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Bryce Canyon Nat’l Park, UT

When met Rick on the road at Escalante a couple of days ago, he told us he was coming out of Bryce Canyon and heading for Capitol Reef.   We exchanged tips about the respective parks, but his warnings about Bryce were not very encouraging.   It was crowded, he said, and solitude on the trails was going to be hard to find.

bryce-mojave-trail-crowd.jpgHe wasn’t exaggerating.   For whatever reason, Bryce has been chosen by far more people that the other Utah parks we’ve visited, in fact, one million visitors per year.   Now, Bryce is a very nice park, but I can’t quite see that it is twice as good as Capitol Reef or Mesa Verde (each of which get about half a million visitors per year), or three times as good as Big Bend.   I suspect the volume of visitors has to do with the fact that it is close to Grand Canyon and Zion, and because you can see the best views from your car without any hiking effort.

The tour buses are here in vast fleets, segregated by foreign country.   Standing at the overlooks I could tell which bus had arrived by a sudden wave of people speaking a different language.   There were Japanese, Italian, German, and Scandinavian waves, and as tour groups   tend to do, they would all go to the same place at the same time.   This caused logjams here and there, but Bryce has been engineered to handle the crowds, like Disneyland.   There are bus   depots at the major stops, special bus parking areas, and traffic patterns.   A shuttle service operates in the park and reduces individual car traffic & parking problem, too.   Still, I wonder if in a few years cars may be prohibited from parts of the park as is currently done in Zion.

bryce-canyon-hoodoos.jpg

In Zion, you are in the bottom of the canyon looking (and hiking) up.   In Bryce, you are on a narrow ridge that defines one edge of a valley, and all the hikes go down.   It’s more like Grand Canyon in that respect, but the valley (they call it a canyon) is not as well defined on the opposite side.   The best viewing is in sunny conditions, especially as the sun is rising or setting.

bryce-canyon-tree-sniffing.jpgOne popular ranger-led activity is pictured at right.   Care to guess what it is?

Tree-sniffing!   The bark of the Ponderosa Pines sometimes has a distinct odor like butterscotch, if you’re willing to press your nose to one and take a big sniff.   Being able to watch this is one of the upsides of having crowds in the park.

Part of the reason the park is still so busy is that the season is very short.   The park had its last snow in mid-June, and temperatures began to go below freezing at night in mid-August.   Days are warm right now, but storms are frequent and the lightning is really dangerous.   People stand out on the exposed ridges and get zapped at the rate of about one person every other year.   We got chased off Rainbow Point by an approaching line of showers and high winds while we were observing a 1,600 year-old Bristlecone Pine tree.   With the constantly-changing weather (and a bit of laziness), we were only able to hike about three miles all day.

bryce-canyon-hoodoos2.jpgAfter two nights, we are being forced out by an incoming tour.   The campground we are staying in can’t accommodate us any longer, and the national park campgrounds are still very full. Weighing the options, we’ve decided to leave Bryce Canyon and head south to Kanab for a few days.   We are booked into the North Rim of the Grand Canyon starting on Wednesday, so we have a few days to get ahead on work, and make some side trips.     But since it is only about 80 miles to Kanab, we will take advantage of Bryce’s shuttle system to have one last hike.   We’ll park the Airstream in the large shuttle parking lot, hike the Queen’s Garden/Mojave trail (2.9 miles), and then proceed south to Kanab.

trip-plan-2008-09-11.jpgAlso, we have confirmed that we will be going to the Albuquerque Balloon Festival Oct 3-6.   This is a major detour east, but it will allow us to visit several other national park sites and explore some of so-called “Indian Country” (mostly the Navajo reservation but also passing by the Hopi, Zuni and several other tribal territories).   See approximate trip plan at right — click to enlarge.   We’ll go past Monument Valley, spend a few nights in Gallup, drop by some national monuments in New Mexico, and then go check out a few sights in southern New Mexico before heading to Tucson.   At this rate, we’ll be back to winter home base in mid-October, just in time for the nice weather down there.

4 Responses to “Bryce Canyon Nat’l Park, UT”

  1. DesertStream Says:

    If you have the opportunity to visit Pipe Springs National Monument, it is well worth it. It is a relative small site, but it will give you a great understanding of the pioneer’s life in the Arizona Strip. They were making soap the day we visited.

  2. sadira Says:

    Ah. But, did you almost get pushed off a ledge 5 minutes after exiting the car like I did when Rich and I went to the Grand Canyon? I tell you, it’s a little unnerving watching hundreds of people wander around in “nature” isn’t it? I’m always waiting for someone to come up to me and ask me “are we at the end? How do we know when we’re done?” and such…

    You can totally come up here and sniff the trees as well…we have those lovely kinds of candy pines…although, it’s not as fun when there aren’t hundreds of people doing it…

    Humans are so odd.

  3. Danine Says:

    While you’re in Kanab, stop by and volunteer at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. It’s about 5 miles outside of town — you’ll love it (if you like animals). They have full hook-up RV sites (just 2), but they’re a little pricey at $45 a night. Also, stop and eat at the Rewind Diner. It’s on Main Street in town and the food is great!

  4. Terry & Greg Says:

    Are you going to try to be part of the Four Corners Unit ABQ Balloon Fiesta Rally? That would be cool. I’m sure they’d be glad to have you if there’s a space to be had. We aren’t going to be able to make that one this year… Maybe some year…

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