryce Amphitheater. What probably made this one of the most memorable events of our entire trip was having some great friends for company.
It wasn’t long before we were are back on the rim at Sunrise Point, and even though I took the last few labored steps to climb out of the canyon, I found it equally hard to tear myself away from the magnificent landscape. From this overlook, it was a short 0.5 miles along the Rim Trail back to Sunset Point. Once back at Sunset Point I was able to catch a glimpse of the Bryce Amphitheater which had lit up like an inferno in the cool October sunset. Even though we kept changing our lenses and clicking away, no picture could do justice to what lay in front of us. Finally as the sun set behind the canyon walls, we got back into our cars and drove to Ruby’ Inn (about 1 mile outside the park gate) to end a very exhilarating day!