I know I’ve said it before, but the first full day of our roadtrip (as in, first day we woke up in the van) was absolutely one of my favorites.
After spending the morning in Zion National Park, we drove barely more than an hour northeast to visit the equally incredible Bryce Canyon National Park. This post might be a bit photo-heavy, because I don’t know if I can quite do it justice with words. You might want to stop for a cup of tea halfway through.
Despite being relatively close to Zion, Bryce Canyon receives fewer than half as many visitors per year. Dear everybody: you don’t know what you’re missing!
The main features of the park are those craggy orange pinnacles. Or, if you’re being technical, hoodoos. The hoodoos have been weathered into shape by frost and water over thousands of years.
That big open basin you see above is called Bryce Amphitheater. Aside from being the most visually interesting spectacle in the park, the hoodoos in Bryce Amphitheater had specific meaning to the Paiute tribe who once inhabited the area. Their legends said that the hoodoos were people who had been turned into stone by Coyote, a notorious trickster in Native American mythology.
The area was settled by a small group of Mormon pioneers in the 1850s and one of them, Ebenezer Bryce, built his home right below the main amphitheater. Despite the fact that it’s not actually a canyon, it came to be called “Bryce Canyon” by the other locals. Ebenezer Bryce was a cattle farmer and apparently said that the jagged, winding hoodoos and amphitheaters were a “helluva place to lose a cow.”
The natural amphitheaters are also filled with firs, spruces, and Ponderosa pines, which provide that amazing contrast between the deep green and bright orange.
Gigantic puffy snowclouds rolled in and out, throwing dramatic light and shadows over the rocks and trees.
Visiting all these national parks towards the end of autumn was far and away a great plan. There were so few people around that many times, we felt like we had the views all to ourselves. There was no waiting for parking spaces, jostling through crowds, or trying to crop strangers out of our photos.
However, we did miss out on some of the activities that go on in the summer tourist season. Apparently, rangers give cliffside nature presentations when it’s warmer out!
Not a bad classroom view, eh?
There are a few species of plants in Bryce Canyon that don’t exist anywhere in the world outside of southwest Utah. Bill Nye would have a field day!
You begin at Sunrise Point and can continue along to Sunset, Inspiration, and Bryce Points, slowly gaining elevation with each stop.
The wind got colder, but the views kept getting more and more stunning, so we made a quick (haha, it was not quick at all) stop in one of the parking areas to make tea and coffee on our little propane camp stove. It took me twenty minutes and about the same number of matches, but I am proud to report that after that embarrassing learning experience I was much improved and am now master of portable camp stoves everywhere.
Just look at this landscape. Is this real life?!
Those cartoon clouds finally opened up and starting sprinkling snow flurries on us, so we decided to drive all the way to the highest point of the park and then make our way back down, to see as much as we could before the weather stopped us.
(Nabbed this one from Amity)
Up at Rainbow Point, it was looking like this:
On the way back down, we stopped for the view of the Natural Bridge and made friends with a gigantic raven, who gave us all the news from the Tower of London.
The light. The light!
The snow really started to come down then and we figured we were better off getting out of the park and onto bigger roads, so we headed for the exit and left my favorite park (have you figured out that I’m going to say that every time?) behind.
Driving out through the snowy twilight reminded me of driving through Cairngorms National Park in Scotland just before the sun rose. Total Polar Express environment.
You made it! Sorry about all the pictures. But I’m not actually sorry. Are you?
The Details: $25 entry fee per vehicle | Open year-round with occasional closure due to weather or bears (!) | Website HERE