Following four days at Zion National Park, it became time to move onto Bryce Canyon. It is about an hour and a half away from Zion, and the journey begins with a scenic drive through the park. The drive was incredible with picturesque lookout points around every hairpin turn. It is tempting to stop at every one, but you would never make your way out of the park. The drive also goes through the Zion-Mt. Carmel tunnel, a 1920’s feat of engineering, and a cool little drive in the dark.
Before I got to Bryce Canyon, I started to see the landscape changing and I got a glimpse of the iconic red colored rocks for which the park is famous. My first sighting of hoodoos was at the aptly named Red Rock Canyon. As I drove past the huge roadside formations, I couldn’t believe there were places in the world like this that I had yet to discover. I was so excited to explore this new area of Utah.
Bryce is a small park and after a quick trip to the visitor’s center, I had my two days planned. It involved hiking, horses, and astronomy. My first stop was Sunset Point where I began a loop through the iconic Amphitheatre. The first lookout point is the most spectacular. Standing on the rim of Bryce Canyon’s Amphitheatre, I was on the edge of a chasm of red-orange rock and large hoodoos that continues for miles. At this point I could have gotten back into my car and gone home, but of course I didn’t because there was still exploring to do.
Most of the hikes take you down into the canyon where you can get up close and personal with the rocks and trees. As I descended into the pit, I quickly realized that at some point in this walk I would have to climb back out. I wasn’t wrong. Luckily, my hike up was through some interesting geology. The river had sliced a small winding path through the rock creating very tall pillars of closely set walls. Though hard on the lungs, it was easy on the eyes.
Bryce Canyon is known as a sanctuary of darkness. The area is one of very few places where you can have full visibility of the starry night sky. I was looking forward to taking part in one of the Ranger led astronomy activities. After dark, a group of adults gathered on the rim of the park to learn about the stars, our solar system, and galaxy. I must admit, I was transfixed by the sky. The constellations were so clear, and to my surprise you could perfectly see the arc of stars that makes up the center of the Milky Way. My inner science geek rejoiced. Since I am not skilled enough to photograph this incredible night sky, you will just have to visit Bryce Canyon and see for yourself (or Google Milky Way over Bryce Canyon for images).
The next day I joined a tour to ride through the canyon on the back of a horse. A horse named Vodka to be precise. I don’t want to play favorites, but he was pretty much the best horse in the corral. We took a guided loop through the canyon where I experienced the park from a different vantage point, one that came with a very sore bottom. It was a great experience, and I highly recommend any activity where you can interact with these amazing animals.
Following my ride, I packed up my tiny car and took the long drive back to Las Vegas, and boarded a red eye home. Thus ending my visit to the great state of Utah, and my first trip to a U.S. National Park. Two down, fifty-six to go.