No, we didn’t hop a jet across to Europe. No passport was needed to find ourselves surrounded by Europeans on holiday during our tour of the national parks in southern Utah. While it’s common to see non-US visitors when visiting national parks, this was a whole different ballgame, especially in Arches and Bryce. Many visitors seemed to be on an extended holiday, touring a circuit of parks in their rental RV or with their tents and kids in tow. I completely understand why someone may be possessed to fly so far to see some of the US’s more remote parks. Each of the parks we visited in southern Utah – Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce, and Zion, as well as our drive through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument – was wacky and different and is the closest I’ll ever come to stepping foot on an alien planet.
Making our home base to visit Bryce and Zion in one of Bryce’s forested campgrounds, we felt like we’d escaped our alien abductors and returned to a more normal landscape, that is until we got our first glimpse of what makes Bryce so famous. It was like a fairyland, Dr. Seuss’s version of Disneyworld, and a hot, dry Mars, all rolled into one. In short, it was crazy beautiful!
Because we had several days in the park, we were able to check out all the different parts of the park and go on our longest hike yet with the little guy. Just over eight miles down into the amphitheater and up and down and around the hoodoos, and up and down some more. Huge props to Alan who carried the little guy on his back during the entire sunshiny hike. Even more credit is due given the significant number of climbs and descents we had to do during those eight miles. For those looking to replicate our fantastic hike, we hiked from the North Campground to the Rim Trail, along the Rim Trail to the Queens Garden Trail and down into the canyons, then around the Peekaboo Loop Trail (our favorite part) before heading up and out of the canyons along the Navajo Trail, back to the Rim Trail, and onwards to our campsite.
The first few miles of the hike were on a popular trail. The views were beautiful, but we were never alone. Once we headed further down into the canyon, we were able to escape the crowds and see the most incredible views. Around each corner we’d keep exclaiming that these were the best views yet, until we turned the next corner and repeated ourselves, and on and on. Walking down amongst the hoodoos was something I’ll never forget. There was something magical about being down there. It was almost unbelievable that a landscape like this even exists – I kept reminding myself that I wasn’t dreaming and that the earth is full of wondrous surprises. After seeing this, there is probably nothing I wouldn’t believe that the earth could dream up. It’s true, unicorns live in Crested Butte and fairies live in Bryce.
Given the heat in neighboring Zion National Park (despite their proximity, Bryce is at a much higher altitude than Zion, making the weather much more tolerable for camping), we decided to head to Zion for a day trip and continue camping at Bryce. For many reasons, this was definitely the right decision. Zion is absolutely beautiful and it seems as if everyone has already caught on to this fact. The place was a zoo! Even with most of the park outlawing cars and requiring that you take a shuttle, each hike we did was not all that dissimilar to being at the mall on a Saturday afternoon. And it was hot. It was beautiful, but it was hardly a wilderness experience. I’m sure that if you embarked on some of the longer or more challenging hikes, you’d find some semblance of solitude (or at least it’d feel like a mall on a Tuesday evening instead of Saturday afternoon), but given that the temperatures were above 100 degrees much of the day and we’d been hiking every single day for the past week, we did not attempt any of the more strenuous hikes. This would be a great place to come in the off-season, but one day was plenty for us during the heat and crowds of the summer. All that being said, I’d love to return when Van is a bit older and take on the Narrows trail, a sixteen-mile long trail through a slot canyon, at least 60% of which involves walking, wading, or swimming through water.
The strangest part for me was that I had been to Zion once before during the summer of 1991. This was absolutely nothing like I remembered. It’s almost as if I’d been somewhere else and convinced myself that it was Zion. It was very strange returning somewhere I know that I’ve been and where I hold, what I thought were, pretty clear memories of what I had seen. It felt as if I were peering through a looking-glass much of the day, and it re-emphasized the importance of journaling and photographing the many places that we see during this journey.