Bryce Canyon Resort may be the first hotel on our trip that I would specifically not recommend that we return to, or that you stay there. I am not generally a harsh critic (of hotels, or much of anything, really . . . I’m a look-on-the-bright-side, find-something-good-about-everything-and-everyone kind of gal), but we definitely saw better lodging options as we headed into Bryce Canyon. Ruby’s Inn is a resort a little closer to the Park. It is fairly commercial, has a lot of gift shops and art shops and a gas station, but also seems to have a lot of lodging options as well: hotel, motel, cabins. In addition, The Lodge at Bryce Canyon seems to be a great option inside the Park. Bryce Canyon Resort definitely seems to have some communication/marketing issues. We did fine overnight, but would stay elsewhere if we returned to the area.
The Resort has a restaurant, The Cowboy Bar, where we ate breakfast. One plus: another 11:00 am breakfast. We’re just not early risers and getting 5 people out the door from a hotel, especially when we need to be packed up to move on to another hotel at the end of the day, is not a small feat. Our breakfasts this morning: pancakes, omelets & a breakfast burrito. The OJ was fresh-squeezed and delicious.
We headed into Bryce Canyon National Park for day. Bryce is known for its red rock formations. The Park is long and thin, with the entrance east of I-15 and heading straight south from Utah Route 12. As we say in the running world, the Park is an out-and-back (as compared to Yellowstone, let’s say, which is essentially a loop, or maybe a figure 8 – 2 loops). There’s no exit at the south end. By the end of the day, we would see why.
Each National Park we’ve visited offers us a Summer 2011 newspaper for their park. They are typically about a 12-page ledger-size newspaper, offering safety tips, information about the park amenities, hiking trails and a map, wildlife (flora & fauna) photos and names, some history and basic description of the park, suggestions of activities while you visit, as well as any newsworthy items about the park this summer. Rather than “Bryce Canyon” as the newspaper title, today’s title was “The Hoodoo.” We quickly learned that “hoodoos” are the red rock peaks created by erosion.
Most canyons are created by water, typically rivers running and carving out a valley. Bryce’s canyons, mountains and valleys were created by the erosion of weather over millions of years (not to get into an old earth/young earth discussion . . . we’ve certainly heard plenty of reference to landscapes created over the course of millions of years on this trip). The hoodoos begin as solid rock walls. A depression in a wall erodes to become a “window.” The window them erodes to become two hoodoos, that is, a window without a top.
One wonderful thing about our family is that we are (most of the time) in sync about whether we’re on the move or taking it easy. Today was a taking it easy day, at least from the standpoint of getting on to activities. Or, perhaps, we were just a bit disorganized today. It seemed to take us quite a while to get the lay of the land, decide our order of events (hike, then driving tour), sunscreen up (really sunny day!), fill water bottles, pack them in a backpack, remember all the cameras, and head for the rim of the canyon. It seems that we went back to the car about three times before we actually had everything we needed. We started at Sunset Point, which offers a gorgeous view down into the canyons. About 10 minutes around the rim, we had one more return to the bathrooms (I won’t name who). The rest of us waited for this one to return, and then finally went to retrieve him after about 30 minutes. Finally . . . we headed down into the canyon on the Queen’s Garden Trail, which purported to be 0.8 miles.
I will not go so far as to express regret regarding our hike into the canyon, but I will say that the mileage may possibly be a little off. Or, we may be more out of shape than we thought we were. Zero point eight miles should work for this family. The trail was steep, with many switch-backs. We did get a skinned knee (mine) and a bit of whining (9 year old’s), but mostly, the boy lived up to his shirt and I survived the brief slide down the trail. Don’t do this trail in flip-flops; none of us did, and I would strongly advise against it.
There are steep drop-offs and somewhat narrow spots on the trail (2 feet across). One thing the kids have observed on this trip is how many locations there are with enormous danger (hundreds of feet to the canyon floor below) with nothing but one’s wise judgment between you and certain death. One park said it this way: “Your safety is your responsibility.” Living life in the suburbs with children, it is rare to have a dangerous situation without warning signs and guardrails and flashing lights. While it’s good to be aware when a risk is ahead, I like that the kids are being exposed to experiences this summer where they must assess the risk and make judgment calls themselves. There is not always someone or something preventing their risky behavior. We are there to (hopefully) prevent the most serious of errors. I commented yesterday that our most important goal for our summer travels is to bring back three children, each in one piece. And yet, each day, there have been opportunities for the kids to observe keenly, assess wisely, and choose carefully which way to go. And indeed, each of us are called in our lives to observe, assess and choose. We hope these opportunities are good practice for a life well-lived.
