We are now in Bryce Canyon National Park and have been enjoying perfect weather. While other parts of Utah swelter in 90+ degrees, we get 80’s with very comfortable nights. Our 8000′ elevation is a great benefit. This is the first time we’ve been back since 1993, so it has been an experience of rediscovery. After the drive from Cedar City, we didn’t much feel like a long hike, so we took the scenic drive out to the Paria Viewpoint. There was a short 1 mile walk to a Bristlecone pine grove here, so we decided to stretch our legs a bit and walked out. The grove here was not extensive and the trees seemed much younger. It was a pleasant if uneventful walk.
The views here are amazing. Even with the controlled burns going on, we can still see 50 miles or more, with only a very slight haze to the air. All the hikes here require a steep descent/ascents into and out of the formations. Our next day here, we chose an afternoon 3-mile hike on the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Trails. This one turned out to be the least of the descents of the hikes we took, with only a 320 ft drop in, and a 520 ft climb out. But it is really the best way to experience the park. On the rim, tour buses disgorge their contents at the viewpoints, and you must jockey your position to get close to the edge. But in the canyon, only the fit enter and you find yourself in a world of fantastic formations. It is quiet and peaceful. The faint echos of people can still be heard coming from the rim, but only as a seeming afterthought. This trail flattened out at the bottom and we enjoyed a casual amble through forest and formation.
Day three in the park, we got a bit more ambitious and chose an 8.5 mile hike called the Fairyland loop. This one had a total elevation change of over 2500 feet. Thats the combined up and down over the entire hike. There were various ways we could start and finish, depending on where we wanted to start and finish. We chose to start with a 2.5 mile walk along the rim before descending into the canyons. We rose at 6:30 a.m. and were walking by 7:30 a.m. – just after sunrise. Along the rim the early morning light reflects off the canyon walls and causing a glowing effect on many of the formations. This is pretty unique to this place and was one reason we wanted to hike the rim portion first. Again we had a steep descent into the canyon, but once there, it was a lovely ramble through forest and formation. There were several portions which rose steeply before dropping again as we traveled from one canyon to the next. We had good shade and a pleasantly light breeze most of the way. Towards the end, we came to Tower Bridge – another formation. Here we lunched and rested and gathered ourselves for the 800 ft ascent. By this time, it was quite hot and at mid-day there was little shade. It was a struggle to get to the top, but we had the motivation of ice cream waiting for us at the general store, so our pace – while slow – was steady and true.
We needed a bit of a rest after the last two days of hiking, so we left the park for a day and pulled into Ruby’s RV park just outside the park. With the hook-ups and WiFi, we spent the day catching up on email and blogging – and rested our tired feet. We also began planning our next steps. Originally, we had planned to go to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. As we looked into the camping situation, we discovered the campground there to be reservation only. When we called to check availability, we discovered there was none until the second week of October – the last week the campground was open. We wanted to be there as the Aspen turned, and this time frame was probably too late. Another goal was to visit Antelope Canyon. This place is administered by the Indian Nation and has a strictly controlled entrance policy. There are tours available and reservations are required. I wanted to sign up for one of the photographic tours. These tours are 2.5 hours long – an hour longer than the standard tour. Unfortunately, none were open until October. We haven’t yet decided whether we want the hang around the area that long. We still plan to visit the South Rim later in September, but for now, Antelope is out.
Instead, we will be visiting the Grand Escalante Staircase, including Boulder Mountain and Capital Reef. We have missed the Aspen change on Boulder for many years. It is one of the most spectacular experiences to be had. the entire mountain is covered with aspens and the views across the surrounding landscape are amazing. When we first visited the area in 1980, only a dirt road crossed the mountain. Now it is paved and more visited, but still is amazing. So while we have had to readjust our plans, I think things will work out well.
After Ruby’s we decided to move back into the park for one last hike. This was the Peekaboo Loop – a 5.5 mile trek through the heart of Bryce Amphitheater. With a mere 1555 ft. total elevation change, a seeming “walk in the park”. It was a bit more difficult than we thought, but still simply spectacular. We left later in the afternoon to take advantage of afternoon breezes and more shade. Due to a cold front moving through Utah to the north, we had wonderful puffy clouds blowing across the sky and gave us the added bonus constantly changing light. Again, it descended steeply into the canyon, but with truly amazing views all around. This hike had more ups and downs than previous hikes, and proved challenging. But the lower afternoon light kept things interesting, making us stop often to photograph. Another difficult ascent and we were out. From the rim, we could see a hugh wildfire burning to the north. We didn’t notice a fire that big earlier, so it must have really been whipped up with the winds.