We were so kippered the previous day that we woke up wide awake after a good night’s sleep. We decided to just grab a quickie breakfast of pastries and coffees from the general store, and then we filled up with juice and headed into the park.
You can’t really get a feel for Bryce Amphitheatre if you stay on the rim, so we decided that one or two of the loop trails below the rim were necessary. We parked up near Sunset Point and headed off down the Navajo Loop Trail. This started with a very steep drop down multiple switchbacks into a very narrow slot called Wall Street. There weren’t any big financiers in pin-striped suits and white shirts down there, but there was a tremendous pinky glow to the rocks caused by the angle of the morning sun. It’s difficult to describe but it was really pretty.
As you wander down between these hoodoos you can’t help but wonder how they formed. The key to it seems to be water, as it is with most things, even here in the desert. Rain doesn’t do much good because the soil/bedrock isn’t very absorbent, and as mentioned before it all tends to come at the same time, so it runs away instead of soaking in. The thing about liquid water as well is that most of it bounces off the vertical sides of the hoodoos and heads straight for the bottom. The erosion from liquid water is therefore mainly in the bottom, and acts to make the little valleys deeper, but not really much wider. Ice, however, is another beast altogether. And for all you Europeans who think deserts are universally hot, think again. Apparently, there are about 200 nights a year when Bryce is cold enough for freezing. That explains why the trees that exist are mainly coniferous evergreen varieties which in Europe normally appear in cold or barren places, so that they don’t have to waste half the year producing new leaves.
So little bits of water get into cracks of the hoodoos as the sun warms up the snow and it thaws gradually. When night comes, some of this thawed snow turns to ice in these cracks, and as all good physics teachers will tell you, water expands as it freezes. Hey presto, you have an agent of erosion which flakes little bits off the sides of the hoodoos, which then fall into the bottom to be washed away by snowmelt and rain later in the year. Clever stuff, this nature thingie. Eventually, they get so thin that the remaining part is unstable and gets knocked over by something like a strong wind or a small child. And the erosion seems to go pretty quickly here. The book says the plateau edge is receding at 1 foot every 50-60 years. In geological terms, this is only just slower than using explosives and earth moving machines. If it keeps going at this rate, Bryce Canyon National Park will be in California before you know it, and Ruby’s Inn will be a bit out of the way.
The second walk started from Sunrise point, so we did a short dash along the Rim Trail, stopping off at the car for some more water. The next trail was the Queen’s Garden. The descent and ascent into the amphitheatre from here proved to be less severe than Navajo Trail, and it all seemed a bit more spaced out and open. The trail seemed to meander around in between a number of relatively isolated ( and therefore easy to photograph ) hoodoos. We eventually reached the Queen herself ( good old Queen Victoria ), and they’re right. It does look like a typically stony-faced ( ha ha ) statue of the old lady who presided over the time that put the “Great” into Britain. Sadly, the state of her face is reminiscent of the state of our country now – a bit weather-worn and still far too busy living off its history.
There are those of us in Britain who appreciate our nation’s tremendous capacity to change and adapt, and celebrate its diversity, but there are far too many others who believe that we shouldn’t just preserve old buildings and statues but we should preserve old values and attitudes as well. Anyway, this isn’t supposed to be a commentary on modern Britain, so back to the Her Majesty Queen Victoria. We arrived at roughly the same time as a father and son combo from somewhere in the southern US, I think. Neither of them knew which queen it was supposed to be, and the boy thought it wasn’t a very good likeness of anyone at all. So that about sums it up. If you really used your imagination it could be Barbara Bush, or Miss Ellie from Dallas, or any one of a million other famous late-middle aged women. Some of these would have resulted in more whimsical names for the hoodoo and its trail. I guess Barbara Bush would never win because of the potential naming conflict with the fun-park-come-whatever-it-is place in Tampa.
By now it was well into lunchtime, and we still had to go back around the Rim Trail for half a mile to get back to the car. Once we got there, we dragged our hearty lunch rations from the back and had an ad-hoc picnic on a bench back on the rim. Nice view!
After the two walks into the amphitheatre the attractions further south in the park proved to be a bit disappointing. You can see a very long way from Yovimpa Point, all the way across to Navajo Mountain, which is over 100 miles, apparently. I think it was visible when we were there, you really could see a long way. Natural Bridge was worth a stop as well, even though there seems some debate over whether it’s a bridge or an arch, or a bit of both.
And that was that for Bryce Canyon. We only had three days and two nights to get from Bryce Canyon to Grand Canyon, and there’s a lot of southern Utah in between here and there. Judging by the state of the road map, you also have to go a long way north before you can start coming south again, so we’d better get on with it.
The reason why you have to drive a long way north is because there aren’t any proper roads which go through the Grand Straircase Escalante National Monument. I’m perplexed about this place. It is on our map, and in the book, but it isn’t on the NPS website as far as I can tell. Given that it was designated in 1996 under Bill Clinton’s presidency, I could understand if it wasn’t in the book, which I’m sure I bought in 1994. I can’t understand how it wouldn’t be on the NPS’s website though. It occupies quite a big chunk of Utah, so you’d have thought they’d have noticed it. Apparently it was the first National Monument to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management rather than the National Parks Service. I guess that explains it.
Anyway, the road going round it goes up and down and in and out of forests and small towns. The High Schools in all of these towns have constructed a huge letter on a hillside somewhere near town to advertise their sports teams, so it’s fairly easy to place yourself on the map. E – must be Escalante, B – must be Boulder, and so on. The mileage was so great, and our interest so fervent, that we had decided to spend the night in Torrey and have a look at Capitol Reef National Park ( www.nps.gov/care/ ) for a half day or so.
We found a Holiday Inn right by the main road on the way towards the park. Good enough for us, especially when we got the normal discount to encourage us to stay here instead of going next door. It was getting quite late and the light was going quickly, so we had a swift drive down to the Visitor Centre for orientation and free brochures.
Back home and some dinner. The motel didn’t have a restaurant so we headed out in the RAV4 to see what Torrey had to offer. We weren’t in a very exploratory mood, so we pulled off at the first likely looking place and I don’t think we even actually found the town of Torrey itself, I think we stopped somewhere on the eastern edge. Anyway, it was a large family restaurant, with loads of tables, a typical American menu, and absolutely no other people apart from the waitress ( and presumably there was a chef in the back somewhere ). We weren’t in the mood to argue or explore any further so we settled into our choice of many tables and ordered something. I think we both ordered lasagne, and on reflection I think the chef was actually a freezer and microwave. At least they had beer.