I’ll just say it: Bryce Canyon is the most amazing landscape I’ve ever seen. Antelope Canyon and the Grand Canyon in neighbouring Arizona present considerable competition, but Bryce’s hoodoos – the knobbly, Nik-Nak-like rock pillars for which it is famous – are unlike anything else. And then there’s the canyon’s confounding juxtaposition of scorched desert rocks and snow-dusted pine forests… put simply, it’s a sight that has to be seen to be believed.
The drive from Page to Bryce was spectacular, dressed with landscape as varied as it was beautiful. As we progressed north-west, the dramatic mountainous landscapes surrounding the road became greener – the lumpy yellow mountains gaining patchy blankets of bushy dark green trees. From around half-way it felt like we were entering the ‘Wild West’ as quaint wood-panelled houses, cattle ranches and horse-mounted cowboys passed us by.
Drawing closer to Bryce, patches of snow began to appear on the pine-covered hills. We stopped the car twice to take photographs: once at a rock archway against a pink sky, and again at a wall of knobbly orange rock that we later learnt was Red Canyon. Moments after we got out of the car here, a bus pulled up next to us and tourists flooded out. They seemed just as interested in our hired Mustang as they were in the scenery, and many began taking photos of it! A man complimented Steve on the car and asked what model it was, at which point Steve had to admit he didn’t know because it wasn’t his…
Eventually we reached Bryce Canyon City, which would be better described as a few facilities – a post office, a general store, a few restaurants, and activities such as horse riding – arranged around one large, log-cabin-like hotel called Ruby’s Inn. Fortunately, this was where we’d be staying. We checked in at a desk within a grand, wood-panelled lobby, accessorised with leather sofas, wall-mounted stuffed animals and a large stone fireplace. Definitely one of my favourite hotel lobbies.
Our room was in a separate building called Antelope Lodge, located just behind the main building. By the time we’d settled in there wasn’t much time until the ‘Cowboy’s Buffet & Steak Room’ restaurant closed, so we rushed to join the queue back in the lobby. We chose the a la carte option, and thought the food and drink were good but overpriced. I had meltingly juicy ribs smothered with a gorgeous thick BBQ sauce and served with crispy fries, while Steve had coconut shrimp served with cheesy, extra creamy mash potato. Both came with perfectly steamed vegetables. The drinks menu introduced us to Utah’s stern attitude towards alcohol, in that the locally-made beer and wine we ordered were both expensive and served in small glasses.
The next morning, we avoided the expense of the restaurant by buying breakfast (pastries) and lunch (sandwiches and energy-boosting snacks) at Ruby’s General Store. Before venturing into Bryce Canyon National Park we explored the so-called ‘Bryce Old Town’ directly opposite Ruby’s Inn. It was no more than a row of Wild West-themed shops, all of which were shut since it was low season. But it provided some fun photo opportunities!
Minds = blown
We began by asking staff at the visitor centre for their recommendation of the best short walk in the park. The attendant very helpfully marked out a route on my map, combining the Queen’s Garden and Navajo Loop trails, and we drove to the start point of the Sunset Point car park. We parked up, walked a few steps, and the moment I reached the rim of Bryce Canyon my mind was blown. At my feet lay a landscape like nothing I’d seen before. The wide canyon below was filled with rows upon rows of narrow, irregularly shaped spires of crumbly orange rock – hoodoos – appearing to defy the laws of both geology and gravity. There were hundreds of them, some with trees incomprehensibly clinging to their precipitous edges. Meanwhile, the canyon’s flatter areas were blanketed in bushy, dark-green pine trees and thick white snow, creating a surreal juxtaposition between a typical alpine landscape and an extraordinary desert one. We couldn’t wait to get down there among the hoodoos.
Beginning near the Sunset Point viewpoint, we walked along the canyon’s rim in a state of constant awe to another lookout called Sunrise Point. Here, a small path off to the side took us down into the canyon. It was a laid-back walk, much easier than that we’d done at the Grand Canyon due in part to Bryce’s relative smallness and shallowness. The paths were smoother and less steep, and it took us no more than an hour to reach the bottom even with frequent stops for photos. But the landscape was so much more unusual that, to me, Bryce Canyon was the more spectacular of the two.
Among the hoodoos
The leisurely walk allowed us to devote our attention entirely to admiring the varied landforms rising up around us. These included not only the spire-like hoodoos but also the similarly unusual arches, ridges, and just about every shape you could imagine: we saw one hoodoo shaped like a fist and another shaped like a needle.
The winding path took us through this maze of shapes, across narrow ridges and through archways cut out of the rock for our passage. Every turn revealed new astounding sights. Eventually we reached the sandy canyon floor, holding an alpine forest and the narrow, almost dry Virgin River. We sat on a sunny log to eat our sandwiches and watched a tiny chipmunk repeatedly begin to approach us then turn tail, appearing in a different place each time.
The ascent back up was also quite relaxed until we reached the final section of switchbacks, where our exertion was rewarded with increasingly aerial views of the incredible place we’d just traversed. Reaching Sunset Point, we returned to the car and drove to three other viewpoints to compare the alternative angles they offered. Bryce Point offered a 360-degree panorama and a view of the stunning ‘Wall of Windows’.
Once we were satisfied we’d seen enough of Bryce Canyon in the time we had, we started the drive to the final National Park of our trip: Zion.
All text and images (c) Juliet Langton, 2016. All rights reserved.