Our visit to southern Utah in late October/early November meant that weather was a bit of a factor in planning where to stay. We knew that we primarily wanted to see Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, but ultimately decided on a base camp in Zion and to do Bryce as a day trip. As temperatures would dip close to freezing at night but would still rise to the 60s or 70s F during the day in Zion, this seemed to be the much more pleasant option compared to the higher elevation of Bryce where temperatures were significantly lower. (We were glad that we did, too, as our batteries were not holding a charge well enough at the time to run the heat and made for some uncomfortable nights and mornings as it was.)
So one day during our stay, we took the hour and a half drive to Bryce Canyon. The majestic drive through Zion and the countryside of Utah was worth the trek in and of itself, and we saw some beautiful bighorn sheep along the way.
A day trip also worked well as there seems to be much more of a variety of things to do and sights to see in Zion, and we certainly felt like we got a good feel for Bryce in our day there. To get the fullest experience, we decided upon the most popular hike – dubbed the “world’s best three-mile hike” and otherwise known as the Queens Garden and Navajo Loop. The trail was to take us down amongst the “hoodoos”- the orange, totem pole-like limestone formations that comprise the canyon – and back up to the top for aerial views.
The temperatures were in the forties that day, but were not terribly uncomfortable as moving around had us shedding layers off and on. The number of visitors was healthy but the temperatures and off-season timing seemed to keep the big crowds away on this particular day.
We parked at Sunset parking area and decided to do the trail clockwise at the suggestion of a ranger who said that this way was more scenic. This meant that our trail started out with aerial views of Bryce Ampitheater, the canyon which contains the largest concentration of hoodoos in the world. Pictures barely do this scene justice as the densely populated, bright orange formations make you feel almost as if you are on another planet.
What makes this park even more special is that, according to the National Parks Service, the way the park currently looks is fleeting. Though the rock itself is estimated at as old as 60 million years, the erosion that created the hoodoos continues to erode them two to four feet per 100 years, and the park is expected to eventually turn into a water-filled canyon. In fact, since our visit, one of the most famous hoodoos – the Sentinel, has reportedly lost its top. So we are very fortunate that we are able to see it look so awesome now! The NPS also mentions that this is why it is important to stay on the trails, as the base of many of the hoodoos is made of clay and can erode them faster. (My public service announcement for the day!)
We then started down into the ampitheater where we were able to see the nuances and character of the hoodoos up close and really become absorbed in the atmosphere.
The trail had a little bit of loose rock, which made us slightly aware of our footing on some of the steeper inclines or as we passed other hikers, but it really wasn’t a big deal for us. Someone who isn’t too steady on their feet might struggle a bit though.
We came to a fork and went the direction of the Navajo Loop, which would eventually take us back to where we parked. Once we reached the bottom, the hoodoos towered above us, each one unique and gorgeous.
The most surreal part of the trail was the “Wall Street” section. A tall, orange slot canyon, it just seemed to engulf us and the several tall douglas firs that seemed fascinatingly out of place.
We then started the climb up the steep switchbacks that regained the 500-plus feet we had gently descended all at once and gave us amazing views along way.
Once our little workout was over, we again had high up views of the ampitheater and continued to take it all in as we followed the trail back to Sunset. Looking back on Bryce Canyon, it is truly beautiful and unlike anything else we’ve ever seen – even other places with hoodoos or spires. It really was one of the parks that had the most impact on me and had me again in awe of what nature can create.