Stop #20: Bryce Canyon National Park
Another early morning wake up call and we packed up to head to Bryce which is about 2 hours from Zion. We wanted to get there early enough to get a campsite, which this year is first-come, first-serve because of construction at their second campsite. To get to Bryce from Zion, you have to drive through the Zion Mt Carmel Tunnel. This road that is the east entrance of Zion was built in the 1920s and includes windows through the 5000+ feet sandstone tunnel. If you want to drive some serious switchbacks, get on this road. (Also if you have a large RV, you have to get a special permit where rangers stop traffic both ways so the large RV can drive down the middle of the road. Guess those 1920s engineers didn’t realize we’d have monster cars by now.)
We made our way along this scenic drive, rounded a corner and just standing there along the road were 3 bighorn sheep! I slowed down and drove by real slow. How cool! Everyone in Zion said we would be lucky to see bighorn sheep since they are rather elusive but here were 3 just hanging out at the side of the road. Their horns were on the smaller side, so they were either females or young males. We stopped by Checkerboard Mesa for a quick photo and drove on.
Bryce is at higher elevation at 8000 to 9000 feet and sits on the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Thankfully that meant it was much cooler once we got to the campsite. We found a good spot and headed to the visitor center. We eventually made it to the lodge. I saw they had horseback rides and was able to convince my dad to come with me. My dad had never ridden before! They gave him a mule named Mouse and I was assigned a horse with my same name! Nice coincidence. There were only 4 of us plus the guide on our ride which made for a more personal ride. We rode from the stables and descended into the canyon. The first views of the canyon are eye-popping!
When I asked my dad what he thought about the horseback ride he said it was too slow! Ha, guess we’ll have to get a spirited stallion for the next trial ride. We headed back to camp for dinner.
The scenic drive in Bryce Canyon is 18 miles long and although they have a shuttle it really only goes to a few places near the entrance. I found out there was a free guided tour of sorts that drove you through the scenic drive. I signed us up and we were picked up by George the next morning. He was cracking dad jokes left and right but told us great information at each stop and even had us sniff a Ponderosa Pine at one stop. (It smells like vanilla or butterscotch!) A lot of the scenic stops were views of the hoodoos or other rock formations like arches.
It was a fun tour but it was actually a lot of sitting so afterwards my dad and I decided to drive to a short trail called Mossy Cave. The trailhead is only accessible by driving out of the park and back in along the eastern side. It was a very short hike but has great view of hoodoos and the Tropic Ditch. What’s that? It’s a long ditch that Mormon settlers dug to bring water to the town of Tropic. There’s a short waterfall also.
The park newsletter had a little advertisement saying if you did three hikes and brought back proof by the way of rubbings of the sign markers, then a small reward would be given. I didn’t think too much of it at first but when we were hiking I saw one of the markers. I made a rubbing for fun, maybe we could end up hiking two more by the end of the weekend.
One of the most popular hikes in Bryce is the Navajo Loop trail. It’s fairly short at a mile but goes down into and back up the canyon. We woke up early to do this hike and we saw the sun just coming up filtering through the clouds. An amazing view! The start of the trail brings you down fairly quickly to the canyon floor, passing by the most famous hoodoo in Bryce, Thor’s Hammer. At the bottom of the hike I found another marker, and made a rubbing of that. Now it seemed silly not to do another hike! But first, we should finish the one we’re on. The end of the hike brings you back up the canyon but through some high walled openings aptly named Wall Street. We spotted cliff swallows darting around and I saw one of their nests, high on a canyon wall.
We drove to the end of the scenic drive to do one more hike; I wanted to know what the award was! The Bristlecone Loop was also short, 1 mile. I figured if I was going to do three hikes and drag my dad with me, I should keep them easy for his bad knees and ankle. The Bristlecone loop is at the higher elevation in the park and it sure was windy up there!
Afterwards we headed back to the Visitor Center to get our prize. Turns out it was a sticker! That said “I hiked the hoodoos.” Now I just need to find room on my water bottle to put it on there.
After dinner we headed to the Lodge for the Ranger talk to the night, it was titled Things that go Bump in the Night. The ranger played us sound clips of the animal and the audience had to guess what animal it was. Did you know Ringtail Cats live in the canyon? The ranger also talked about mountain lions, owls, bats and rattlesnakes.