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Published: August 10th 2014
It was a long days drive to Bryce National Park
but some stunning scenery on the way made the journey pleasant. Bryce is the smallest of the Utah’s National Parks but its beauty is definitely not small.
We had not booked a campsite and tried to get into North Campground
within the National Park itself but just missed the last spot so continued back to Ruby Inn Campground
just outside the park. We had to move three times to find a good spot as a lot of the spaces were really cramped with very large RVs taking up so much room. Some of these are even larger than a 60 seat coach and often they tow a smaller car which also needs a space. Many of the campgrounds are geared towards these and they drive straight into their space which is great. However others do not and this is when it becomes a bit of a bottleneck for us - our little Dodge Caravan Van
conversion was smaller than the cars they were towing around……….
The next morning we took the free shuttle
into the park which follows the plateau rim for 18 miles.
On a clear day we were told that we would be able to see over 100 miles with stunning views of the park and Utah scenery and we were looking forward to our first view. The bus was a great way to get around the park and linked up with various overlooks as well as trailheads for walks into the crater or around the rim itself.
On the drive in we drove through forests of ponderosa pine, spruce, fir and aspen but you could not see the canyon itself. We passed a Prairie Dog
these cute little critters are not dogs at all, but members of the squirrel family, making them rodents……….but nicer than rats…… The species at Bryce is the Utah Prairie Dog
which is listed as a threatened species, which both amuses and annoys southern Utah ranchers, who consider it to be a pest.
Utah Prairie Dogs are about a foot long, reddish brown and have small ears. Active during the day they live in park meadows in busy communities comprised of burrows, with mounds of dirt at each entrance. These colonies are strategically located in
areas that have enough grass and other plants to sustain them, but with vegetation that is sparse and low enough for them to be able to spot predators and just enough time to dart into their burrows……… Underground they had a vast network of tunnels and chambers where they sleep, hide and breed much like rabbits. We had seen a programme in the UK that had cameras located underground whilst it followed a colony of rabbits around which was most interesting so we could visualise these little prairie dogs going about their day to day life.
They seem to delight in alternately running about and standing at attention, and their antics are similar to our friends the African Meerkats
- so cute. However there was warning signs stating that the bacteria that causes bubonic plague has been found on fleas in prairie dog colonies in Bryce Canyon, so one should avoid getting up too close (we did) - plus they bite…….
We ‘hopped off’ the bus at Paria View
and we walked to the an overlook When we got our first glimpse of Bryce Canyon we both looked at each other and said ‘Wow’
- it really was stunning and we think one of the best panoramic view of all the places we have seen. The view looked out over giant hoodoos in an amphitheatre carved by Yellow Creek, the Praia River Valley and Table Cliff Plateau forming a stunning backdrop. To the south were the White Cliffs, carved from Navajo Sandstone glistening in the bright sunshine. Hoodoos
was a new word for us but are basically pillars, columns or pinnacles of rock which nature has sculpted into fantastic shapes. In Bryce these limestone pillars were in such amazing colours in varying shades of pink, red and yellow colours with variable thickness and they had a totem pole appearance. The formation of hoodoos started millions of years ago with the relentless weathering and erosion attacking the weaker layers of rock and leaving more resistant layers of rock in place forming the hoodoos.
On the first day we visited all of the main lookouts including, Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset and Sunrise Points
. There were many places that you could just peer into the canyon and many trails that take you into the canyon itself. We would highly recommend the Navajo/Queens Garden Loop
as to truly experience the beauty of Bryce and be amongst the hoodoos - you have to go down into the canyon to experience this - it is just breathtaking. Many of the trails connect within the canyon, so you can start out at one but end up on another…….. We had a map but it was a bit confusing so we had to have a peek at someone else's as when some of the trail merged the signage was not too clear. Luckily we met a pleasant family of Americans who had a good map and once on the right trail it was really easy………… We hiked down via ‘Wall Street Canyons’ which was extremely steep with many switchbacks, depositing one very quickly into the canyon bottom. We passed massive fir trees climbing out of the canyon floor, competing with the hoodoos as we descended down the trail.
What a lovely walk along the valley floor following a dry river bed with huge shady hoodoos offering us some respite from the heat of the day. We stopped and had lunch on a small spur trail near to Queen Victoria in what is known as the ‘Queens Garden’
. Here a tall hoodoo looks like a statue of Queen Victoria overseeing many smaller hoodoos resembling garden like features, hence its name.
We wanted to stay in Bryce longer to view sunrise and sunset over the hoodoos without having to get up too early or stay up too late, we are pensioners after all……… So we left Ruby Campground early am and arrived at North Campground
where we chatted to the park host who told us to wait around until people were leaving and then we could ‘grab’ a vacant spot. Grabbing one of these ‘walk in’ campsites is really a fine art as arriving too early and no one has left and arriving too late and all the spaces are gone … … … Luckily we noticed someone packing up and secured a nice spot that was only a few
yards from the plateau’s rim walks, there was also so much more space around you than in Ruby Inn Campground and $30 pn cheaper as well although no hook up. We spent another two days enjoying many hikes around Bryce, we particularly enjoyed the walk to London Bridge
- although it was quite a climb back out of the canyon in the heat of the day.
