Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Bryce Canyon Family Road Trip

Over the Independence Day weekend, Jenny, Vienna, and I took a 14 hour drive to Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park. Once we completed our initial southwestern sweep toward Barstow, pitching north toward Las Vegas, onward to Utah, I was inspired to recite from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas ("Every now and then when your life gets complicated and the weasels start closing in..."). How I love desert driving! We arrived in early afternoon under a tranquil blue sky, which meant we had enough time to start our tour with the Navajo/Peekaboo hiking trail. Even as the sun began to set behind the cliffs, we couldn't wait to explore some of Bryce's grand amphitheater. And when we were forced to fight off a swarm of gnats, Vienna borrowed from Hunter S. Thompson's drug-fueled heat-stroke odyssey to forge the perfect response: "We can't stop here - this is gnat country!"

Bryce Canyon is one of those places where the photos barely do any justice to the beauty of the scene. The hoodoos - those towering protrusions for which Bryce is so famous - can't be appreciated in two dimensions. Still, we shot picture after picture (Vienna trying out an old SLR film camera, and producing some lovely images). Afterward we joined the crowds for stargazing under a moonless evening. Just our luck, we arrived in time for the 11th Annual Bryce Canyon Astronomy Festival, which attracts night sky aficionados who offer free telescope tours of Saturn's rings, the M13 cluster, and other celestial objects we could never see under the glare of city lights. Even from our cabin, though, we could also enjoy staring at the Milky Way overhead and feel a million miles from home.

The next morning we plotted out a day of hiking and relaxation, starting at Mossy Cave Trail. Now, I know that this shot (above) looks Photoshopped, but we've got the scrapes and bruises to prove that we made our way behind the waterfall near the cave, all to satisfy our Wood Family sense of adventure, such as it is. After much discussion to chart a relatively safe route from the trail to the fall, we opted to simply scramble down the stony side of the gorge - Rock Surfing, to borrow Jenny's phrase - knowing that we'd have to thread our way along the stream back to an accessible pathway to the trail. The torrents of water froze our feet, but taking a dip in the pool formed by those raging falls offered a welcome respite from the summer heat.

By late morning we decided to drive east along Highway 12 to Kodachrome Basin State Park, where we hiked to Shakespeare Arch and grooved on cool breezes near the green vista nearby. Later, after lounging a couple hours at a KOA pool to escape the broiling heat, we returned to Bryce Canyon, this time to see the orientation film at the visitor center and plan our next adventure for the day. Well, Jenny and Vienna decided to take a quick nap during the film, but we somehow managed to agree on our next hike: Bristlecone Pine Trail [Bryce regulars can surely tell that the Wood Family, no matter how adventuresome we imagine ourselves to be, rarely opts for "strenuous" hikes].

Bristlecone is located 17 miles from the visitor center, climbing over a thousand feet above the canyon floor. We chatted noisily at first but eventually grew more silent, enjoying the sound of our clomping feet while we ambled among spruce and fir trees. From time to time we'd peer over the red panorama of hoodoos that line up like a fortress of stone, occasionally stepping close enough to imagine how easily a gust of wind could flick us into the abyss. After our hike we took a dreamy spiral back down the road, stopping at a viewpoint when our pamphlet's description attracted us to pull over. At one such stop, we met two crows who preened and posed for a growing crowd of shutterbugs. We giggled at the sight (especially seeing one person photographing the birds with an iPad) but we had to join the fun.

We spent some of our second afternoon and the following morning at the park surveying that incredible vista of hoodoos from Bryce Point. Waving off those pesky gnats, we gathered for family photos and surveyed the panorama some more, knowing that we had a long drive ahead to get back home. Already we're planning for a return to Bryce Canyon, ideally sometime in fall or spring. At this altitude, the ice and snow hangs on for months, surely affording some gorgeous photo opportunities. In the meantime, we had our evening stay in Las Vegas to anticipate. So we set off from Utah, barreling north toward one of Sin City's gaudy simulacrums. And once more I found myself reciting those lines from Fear and Loathing: "Every now and then...").

Check out more photos at my Facebook album!

(Photographs by Andy, Jenny, and Vienna Wood)

1 comment:

Jimio said...

Absolutely amazing photos. Mother Nature sure has some incredible displays.