Days 18-20 - Bryce Canyon National Park
(Warning - lots of pictures!!)
Brrrr....whoever thought that before September was over, we would be down to 24 degrees at night, and about 35-40 during the windy days? But the magic and beauty of Bryce Canyon more than made up for it. We are really glad we're in an RV with heat though, and not a tent (or a tepee--Ruby's Campground has those too) lots of layers...actually LOTS of clothes!
Backtracking a bit, we drove from Capital Reef in Torrey on a road that is legendary—State Route 12, aka The Million Dollar road. (Five miles was completed in 1935 at the cost of $1 million.) One scenic lookout after another that brought us through the one horse towns of Hole in the Rock, Hogs Back, Calf's Creek, and Boulder (the Utah one, also a mountain) was scenery- changing at each stop. From green mountains to white, to seeing the beautiful aspens' brilliant fall color, and traveling through major portions of the canyons of the Grand Escalante. Even the cows got into the act--the "open-range" signs at many areas was an open invitation that several took advantage of. Did you ever have to wait for bison in Yellowstone?
After a couple of hours, the scenery changed once again to the now familiar striated cliffs, then glimpses of hoodoos, and our arrival at Bryce.
Bryce is the smallest of the national parks in Utah, about 18 miles long, 5 wide, and only 37000 acres. The aforementioned temperatures are near the normal range considering the parks elevation ranges from 6600 (at the bottom) to more than 9100 at Rainbow point, the southernmost tip of the park.
We finished our afternoon by taking the shuttle to the visitor's center to watch a very old, and in poor condition movie, and for Wendy to add one more park token to her collection. We took a small hike between Sunset and Sunrise points--part of the rim trail--to get our first glimpses of the hoodoos. Looking at these formations, it is easy to find images of almost anything--gothic castles, different animals, or even vast armies of a lost empire. (Think the Terra-cotta warriors in China).
Next day, we hiked the two most popular trails in the park--the Navaho loop (descends almost 500 feet into the canyon, and then the Queen's Garden that ascends that same 500 feet, but in a little more spread out hike that took about three hours. Still, a nice challenge. (Change that adjective to "hard"!)
We finished the day by driving— after shuttles were finished for the day — to Bryce Lodge for a lovely dinner. It is one if the few lodges that is still the original--never burnt down like the ones at Zion and Yellowstone. (We stayed there about 22 years ago on our first trip to Bryce with our then, teenage boys.) Went to a short ranger talk about nocturnal birds, and did a few minutes of wonderful stargazing, before getting in our heated RV.
The next day, we took a 3 ½ hour free narrated bus tour to the farthest sections of the park. The regular shuttle does not go there, and although you can easily drive, they have strict rules about RV's over 20 feet. This way was much better anyway.
We learned much about the different kinds of pines, about "controlled burns" to get rid of the undergrowth and the weaker trees, and saw at least 10 hoodoos that our outstanding guide "Spike", age 77, has found over his many years of doing this tour. Can you find: a dromedary camel (one humped, no feet), a rabbit (one ear up), a beautiful natural arch (easy).
The oldest tree in this park is the Bristlecone Pine, found only in the extremely high elevations. The oldest at Bryce are 1400 or so years old, but some have been found in other areas that they DNA tested at 4000 years! We also loved the various old wood, mostly used at the edges of paths that had several different textures.
Our last full day started out with breakfast at a restaurant that is part of the Ruby's Inn/Campground City. Two hotels, one very large Campground, two general stores, and lots of little side stores make up this area. Of course, they have their own shuttle stop (actually two) as well.
Our last hike wasn't too difficult- about 2 miles or so on the Rim Trail, but from different areas than before. Our camera shutters were extremely busy in this park--there's always a new view or a better one ten to twenty feet ahead. Ended up at "Inspiration Point for some fantastic overviews of the Bryce Amphitheater, and the distant mountains (clearer today than before because of the cold).
We already filled our propane tank once, using heat 24 hours uses it up much faster than just cooking on the stove. Tomorrow is our last day before getting back to Las Vegas (and warmth!!) We plan on stopping at Valley of Fire, a state park a little west of Las Vegas, and maybe taking a couple of side tours in the area as well.
Bryce is a truly magical place!