Porcupyn's Blog

July 11, 2008

Visit to Four of Southwest USA’s National Parks (Part Three of Many!) – Bryce Canyon

Filed under: Photography,Travel — Porcupyn @ 11:19 am

The Bryce visitor’s guide – we had failed to read the corresponding brochure for Zion (another mistake) – indicated that because all of the scenic overlooks were towards the left side of the road while driving into Bryce (and towards the right side in the other direction), the best bet would be to drive straight to the end and stop for the scenic overlooks on the way back.

We followed the advice of the visitor’s guide. We spent some time driving all the way down the 18-mile drive deep into Bryce, and stopped at almost all scenic overlooks (Ponderosa Canyon, Agua Canyon – which we purposely pronounced as Aqua Canyon, Natural Bridge, and Farview Point) on the return leg. While at the end, half of our party went for a small hike at the Rainbow Point, and we came upon the Bristlecone Loop trail, but did not go all the way around as we were not sure how long the trail was and how long it would take.

The overlooks that stand out in memory are the Natural Bridge and Farview Point. As the names indicate, the Natural Bridge is a formation where a bridge like structure was created as a result of natural effects – wind and water erosion – and the Farview Point provides a nice view far into the horizon.

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Farview Point, I believe

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A passing cloud accentuates Bryce contours

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Natural Bridge

We came back to the visitor’s centre and watched their very informative movie that cycles through every so often and provides a good overview of the national park. I had wanted to watch this movie as soon as we entered the park, but were unable to do so as we were unable to find parking (see my comments below). After the movie, kiddo and I were interested in “taking a hike,” so we talked with a ranger and learned that a) the Queens Garden Trail was doable given the time we had to spare, b) the Navajo Loop was a difficult one given our experience (or lack thereof) though still doable, c) the best place to view the sunset was from along the rim trail between Inspiration Point and Sunset Point, and d) because it was so far away from city lights, this was one of the best places in the country to view the night sky and today, there was going to be an astronomy presentation at 9 pm (followed by stargazing at 10 pm) at Bryce Lodge.

Fortunately for us, we were there on close to the longest day of the year and so, we had a lot of daylight going in our favour. Kiddo and I left the rest of the party near the trailhead, and descended into the canyon via the Queens Garden Trail. It was immediately apparent that our tennis shoes did not have sufficient traction on the slick surface. Fortunately, I did not go into a slide, but I had to pick up kiddo a couple of times when he slid and grazed his knees (in spite of the fact that I had a tight hold on him). We were not the only folks to get into trouble – an intrepid teenager in front of us, walking with open water bottle took a tumble, thereby emptying the contents of the bottle onto the ground!

Anyway, we battled on down, noting with each step that it would be one more step to climb back up. Personally, I prefer climbing up rather than hiking down, as you need to only walk down when you are tired. On the flip side, it is easier to balance oneself going up rather than down, so it might be argued that hiking up when tired is safer. All the same, we really did not have a choice!🙂

What was supposed to be an easy trail soon started to take a toll on kiddo; ultimately, the call of nature beat out its attraction.😉 Though kiddo laboured on manfully for a while, we finally had to turn back far short of the Queen’s Garden which was like a mirage to us. We did take a few nice photos along the trail, especially near two more of those “natural bridge” structures which were like doorways chiselled into a fortress.

Once we got back to the top, I had a coughing fit brought on, maybe, by the altitude or my lack of exercise. We also saw a few deer (we later realized that these may very well have been Pronghorn, but I did not take photos, so cannot say for sure what they were and I will stick to “deer” in this narrative as a catch-all term for all four legged animals that were not sheep, goat, squirrel, horse or cow-related species) grazing near the trailhead.

After a few minutes though, I wanted to go back down again and experiment with the Navajo Loop trail – alone. Though this was purported to be the more difficult trail, I enjoyed it more. The footing was firmer, for one, and so though the slope was steeper, it was more easy to negotiate as a result. As I did not have a lot of time on my hands (we needed to get back to the Rim Trail before sunset), I did a short hike down and back up, i.e., I did not go through the entire Loop. But it was sufficient for me to get close to one of the landmarks of the Canyon, Thor’s Hammer, a nice hammer shaped formation.

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Grottos at Bryce

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Quintessential Bryce

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A hiker way below provides a depth perspective along the Navajo Trail

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Thor's Hammer

From my understanding, erosion started from the top of the plateau down. However, at certain locations, the top is covered by an obdurate layer of different material. As a result, the spots which have a shallower layer of such material erode first. Therefore, the plateau converted into wall-like structures – there is a trail aptly named “Wall Street” (which we did not go on) – or then within the walls, certain … well, if you really want to know the geology behind the Park, check out the explanation on Page 5 of the guide linked above! It is certain to be much better than any I can give!

Once I got back from my little hike, we travelled back out to the main Park road (SR 63) and started going south towards the Inspiration Point. However, I missed the sign (to turn left) and drove a couple of miles further. On the way, we noticed that cars ahead were slowing down by a large meadow that stretched more towards our left than right. On peering at the meadows for a clue, we realized that were many deer at least 10 and maybe even 20, near the road on either side. So, I slowed down as well and drove that stretch very slowly, with hazards on to warn traffic in both directions (as did the other drivers).

On the way back, once we realized that I had overshot our turn, we noticed that the “deer” – as night neared – were venturing closer to the road for grazing, and many fawn were also frolicking very close to the roadside. This, unbeknown to us then, was an evil omen (more on that in the next post)! I drove carefully with the hazards on so that both the oncoming traffic, and those behind us, were aware of the road hazard. Fortunately, at least for the time we were around, no deer was hit.

After we got to Inspiration Point, we took some photos of the area in the setting sun, and then proceeded to Bryce Lodge. More in the next edition…

My Comments:

Unlike at Zion, shuttle buses are severely limited at Bryce Canyon. They run only up until 6 pm or so in the evening, and that also only up to the Bryce Point, I believe. In other words, the shuttle does not cover the entire park. I would really suggest that, at the very least, the authorities look into extending the hours of the shuttle service and, if possible, introduce service all the way to the inside of the park. That would tremendously help visitors and limit the amount of pollution, while saving a lot of fuel. I confess that I have no clue how the data will project out, and whether they will need to charge a fee for the shuttle or hike the park’s admission fees.

Also, at first sight, parking at the visitor’s centre appeared to be inadequate. Later in the evening, I realized that extra overflow parking exists behind the visitor’s centre, away from the main parking lot; in any case, however, a) I doubt it is well marked as I was unable to see signs referring to it when we first got there, and/or b) it was probably full as well (I don’t know whether it was or not).

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