“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer” – Anonymous
In a previous post, Beautiful Utah, I mentioned different places in southern Utah that my family and I visited in May of 2017. Part of our epic journey included a day trip from our rental house near Alton, Utah to Bryce Canyon National Park.
But first, after a much needed morning of rest and relaxation, we stopped for lunch along the way to Bryce at a restaurant called Bryce Canyon Pines. We, of course, picked this restaurant after reading all the restaurant reviews on TripAdvisor. There are slim pickin’s around Bryce, and we wanted to pause for a somewhat quick and basic meal that wouldn’t break the bank. I had also read that Bryce Canyon Pines was supposed to have really good soup and pies! The food was much as we expected – pretty basic but good, not too expensive, and we split meals so we could all eat pie! The chocolate pie was my favorite, by the way.
When we got to the gate of Bryce Canyon National Park, we stopped to pay the entrance fee of $30 for our vehicle. The entrance fee here is the same as it was for Zion National Park, even though Zion was much bigger and had so much more to see and so many more trails. Another note on the differences – Zion’s bathrooms were kept up very nicely and there were quite a few of them. I noticed that the bathrooms in Bryce were not in very good shape. There were overflowing trash cans and there was toilet paper all over the floor. I was surprised.
So back to the trip. I had seen pictures of the park and its hoodoos, and I had done some research about what trails were best for a relatively short and pleasant hike. My daughter-in-law also had Bryce Canyon high on her list and we pretty much had the same ideas for which paths to tackle.
There are several hikes to choose from in the park, but since we didn’t want to hike for the entire day and wanted to see as much of the hoodoos and beautiful scenery as possible, we settled on the Navajo Loop/Queen’s Garden combo. The two trails together are just short of 3 miles and are supposed to take around 2 to 3 hours, depending on how many times you stop to enjoy the view, take pictures, or just stop to catch your breath!
When we got to the viewing area over the main “canyon” we suddenly didn’t know which way to go. We had two choices – we could go to the left, to Sunrise Point and head down the Queen’s Garden trail and come up the Wall Street side of the Navajo Loop, or we could do it in reverse and start at Sunset Point to our right. I remembered that I had previously read that one way was supposed to be a better option, but could not, for the life of me, remember what to do!
As we were pondering and looking at a map, a fellow traveler told us that Wall Street was closed, and it was much prettier to the left, so we should enjoy the view going down. She said that when they were walking up, all they could think about was catching their breath and they didn’t enjoy looking around as much. So we took their advice and set off.
And she was right! The view as we walked down the Queen’s Garden trail was magnificent. Absolutely stunning. What strange figures these hoodoos were – unlike anything I had ever seen. And so many of them! And so many variations!
While we are on the subject of hoodoos – let’s talk a little bit about them. Where does the name hoodoo come from? Well, I remember from our trip that someone said the word is similar to a Native American word that evolved into hoodoo. But, going back and searching the internet isn’t turning up that same answer, so . . . . I’m not sure but I’ll stick with my vague memory here.
How are hoodoos formed? This I remember for sure – they are formed from the freeze/thaw cycle. Snow melts and gets into the cracks, then the water freezes again which causes it to expand and cracks get bigger and bits of rock fall away. Eventually bigger parts of the rocks topple over. In fact, this very thing had happened at Bryce before we got there, and unfortunately was the reason that Wall Street was closed. Sad face.
So let’s get back to the trail. As we were descending the Queen’s Garden trail, we were merrily hiking and looking around at the beauty and stopping to take lots of pictures along the way. The people hiking up, on the other hand, were stopping to catch their breath. And then they would look at us like, “Yeah, you just wait!” They looked harried and red-of-face, with their tousled hair and lack of oxygen. But we were determined. We will not be dissuaded, we thought, as we marched down, our ankles creaking along the way.
Speaking of lack of oxygen – at this altitude you must not push yourself too hard or you can get altitude sickness. Thankfully, we had been experiencing the higher altitude for a few days before tackling Bryce, so none of us got sick. But we could definitely feel the reduced oxygen as we eventually hiked back up.
When we reached the lower part of the trail, the topography began to change a bit – we started to see some trees along with the hoodoos.
After a little while hiking through the bottom of the trail, it began to gradually slope upwards. Then we came to a crossroads. If we went one way, it led to Wall Street, part of Navajo Loop that would eventually be blocked. If we went to the right, we would follow the other part of Navajo Loop back up to the same end point. Since we didn’t want to tack on a dead end meander, we went to the right.
As we began our steep ascent, I came to understand the harried looks of the hikers we had come across earlier. Now we were those people. We were the ones that had to stop and catch our breath (especially me). This part of the trail consisted of multiple steep switchbacks and an elevation gain of 580 feet. When I look at the number 580, it doesn’t seem that bad. But when I experienced 580, it was bad. Now, I am not the most fit person in the world. I am probably a pretty average 48 year old, needing to lose some weight, but I walk for exercise regularly. But not 580 feet upwards in an hour or less, or in a day even. Phew!
Every few minutes, I had to stop to catch my breath and give my pounding heart a chance to slow down. Our kids had gone way ahead of us, so it was just us “old fogies” dragging up the trail. But eventually we made it.
I will say that despite the challenge of the upward part of the trail, it was an experience that was definitely worth the effort. The sights that are seen in Bryce National Park are unlike anything else that can be viewed anywhere else in the world. The hoodoos are fascinating and pictures are not the same as the experience.
If you’ve never considered putting Bryce Canyon on your vacation, reconsider! It’s a sight to see!
Until next time – happy traveling!