Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bryce Canyon National Park

We got up bright and early, today, at 5:30am, hoping to get a jump on the crowds and arrive at Bryce Canyon National Park shortly after they open. We were on the road by 7am, having showered, eaten and stopped only for ice at the Shell gas station in Springdale, situated within Zion National Park.

The drive to Bryce was a little over two hours and offered us an opportunity to see the change in the environment as we left Zion, then left behind the monumental, colorful, sandstone rock for which it is so famous. We only stopped twice, once for a view of Checkerboard Mesa, and again to switch drivers—we have been sharing pilot and navigator duties on this trip. I never knew how much scenery I was missing. The scenery switched to combinations of semi-desert, farmland and pasture. There was much more greenery than I expected. I'm not sure if this is due to Mormon industriousness or the grace of God.

Checkerboard Mesa

Scenic Drive

Majesty along the road

We finally flew by our Motel in Hatch—any relation to Orrin?—Utah, since we could not check in until 1pm and we wanted to cover as much of Bryce as we could in the one day we had allowed: Claire was unable to get reservations in the park for our desired dates and we didn't want to spend the 45 minutes commuting. We knew we were getting close. Susan, our beloved GPS, told us to drive straight ahead into the park, but our printed instructions directed us to turn right. Ignoring Susan, we were soon situated in the Shuttle Bus Parking lot, frantically trying to put on our last minute gear and warm clothing—we had expected thundershowers, but no one told us how much colder it would be here—the highest point we hit was almost 9000 feet.

First View Bryce Canyon

Weather change! 48 degrees

Our Lonely Planet Guide Book said that the most beautiful hike combined two regular hikes—Navajo Trail and Queen's Garden. We chose to depart from Sunset Point as this would allow us the most gradual climb back to the rim of the Canyon. I foolishly thought that since our arrival point was lower than our departure location, it would be easy. It was only easier. It is hard to imagine a more beautiful hike through stone. The pictures fail to do justice to the beauty of this magnificent place; but, they will have to do. Elevation gain for the 3 mile hike was 550 feet each way.

Looking down the Navajo Trail

View of Bryce from top of Navajo Trail

Start of the trail

Chuck navigating the treacherous "Escher" Trail

Slot Canyon

Could it be E.T. immortalized?

Beautiful trail

Skinny place

Fairy chimneys reminiscent of Cappidocia, Turkey


Queen Victoria


We caught the shuttle back to the Lodge for lunch and to decide how to spend our afternoon time. Claire got the all-you-can-eat Taco Salad Bar and I got the ½ soup and ½ sandwich combo—hearty Southwest cream of chicken and rice soup and a warm ham, cheese, bacon sandwich on toast: Warm was very good. Claire had two small fish tacos, fruit salad and cottage cheese: She was in heaven.

We bought a postcard for our granddaughter, wrote, addressed and mailed it; then we went outside to catch the next shuttle to the Park Visitors Center to watch the 22 minute video on Bryce. Unfortunately, we were 4 minutes late; but we entered anyway. Sorry to say, we both had great difficulty staying awake. I think my problem was lack of sleep (from not-my-bed syndrome) and poor conditioning—I walk either 3 miles or 4.5 miles 6 days a week; but this is all on flat terrain. Claire, however, always adds stair work to her walk—generally 3 trips up and down 9 floor Sproul Hall, which gives her a decided edge in the energy department. Leaving the film we browsed the gift shop, and purchased a cooling scarf. You soak it in water and wear it around your neck; it will cool you for hours.

We hopped the shuttle to Bryce Point, the end of the line in this section of the Park. I had expected to re-mount the bus when we finished viewing the amphitheater, but Claire wanted to walk down to Inspiration Point, the next shuttle pick up location. Since the views were so spectacular, and the endpoint was downhill, I agreed. Again, I misjudged the local terrain. My legs complained bitterly whenever we inclined upwards; but, luckily, these places were infrequent. This added another 1.5 miles to our daily total, on the walk from Bryce Point to Inspiration Point. By now, we were done for the day--and the Park. We leave tomorrow for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon!

On the bus on the way back from Inspiration Point, we encountered a lively young couple from Davis! Well, actually, Roberto is a Researcher in Electrical and Computer Engineering and Laura (trill the r), his wife, along with his brother, who is visiting from their hometown in Tuscany, Italy. Small world, indeed.

We have noticed that once we left California we found many more foreign accents floating around us--delightful; today, we heard German, Spanish and French. However, that view may not be shared by everyone: Just before starting that shuttle ride with our acquaintances from Italy, I heard an American tell someone that "I couldn't get a 'Howdy' in English out of anyone out there." One person's meat is another's poison, I guess.

Arriving at the motel, beat but happy, we decided to try their Cactus Cowboy restaurant and the 10% discount we get for staying here. Claire got a machine-made English Toffee Cappuccino and I got a peach cobbler a la mode. I could die happy.

When planning the trip, we worried about our ability to eat healthily and affordably. An incident today provided an example of the basis of our concern: We dined at the Cactus Cowboy restaurant again for dinner. Claire ordered a grilled Portabello mushroom with the vegetable soup; I ordered the same soup with my Build-It-Yourself 1/3 pound hamburger. I requested mushrooms and bacon slices for my toppings. It was delicious.

Dining With Cowboys

But, there were a number of oddities associated with this meal: My mushrooms were sliced buttons straight from the can, as were Claire's green beans. The bacon strips were greasy. Claire's mushroom was not fully cooked; it had a heaping pile of bulgar in the center; when she tried to eat a large spoonful, she discovered that it was really minced garlic from a jar, and not even heated. Her Parker House roll was softer than Charmin tissue, and was set aside immediately. The potatoes were tasty, but slicked with oil. The veggie soup was quite tasty, but I believe it was cobbled together from individual canned goods--peas and tomatoes, for example. Oh, yes: The iced tea was so weak it had no flavor until the waitress finally brought a lemon slice. Finishing up, we noticed that the bill was stamped with a notification that the gratuity was not included in the total, and the word 'not' was circled with a broad-tipped magic marker. Never a dull moment.

Driving for the day: 89 miles from Zion to Bryce and 28 miles from Bryce to Hatch.
Expenses: $166.

After a day's walk everything has twice its usual value. ~ George Macauley Trevelyan