Bryce National Park

The hoodoos and fins of Bryce Canyon


When I visited Bryce as a kid, it was during the early spring, and it ended up being snowed out. There wasn’t much to see. This time, it was rained out – both days I was there it was raining sporadically, but at least I could see something. More than any other park, it was different than I remembered. I’d pictured a small, deep canyon with lots of hoodoos. And between the hoodoos (which are the tall stone towers), the sort of slot canyons you’d see elsewhere.

But Bryce is not like that at all. To start with, Bryce Canyon is not a canyon, but rather the edge of a plateau. Second, the rock is very crumbly, and between the hoodoos is quite a bit of fine sand, small shrubs, and so forth.

Rain much?

Like Zion, the park was feeling the ill-effects of too much rain. In this case, a few trails were shut down due to rockslides and hazardous conditions. The trails that were open and not puddled, had sand which congealed together to become a rubbery and bouncy. It was a lot of fun to hike on, actually. The parts that were puddles had a rainbow of sand: orange & red, of course, but also white, purple and pink – quite vibrant when wet, like an oil spill.

I began by hiking the ‘Fairyland Loop,’ an 8 mile trail with some really spectacular views. Although this trail is part of Bryce Canyon, it’s technically a geologically separate section of the park. As with the Grand Canyon, you go downhill first and then have to climb back out. With the weather fluctuating as it was, the sun appeared sporadically and lit up some of the landscape features, then disappeared. By the time I’d reached the rim again, it was mostly gone.

Tree near the canyon rim

After this hike I headed back to my campsite, was driven out by someone running a generator (which is really obnoxious, like camping next to a lawnmower), and went to do some reading near the rim. But the rain was really pouring, so after pulling into the parking lot I watched people running around trying to get to their cars, which if anything was even more fun than hiking.

Among the hoodoos along the Queen’s Garden trail

Nonetheless, after the showers passed I went for another hike, this time a 6 mile loop including several trails: Queen’s Garden and Peek-A-Boo; I’d wanted to incorporate Navajo, but unfortunately it was closed. The dark black clouds on the horizon and the relative quiet in the canyon made for a unique experience. The Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loops are advertised as the ‘best 3 mile hike in the world,’ in the park newsletter, and for once I think it might not be an exaggeration. It really is a spectacular trail, as you wind, twist and turn between different hoodoos. The settler Bryce, after which the canyon is named, remarked that it would be a ‘hell of a place to lose cattle,’ and that’s for sure. With tons of weird rocks and twisted trees, it felt like walking in one of Gaudi’s buildings. My only regret is that by this point I was racing against rainclouds and approaching night.

The Under the Rim trail headed away from the main canyon

That night it rained again, and the following day I woke up early to do what I hoped would be a long-distance hike. The weather threatened the whole hike, of which I only ended up doing about 10 miles. This was along the backcountry ‘Under the Rim’ trail, which I discovered hikes away from the main canyon. It was nice enough, but a far cry from the splendor of the hoodoos.

The hat shop, different from the rest of the canyon

There was one section with perhaps the most bizarre geological sight I’ve seen on the trip. This was the ‘Hat Shop,’ which was a sort of mockery of the rest of the canyon. Basically boulders had been sitting on a ridge, which eroded. Because of the nature of the rock and sand underneath, the boulders provided shelter from rain and remained stranded on these pinnacles. I don’t think they’re technically hoodoos, but either way, seeing dozens of these standing next to the trail, which remained on the ridge, was pretty funny.

When it’s not raining, the clouds in Utah can be quite striking

Although I love visiting these parks – the Utah parks in particular are spectacular – the fact is that there’s not a whole lot to do in them. You can hike, sometimes raft or kayak, and visit the visitor center and gift shop. However, there’s not a whole lot of hiking trails, if you move at a decent rate. I exhausted the bulk of the non-closed trails in two days, covering all the major trails in really the first day – a day that was filled with rain. If you just want to relax and camp out for a while, of course, you can easily do that. But that in itself can be a challenge when you’re alone: reading is really one of the only options.

Each night I was at Bryce, the campground completely filled up; there were cars eagerly circling during the whole afternoon, looking for an open site. Leaving early the next day I headed for Capitol Reef, which I hoped would be quieter.

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