The plan (that I developed . . . I will take responsibility for this) was to take the Queen’s Garden Trail (0.8 mile out) from Sunrise Point to its end, and then take the south side of the Navajo Loop back up to Sunset Point. The trail was marked, but the sign references didn’t always match the map we had. When we arrived at what we now know was the Queen’s Garden (end-of-the-trail), we were shocked that we weren’t farther. We kept wondering when the trail would head back up the canyon. We consulted with a thoughtful, young French couple who had taken our picture inside an archway a little while before. After much discussion and consulting the two different maps we each had, we concurred that we were at the junction of the Queen’s Garden and the Navajo Loop Trails. With the Queen’s Garden being a 0.8 mile return to Sunrise Point and the Navajo Loop being a 1.4 hike to Sunset Point, and with a very tired 9 year old, we opted for the return trip. We got a very different view of the canyons for having hiked down into them. If you are traveling with friends and family able to hike down, you should definitely do it. Just be warned that it may be hot (bring water for sure) and dusty and the trail seems a lot longer than it is marked. Also, remember that you are at about 8,300 feet above sea level at this point, so exertion feels like more than you may be used to.
There is a General Store near Sunrise Point. We got sandwiches (and a slice of pizza and a couple soft pretzels) and ate out on the porch. Haley and I shared the sweetest box of blueberries you ever did taste. They were from California, but were delicious for our Utah lunch nonetheless. We were struck at Bryce with how many Europeans were there. Many families were speaking French, along with a few German and maybe an Austrian thrown in for good measure. Our 1st year French speaker especially enjoyed listening to his vocabulary words being used in real life.
Our late lunch and our hiking-exhausted children led to the rest of the day being a driving tour, which worked very well at Bryce. The entire park can be seen on the 18-mile scenic drive south toward the Rainbow Point parking area. A short walk takes you to the furthest point reachable without hiking down into the canyon, Yovimpa Point. Walking up paved path looks like you’re about to reach the end of the world. We stopped at most of the scenic overlooks and I got lots of pictures of wildflowers along the way, in addition to gorgeous shots of the canyons.
We returned to Bryce Canyon Lodge for dinner and had a terrific meal. Their specialty at the Lodge is sustainable food. This meal rivaled the one at the State Game Lodge in Custer State Park, South Dakota (near Mount Rushmore). Our waiter, Tim from Washington State, was entertaining and attentive. He quickly assessed that our family was up for a good laugh. He taught the kids some magic tricks and feats to amaze their friends. He also teamed up with Hal and me to work with the kids on manners. It is an interesting experience to spend 19 days with your children, eating three meals a day together, mostly at sit-down waiter-service restaurants. Many opportunities arise to talk about manners and common courtesy in communication. I am glad for the chance to sit with my children and talk about the day, but I am also grateful to have this concentrated time to teach and remind about the ways in which we respect those around us. The way we communicate lets others know whether they are important to us and whether they have value in our eyes. We hope to be teaching our children to value each human being and to give particular respect, with an attitude of gratitude, to those who are serving us.
Tim from Washington State has worked at other national parks (an interesting summer job, don’t you think?), but this is his first summer at Bryce. After I’d instructed one of the children (won’t mention who) several times to thank Tim for bringing food to the table, he stopped and told us a story. On his way out to Bryce this summer, he flew into Las Vegas and rented a car to drive to the Park. Being a college student on a budget, he had reserved a basic, 4-door sedan. At the car rental counter, he conversed casually with the woman at the counter, asking her how her day was and politely complimenting her on her work. Well, Tim walked away from that counter with the keys to a Chrysler Sebring convertible, all on account of the polite use of words. A good lesson for us all.
With only 55 miles to drive to our lodging outside Zion National Park, we were glad we’d planned to make that drive the same night as being at Bryce Canyon. We touched base with Zion Mountain Ranch by phone to ensure we could get our key after 11:00 pm, but then arrived just before 11:00. Gene was in the office and gave us a map, our key and directions across Route 9 to our Meadow View Cabin.
Before I finish Day 10, I must tell you about the sky. Have you ever been somewhere that is so dark and cloudless that you can see every star? We arrived on this kind of night. The stars are so clear that they appear to shimmer and actually twinkle. The milky way curves its glorious way across the sky in the distance. As you stare deep into the star-dotted darkness, you can feel the curve of the vastness above you. With nothing better to compare to, it reminds you of the last planetarium you went to with the 1st grade field trip. What a privilege to share this with the children and what a joy to live in a world that is so beautiful, even at night. For me, these sorts of nights are Madeleine L’Engle kinds of nights, the ones where the beauty reminds you of the science behind it all that hints at the Creator who made it all.