Cannot remember if I mentioned that I had to decant my wine into small water bottles as many wine growers still use corks for their white wine in California. The uncorked bottle could not be stored safely in our small fridge so this seemed the best option to store it and keep it cool. The only problem is that a couple of times now I have mistaken the ‘wine for water’ and put them into Paul’s rucksack. Lucky for him and me I realised just in time!!!! you really need water and not wine when hiking here……..
We took another free shuttle bus that took us deeper into the park visiting Yovimpa
and Rainbow Points
where the park road ended. Both of these offered expansive views
of southern Utah out over the Navajo Mountains and the Kaibab Plateau which was 90 miles away. We saw hoodoos with names like the Poodle no prize for guessing what this looked like! We stopped at Natural Bridge
which was not carved by a stream as in a true natural bridge but by rain and frost erosion - so should be called an arch. We also walked around Fairyland Point
where yet again the hoodoos had names we liked the one called Sinking Ship - again no guesses to what it looked like.
Our driver/guide on the bus was called Spike
who was retired but had previously driven a lorry for Pepsi. In the 30 years he worked for them he travelled the area during its development years. He was loaded with information and told us some lovely anecdotes of his life and experiences during those times. He pointed out to us how to tell the difference between Pine, Spruce and Fir trees. I have always just called them all Christmas Trees
but they do have very strong differences. The number of needles that come out of the same place on a twig is the
If it has needles in groups of two or more it is most probably a Pine
. If the twig carries its needles singly, it’s probably a Fir or a Spruce. If those needles have two sides, feel flat and do not roll easily, it’s a Fir.
If the needles have four sides and rolls easily it’s a Spruce
. I think I am still going to be confused……..
We met Rebecca and Nicole
from Sacramento on the free shuttle bus and they were camping at our campsite so we spent a couple of evenings chatting to them. They lived near a wine region and promised to bring me some California Sauvignon Blanc over but it turned out to be New Zealand - which was my favourite, so I let them off…….They brought (non wine lover) Paul a large bottle of beer which was called ‘Eyeball’ - they thought it most appropriate seeing as we were driving around the USA in an ‘eyeball painted van’ - it was a really strong beer which Paul had to share with Rebecca.
Nicole had managed to get a good photo on her iPhone of a
mother Pronghorn Antelope
feeding her twins the day before and we were lucky enough to spot them later wandering near our campground. A Pronghorn is the fastest animal in North America and the second fastest in the world, with only the Cheetah
faster. However while Cheetahs can reach a faster top speed, they can only hold that speed for a few hundred yards, whereas a Pronghorn can sustain their speed for miles. Females give birth in the spring to one or two fawns, which stay hidden in the grass until they are old enough to outrun their primary predators of coyotes, bobcats and golden eagles which they do within a few weeks - they can even outrun a human within days of birth.
On a sunset hike we saw several large Steller's Jays
which are bright blue on their lower body and have a prominent crest on the top of their heads - they often came down into the trees near our camp looking for leftovers. Around the camp we were also often joined by little Chipmunks -
of the 22 species of chipmunks in North America, 21 can be found in the western United States. It
is often difficult to tell one chipmunk species from another (at least for us humans), but it's usually fairly easy to distinguish chipmunks from their cousins the squirrels, because chipmunks have black-and-white facial stripes and squirrels do not. These little chipmunks could really move fast and several of them used to dive under our van and try to get inside - we hope we do not end up transferring one to another national park … … …
As well as animals and birds there was an abundance of wild spring flowers in Bryce including; red Paintbrush, Nookta Rose, Rubber Rabbitbush, Aquilegia but known as Granny's Bonnet or Columbine and the lovely cream Sego Lily
the national flower of Utah - I really liked this striking flower.
On our last night we attended an Annual Astronomy Festival
for a night of star gazing which was being held just down the hill from our campground. Over 50 huge telescopes were positioned in the small carpark (devoid of any cars) and surrounded by large screens to keep out any light. We were
able to wander around and enjoy the splendours of the night sky through these massive lenses. Far from the light pollution the night sky at Bryce is so dark you can see 7500 stars on a moonless night and the Milky Way extends from horizon to horizon with Venus, and even Jupiter bright enough to cause one to cast a shadow. We even spotted a satellite with the naked eye although one of the Rangers had told us when and where to look in the sky but it could be clearly seen orbiting the earth. The whole sky was alight with hundreds of stars, the first ones appearing being Vega and Arcturus but most memorable was our view of the planet, Saturn with its ring standing out brightly through the huge telescope lens.
We walked back to camp and joined Rebecca and Nicole at their campsite for a last drink as we were all leaving the park in the morning but we hoped to meet up with them in Zion National Park. They had a large tent all brightly adored with colourful lights it looked so bright just like the night sky. Rebecca had an
App on her iPhone which if held towards the sky pointed out the stars it located so Paul and her were soon ensconced in their own star gazing session as the skies got even darker.
We had so enjoyed Bryce National Park
it really did have the ‘wow’ factor, with wonderful vistas and scenic hikes above and amongst the massive hoodoos but it time for us to move on to nearby Zion National Park
- see you there.
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