After lunch and pie in Capitol Reef we headed on down Highway 12 to Bryce Canyon National Park. It took us about three hours on this scenic, windy, roller coaster of a road. We passed through the Grand Staircase Escalante-National Monument. It was pretty magnificent: a deep canyon with cottonwoods at the bottom. It seemed to go on forever, rolling rock formations and cut canyons. We stopped briefly in the town of Escalante, where we looked at pictures of the pioneers coming down into the area with covered wagons…yikes! We then traversed the town center multiple times in search of whiskey. Alex said that Utah state regulations don’t allow the advertisement of liquor stores, so we had to consult our smartphones on this. Whiskey was found and on we went!
As we drove into Bryce, we got a taste of the hoodoos we were getting into. The road cut through an area of brilliantly orange rock spires, and we were immediately in disbelief at their otherworldliness. It was the first of many times in Bryce that I would ask, “What planet are we on!?”
After securing a campsite at the North Campground, we went for an evening drive along the park road and got our first views of the Bryce Amphitheater at Bryce Point. We could see trails winding through the tall Douglas Fir and around the spires on the canyon floor. Looking down in there, at this orange and white mystical canyon, we knew we had to explore it.
The next day, we put our original plans to backpack aside (because none of the sites were close to the dramatic main amphitheater) and started down into the canyon. From the North Campground, we got on the Rim Trail and connected with the Queens Garden trail after about a quarter of a mile. The trail descends into the canyon pretty gently, winding its way through the hoodoos and spires and passing through tunnels in the rock. In awe at the first close-ups with these strange formations, we lollygagged along taking pictures like good ole’ tourists. I marveled at the mystical feeling of the canyon, with the green Manzanita and tall Douglas Fir standing in contrast to the bright orange limestone. After the first half of the Queens Garden Loop we came to the junction with the Navajo Loop and Peekaboo Loop. We started on toward the Peekaboo Loop and soon turned up a draw off-trail. Around a couple bends we found the solitude that we didn’t get on the Queen’s Garden Loop. We sat down for lunch and soaked in the views and the quietness in our own little patch of the park. At the start of the 3 mile Peekaboo Loop we stuck to the right. We noticed right away that this was a quieter, less popular loop than Queen’s Garden and that it was a more dramatic section of the Bryce Amphitheater. Here, we really started to feel like we were exploring the surface of Mars. The trail took us up, down, around, and through the orange and white canyon. We were even closer to the formations than on the Queen’s Garden Loop, and could see that they were a bit more lumpy and crumbly than what we thought when we looked from above. We passed the Wall of Windows, white sandstone formations that have ‘windows’ through their middles that were caused by the premier shaping force of Bryce Canyon: erosion by wind and water. We also passed orange and white striped scree piles. At the end of the Peekaboo Loop we went up the other side of the Queen’s Garden Loop, making a kind of figure 8 through the Hoodoos. This last stretch of the trail passed Two Bridges, 2 arches between rock walls. After these we ascended a series of switchbacks through a towering, barren section of the Canyon and we finally reached the top.
This was one of those places so unlike home that you start to feel like you are eons away from home. The vastly different surroundings propel you into a mental state where hours start to feel like days in terms of the new things you’ve experienced.
Now, for the second part of this story:
After a short sit in the campground, we walked back to the lodge to procure margaritas, which is my drink of choice after long, dusty hikes. The lodge was fairly quiet in these early evening hours, and we were afraid of getting Mars-dust on the white tablecloths as we sat down in our dirty hiking clothes. The waitress arrived and kindly listed off her expensive specials for the night.
I told her I thought we both just wanted a drink. Two margaritas, please. She told me there were no margaritas. Utah is very strict about their liquor. We could have beer or wine, she said, and would also be required to have food on the ticket because that’s the law. Nevermind then I told her, sheepishly. And before we could leave she was yelling across the dining room, asking the other waitress where we could get margs and summoning up bothered looks from the elderly patrons trying to enjoy 4:30 dinner.
The moral of the story is if you’re going to Utah, hike the hoodoos and BYOB.