January 14, 2013 by Deborah W. Trotter
Bryce Canyon is really a place that has to be seen to be believed. It is a fantastical sculpture garden, composed of eroded rock formations called hoodoos in colors from white to yellow, through many shades of orange and red to pink. They march in uniform rows and columns in some parts of the Park, in others they have settled – temporarily in geologic time – into unique shapes with names such as “The Poodle,” “Thor’s Hammer” and “Queen Victoria.”
When our family first visited the Park in April of 1991, we had only three children, two still happiest in a stroller, so we were pleased to discover at the Visitor Center that we could view much of the Park and get a sense of its wonders by driving the 18 mile road along the rim and stopping the car at overlooks along the way. Some had short access trails that were paved and stroller-friendly, and mostly clear of snow.
When we returned 14 years later in June of 2005, we had four children, no strollers, and all of our kids were teenagers (yes, that summer!). It was a certainty that we were going to do more than drive the 18 mile rim road this time, but we did do that again on the afternoon we arrived in the Park. There was no snow this visit, but it was still chilly at elevations near 8,000 feet and above with a forecast overnight low in the 30’s.
At the end of the rim road we donned sweatshirts and walked out to the Yovimpa Point overlook and then took the short loop trail at nearby Rainbow Point, and the views of Bryce Canyon were as spectacular as the first time we saw them.
There are days when you can also see for miles to the south from that end of the plateau, but that day visibility was lessened by a wildfire in the vicinity. As in some other National Parks, air quality is affected by activities and events outside Bryce’s boundaries.
We enjoyed dinner that night at the rustic Bryce Canyon Lodge, built with local timber and stone in 1924-25. It perches on the rim, a short walk from the Canyon’s edge, and is open from April to November, although the Park itself is open year round.
The next morning we ventured down into the Canyon as a family for the first time, descending steeply from Sunrise Point on the Queen’s Garden Trail.
Walking among the hoodoos instead of looking down on them from above made it easier to see details of color and structure and gave us a sense of just how delicate and impermanent these rock formations are.
When we got to the Queen’s Garden, we looked up and saw the reason for the name, a hoodoo that nature had sculpted into a remarkable likeness of an aging Queen Victoria of England. What she is doing in Bryce Canyon is anybody’s guess! From there we continued our hike another half mile or so onto part of the Navajo Loop Trail where we saw natural rock bridges and enjoyed the cool shade created by the towering cluster of fins and hoodoos in a narrow slot canyon referred to as Wall Street.
The Navajo Loop Trail would have taken us back up to the rim at Sunset Point, but the top part of the trail was closed for maintenance, so we headed back to the Queen’s Garden Trail, encountering Boy Scout troops and family groups and lots of other people enjoying a midday outing. The day was getting warmer, making the steep return pull up to Sunrise Point more strenuous – not for the teenagers, of course – but we all finally made it back to the higher elevations again, from which we could once more look down into the rocky fantasyland.
The amazing and other-worldly hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park have not always been there. Nor will they always be there, since the natural forces that formed them are still at work and will ultimately destroy them. We are fortunate then, that our presence on this earth coincides with theirs, privileging us to walk among them, photograph them and marvel at their unique beauty.