Utah is a hiker’s dream. The kind of dream that lands you on the surface of the moon and a lifesize version of Candy Land. The landscape is just so beutifully bizarre and wonderful. It’s good to be back.
Four years ago, we visited Zion National Park to hike The Narrows. Late one afternoon, we decided to drive outside of the park to explore the surrounding area. We didn’t realize we were heading toward Bryce Canyon National Park until we were only a few miles away. We debated going in, but the sun was already setting across the desert hills. Rather than do a rushed drive-by, we decided to save it for another time when we could properly explore it.
Now we are here to hike among giants; to drop into the depths of their ancient kingdom and disappear for a day or two; to see their vibrant colors and emerge changed people with very tired legs.
Our only set plan for this five-day trip is to spend a couple of days aimlessly wandering through the expansive Bryce Amphitheater, where an army of hoodoos stands at attention.
Seeing the amphitheater from above gives you a good sense of its vibrant beauty. But to really get a good, close look at the rock’s saturated oranges and reds, you’ve got to dip into its depths. We dropped in at Sunset Point – the trailhead for the most popular day hikes including the Navajo Loop Trail and the Queens Garden Trail. Most of the hikes stemming from here are relatively short, but involve sharp descents and steep climbs on loose sand and stone. (Leave the flip flops at home.)
We decide to take on the combined Navajo + Peekaboo loops. According to the park map, this hike is rated as “strenuous” thanks to its 1,600 or so feet of elevation gain spread out across six miles. Luke’s knees may never forgive him, but it’s worth the effort to get away from the crowd and see a good portion of the amphitheater in near solitude and silence.
The weather changes from warm and sunny, to cool and cloudy, to cold and drizzly, back to warm and sunny before we’ve hit the halfway point. We traverse a series of ups and downs that changes our point of view as often as the weather changes its mind. The trail conditions range from hard pack, to loose scree, to quicksand.
Around mile four, we scramble to the top of a short scree hill and crack open a couple of room temperature, slightly shaken trail beers. The shifting sunlight plays across the rocks, changing their shape and tone every few minutes. Luke runs around taking photos while I spill the bag of Goldfish (then eat them – LNT) and stare slack-jawed at the immense amount of beauty surrounding me on all sides. I can’t decide which view is the prettiest, so I rotate my head like an owl for the next half hour.
After shedding a small, sappy tear of joy, we begin our climb out of the amphitheater just in time to get good and sweaty for the sunset crowd. This is prime viewing time at Sunset Point and fellow tourists from across the globe join us at the railing to admire the spectacle. Hearing their name being spoken in a dozen different languages, the hoodos of Bryce Amphitheater rise to the occasion. The light from the setting sun rakes across them, causing their edges to glow a golden-yellow light.
They are alive. And thanks to these moments, so am I.