Day 12: Bryce Canyon
Bryce Canyon National Park—Zion National Park, Utah
We woke up around 3:45 A.M. but it was cloudy; I honestly don't think we would have done anything had it been clear. We got a few more hours sleep and got up at 5 A.M. with the intent to see the sunrise at Sunrise Point. It was still pretty dark out by the time we arrived at the park and there were not too many people there, this changed quickly though. As dawn became brighter and brighter, more and more people started to arrive. Sunrise Point looks out into the Tropic valley and more importantly the point looks onto part of the canyon that is illuminated by the sunshine.
By sunrise, there were too many people jockeying for photographic positioning. After sunrise, around 6:45, we went to Ruby's Inn, a nice inn just outside the park, to get breakfast. We decided to do all the rim vistas first then take a trail down into the canyon. Bryce is not really, by definition, a canyon. It was not created by a river but by erosion.
Like Arches and Canyonlands, the Cretaceous Seaway played a role in the development of Bryce. Bryce is basically the side of a plateau, the Paunsaugunt Plateau. On this plateau side are the strange rock formations called Hoodoos, or pillars of rock. The word hoodoo means to cast a spell, because that is what these strange rock formations do to you as you gaze upon them. These hoodoos were exposed by erosion. The rock was created millions of years ago and water coming off the plateau has exposed the bedrock and shaped it into the formations seen today.
The southern end of the park was closed due to road construction - can you believe it? We saw Farview Point, Swamp Canyon, Paria View, Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point then back to Sunrise Point. Paria View looks south to the Pink Cliffs and all the other viewpoints after Paria look into Bryce Canyon. The top of the plateau is above 7,500 feet and the canyon drops to 6,000 feet.
We descended into the canyon at Sunrise Point on the Queen's Garden Trail, named for the castle-like rock formation along the trail. We picked up a connecting trail to the Navajo Loop Trail. Some of these trails were shared with horses so they smelled a bit and you had to watch your step. The Navajo Loop ascends up to the rim on Wall Street. These trails were quite extraordinary. At times we were standing right next to the base of these hoodoos that rose high into the sky, other times we were out in the sparsely shaded open areas away from the cliffs.
Once we were down away from the rim the trail fluctuated quite a bit in elevation. The trail was up, down, up, down, up, down, and around each corner was a new sight to see. The Wall Street Trail was like being in an M.C. Escher drawing; back and forth, back and forth, making our way up to the top of the rim between two vertical rock walls and spruce trees that reach for the sky. I think we should have gone down Wall Street instead, it was a real bitch to go up.
Once on top at Sunset Point, I was soaked. There was a water fountain nearby and because we had nearly finished our water that we brought and what was left was beyond luke warm, I hogged the fountain for a while filling our bottles, that Japanese family can wait dammit! We had just hiked all morning to the tune of about four or five miles and I felt I could get as much water as I wanted. Now it was only a short one mile walk back to the car at Sunrise Point along the Rim Trail.
It was about 1 P.M. and I was ready to get some lunch. We went back to the campground and took down the tent, did the laundry, and took showers (two showers in less than 24 hours?). Met another interesting woman, an RV camper who had traveled a lot and knew how to talk a lot. She was from Texas, I think, and Andy went to take his shower while I watched the laundry. We talked the entire time and when Andy came back he got sucked into the conversation. By the time I came back from the showers, they were still talking and it had been as if I'd never left. Once our laundry was done and everything was packed up, it was about 5 P.M.
We left for Zion National Park which is not too far. We had to retrace our route on US 89 south until Mt. Carmel Junction where we turned west on UT 9. Less than 90 miles and we were in Zion. This park is on a level below Bryce. Below the Pink Cliffs of Bryce is the Upper Kolob Plateau and Zion is located below this plateau in the Gray Cliffs and the White Cliffs. Below the White Cliffs are the Vermilion Cliffs then the Chocolate Cliffs. The series of geologic levels from the Chocolate Cliffs up to the Pink Cliffs is called the Grand Staircase. Beyond this Grand Staircase is the Grand Canyon, but it is raised on its own plateau above the Chocolate Cliffs. There'll be a quiz later.
Zion means a place regarded as devoted to god or a sacred city. The Mormon settlers named the area this in 1858 and many of the landmarks in the park were also named by the Mormons. The area that is now Zion National Park was once the floor of a shallow sea, the delta of a great river, and the bottom of a lake. Volcanoes erupted and left ash and sand which once covered this land, forming the sandstone present today. When the Colorado Plateau was pushed up, the rivers draining off it began forming canyons. The Virgin River in Zion is an example of this, eroding away the layers creating Zion Canyon, and depositing the debris into the Colorado River.
As we drove into the park it was nearing sunset and the colors on the huge stone mountains were incredible. The park road, UT 9, is very old and narrow and takes you through a geologic transformation. It first winds past huge white and pastel orange sliprock and petrified sand dunes carved by erosion on the eastern side of the park. Then you go through a mile long tunnel with large bay window-type openings overlooking Zion Canyon but you are traveling too fast to look out them and there is no stopping in the tunnel. Once out of the tunnel, you are in Zion Canyon and the road descends into the canyon. It's like being surrounded by these huge red and white stone mountains. The road winds its way into the canyon then continues westward. We got a space in the Watchman Campground. Our camp site had a nice view of The Watchman (a mountain) but it was full of people and kids. We scrounged in the car for dinner, played a little trivial pursuit, and were in bed by 10:30 P.M.