Walking Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon National Park is a fairyland of colored spires that remind me of the sandcastles I made on the beach, only mine were never such vivid reds, pinks, and corals. The Bryce Canyon area was indeed a beach at one time, but now it lies at high altitude, 8000 - 9000 feet, in southern Utah.
Photo: Bryce from overlook.
Click on any of the photos to see an enlargement
Geology: The area under Bryce Canyon was sea floor 144 million years ago, and for 60 million years sediments were deposited on it. As the sea retreated, the area again was under water - only this time under a giant freshwater lake. The sediments washing into it from the surrounding highlands became the reddish-pink rocks of the Claron Formation which we see exposed at Bryce Canyon. About 10 million years ago, uplift began which raised the Colorado Plateau high above sea level. Bryce Canyon is not a canyon, it is an amphitheater worn into the edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau by the action of the Paria River's tributaries, wind and ice.
Lodging: We stayed just outside the park at Ruby's Inn. Now a Best Western hotel, Ruby's has been operating since 1919 - before Bryce Canyon became a National Monument. In addition to a large motel, it has a lodge, trailer park, restaurant, fast food cafe, grocery store, outdoor store, art gallery and most anything a traveler could need or want, including one-hour photo developing.
Trails That Leave You Breathless
If you are coming from the lowlands, you will notice the high elevation that leaves you breathing hard even when walking on level ground. The park is at 8000-9000 feet. From the drive along the rim you can access trails at several points. The scenery itself will leave you breathless.
Bristlecone Loop Trail. Rainbow Point is the furthest overlook on the scenic drive. From the parking area, the Bristlecone Loop Trail is a mostly-level 1 mile roundtrip through a forest of spruce and fir to the edge of the canyon where ancient bristlecone pines cling to the plateau. As I was about to turn 40, it seemed appropriate for me to pose with other ancient beings. From the overlooks you could see out over the plateaus of the Grand Staircase in addition to the wonders of Bryce Canyon.
Queen's Garden Trail: To get up-close and personal with the formations, you have to hike down into the canyon. Although the altitude was sapping my desire to go down (and therefore back up), we chose the Queen's Garden Trail from the Sunrise Point overlook. It is the least strenuous trail below the rim, 1.5 miles long descending 521 feet. Soon we were walking amidst the hoodoos - the wind-sculpted spires of sandstone.
Rather than go back up the way we went down, we connected with the Navajo Trail which takes off from Sunset Point overlook. While you can see the grandeur of the park from the overlooks, it is worth the exertion to hike down in amongst the formations. Walkers need to carry water as there is none below the rim, and temperatures can be very hot. What goes down must come up. We had to choose from the two legs of the Navajo Trail.
We chose Wall Street by the flip of a coin. The trail wove its way among the hoodoos and then began to climb in a narrow slot canyon. Walls of red rock loomed on either side - hence the name Wall Street. We switchbacked up the embankment, meeting a tour busload of German and Dutch tourists on their way down.
The top came soon enough and we again enjoyed the views from Sunset Point and walked the Rim Trail back to Sunrise Point.
There are other longer trails connecting throughout the park - the Peekaboo Loop Trail of 5.5 miles from Bryce Point also connects with the Navajo Trail and you can make a 6.6 mile loop. The Under-the-Rim Trail is 22 miles long from Bryce Point to Rainbow Point.
The Fairyland Loop is another good day hiking choice. Or, if you don't want to have any strenuous descent and ascent, stick with the Rim Trail which extends from the Fairyland overlook to the Bryce Point Overlook and all points in between - up to 11 miles roundtrip.
Bryce Canyon Trails from GORP