Eons ago in another time, there were these huge mountains of rock suffering from erosion. The rocks withered away until they turned into huge pillars which are called “ hoodoos”. The name itself is fascinating, invoking mystery, perhaps magic and may have ties to older African American religions. That could be the subject of another avenue of interesting research. In any case, Bryce Canyon National Park has the largest collection of hoodoos in the world. Did I say the largest collection in the world?
There is a desire in most people to see the thunder and parade of nature revealed. I am no different. Bryce Canyon was said to be one of those places where nature takes away one’s breath. This was my second trip to Utah and I was still not acquainted with Bryce. My last trip, the rains had fallen and the canyons were closed to hikers. I had missed my chance and the itch needed scratching for one full year. On this, my second attempt I had resolved to fit Bryce Canyon into the backpack of my memories. Little did I know that I would need a steamer’s truck to hold all the astounding sights.
Accommodations near Bryce Canyon are expensive and I wanted to explore slowly. It is possible to find reasonable cost accommodations in Cedar City if you are prepared to drive the 1.5 hours each way, daily, to hike the park. The drive is through some spectacular scenery and it became a nice ritual. Not exhausting at all, during my week.
A few different hikes were accomplished first to try and find my body’s performance level. I had read that the canyon’s hikes tested the metal of the hiker. I am also at the age where the mind seems to be much more willing than the body. The coaxing necessary to make the legs and knees perform at increased altitude is no longer quite as easy. One needs to plan to arrive at the park before the tour buses. I was in the parking lot by 9:30am and still had to search for a parking spot. This was October and the vehicles were a testimonial to the popularity of Bryce. There is a large, packed information building, staffed by rangers who show hikes on huge 3-D platforms. Obviously, I surely was not alone having this on my wish list.
A shuttle bus takes people to the rim of the canyon and I must say I was simply blown apart by the unexpected vista. All of the photos online were just that, “ attempts to show majesty”. One has to only stand at the rim of the canyon and your breathing stops. The canyon rim stands 8,000-9,000 feet in altitude and the canyon itself dips down into the earth another 800 feet. It’s a landscape that stretches and stretches and unfolds in front of the eyes. The preponderance of iron in the rock casts a reddish aura over a scenic view that seems to come out of a science fiction movie. A lunar landscape. All I could do was plop down on a bench and drink in the view. Water never tasted so good.
There seems to be a variety of hikes available and to suggest to anyone that one is better than another, is a matter of personal preference. To me, the objective was to soak up as much of the canyon as possible, so time was not a major influence. Past experience has told me to expect my knees to protest at 8,000 feet when climbing and scream for a little more oxygen. When one climbs in the mountains the trails are often switchbacking. One tests to walk much more distance than visually suggested. Distance covered is generally accompanied with many up and down changes. Bryce Canyon has a lovely assortment of switchbacks.
The day was sunny, with a light breeze and the October sun was hot but still overpowering. These hikes would be brutal in mid-summer when the temperature soars into the mid and higher 30s. The hike started at Sunset Point and immediately started the gradual decline to the canyon floor. Going downhill is always a joy as altitude decreases and the pace is simply easy. All the paths are well groomed and well packed by the countless number of hiking shoes. As you descend into the bowels of the canyon the hoodoos seem to change their appearance. You look at them rather than down at them. My reaction to their presence was that of the soldier, standing at attention, guarding the area for the Scenic Hiker Gods.
I met up with and followed the Navajo Loop which meandered from spectacular vista to spectacular vista. There are plenty of benches along the paths for those who find their energy waning. I prefer the more eloquent version of reality. “ I stopped every so often, sat on a bench, to enjoy the views “. Sounds so much better than saying ” I was tired silly “.
However, the truth is that this is a hike that made me wish I had hiking poles ( a problem I later rectified). I was surprised by the diversity of the canyon floor and I could see the dried up river beds, where the spring flash floods create rocky paths. This is not a place to come to see a lot of trees. This is a monochromatic experience with earth tones providing visual entertainment.
When I reflect back on the hike, I forget the shortage of air in my lungs, my beating heart and the screaming knees. But, what I remember is a sense of awe at the power of nature. What is beautiful about Byrce Canyon is that it is an ongoing experience. It changes daily as the erosion does its work. This is one of those canyons where you find your soul as a hiker.
The WALL is saved for the end of the hike. The Wall is a steep climb to the rim of the canyon between, narrow, towering walls of rock. You walk into the rock face and when you emerge you see a series of switchbacks. These switchbacks extend to the rim some 800 feet into the sky. The oxymoron is that when you make it to the rim, you are at Sunrise Point.
The hike was a bucket list dream. Bryce Canyon Hoodoos…we are not finished!