Bryce Canyon has lingered as a treasured still-shot in my memory for some thirty years. One of those “perfect moments” from childhood that somehow attaches itself to your life and becomes a trailing accessory to it… So as we pried ourselves from our beloved Zion National Park and drove eastward on Highway 12 a few years ago, I quietly wondered how my mental snapshot, and our next destination, had fared over all these years. The heavy smoke that billowing just beyond the park entrance was unexpected. Usually, you just get a park map and friendly smile upon arrival. Not a forest fire…
But, it turned out to be a “controlled burn,” unheard of in our generally saturated Ohio but a practical necessity out in the parched western US. My kids could comment more on the details of flames and flying ash. I was fairly focused on keeping to the road amidst the fog of smoke and fire fighters.
Bryce is a eerie odd sort of place, and there was no gradual habituation to its wonder.
Water is the predominant force behind the forests of rock spires and quirky formations. Freezing, thawing and persistent rainrops have created this wonderland for the imagination -and will one day be its end, as recently illustrated by the collapse of “Wall Arch” in nearby Arches National Park. The towering pillars, “hoodoos,” are whims of erosion, captivating works of art as unique as individual snowflakes. Many have names: Thor’s Hammer, Sinking Ship, The Hunter. Others stand as in a many-acred art gallery, anonymous statues fashioned from Claron limestones, mudstones and sandstones.
Yes, the imagination can run a little wild at Bryce, and each visitor’s unique vision will personalize the Bryce experience. My vivid childhood memories of spired castles rising above pink, red and orange people brought me back, with my own children this time. But, intermittent rumbling soon lent a deeper hue to the sky as we hiked the Queen’s Garden and Navajo Trails. Eventually, I shoved the camera into our dry bag, and we raced for cover from a pelting storm!
Even this unforeseen event was a lively adventure at Bryce. We huddled on almost-dry dirt under tall rock totems with strangers from all over the globe. Our favorite new friend from the Netherlands joked that, when it rained in his country, they simply built dams. And he then proceeded to do so, channeling a rippling stream of red water away from our feet by aligning rocks and mud with his walking stick and a muddy boot.
When it began to hail with some intensity we leaned back into the sticky rock walls, found drier spots for the damp ones amongst us and shared our recent adventures. The downpour was steady and included cold cold rain, hail and occasional falling rocks, released from above as part of the continual cycle of erosion.
A faint lull in the deluge finally prompted a few of us to run and slide up the slippery red slopes that would lead us out of the soaking canyon. The uphill run though driving rain was a little longer than expected, and we emerged a little further from our car than we had planned. But, the wild hail storm only enhanced our Bryce Canyon adventure.
Completely saturated and splattered with red mud, we sipped steaming hot chocolate and watched for pronghorn deer on our drive out and on to our next night’s stay. The steady rain made Bryce a brief stop, but those mystical hoodoos enfolded by dramatic stormy skies also made it a one-of-a-kind memory.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah Park Website
“Hoodoo Heaven” – Quirky formations and whims of erosion in striking shades of red, orange and pink…
PO Box 640201; Bryce Canyon UT 84764-0201
435-835-5322Park Hours: 24 hours/day all year (Call for Visitor Center hours and weather-related road closings)
Entrance Fee: $25/vehicle permit (valid for 7 days) Annual Pass available View Larger Map
Updated from August 22, 2008.