travels in kodachrome
Growing up in New York City, it took D a long time to develop a love for the great outdoors. It wasn’t until he spent several years living in a tiny village high up in the Andes mountains during his Peace Corps service that he came to appreciate just how soothing life can be when one is surrounded by nature. Ever since, he has craved nature like a drug, which it turns out has a perfectly reasonable scientific explanation. Ensconced once more in the concrete jungle of a big city, which can feel downright depressing in foul weather, our minds frequently oscillate between reliving our recent hikes and planning our next outdoor adventure.
National Geographic just ran a feature on the healing power of the great outdoors, which is something that has been long suspected and for which there is now a growing body of scientific evidence. As our lives become ever more cluttered and stressed, nature acts like a balm, producing a measurable “happiness” effect. A multitude of scientific studies show that people recover faster in hospitals, perform better at work and in school, and display less violent behavior when they have more exposure to nature.
For us, not only do we feel more relaxed and mentally restored after spending a few days outdoors, but we also find ourselves to be keenly aware of and resentful of any disturbance to the solitude we seek in nature. This is why we try to avoid crowds and seek out trails that offer greater seclusion. This is also why we approached Bryce Canyon with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Easily the most unique of Utah’s many canyons, Bryce is also one of its most accessible. We had taken the back route, arriving from the Grand Staircase National Monument, which lies to the east. However, Utah’s major highway runs not far to the west of Bryce, which helps explain why the park receives 1.5 million visitors annually.
Coming from Escalante, we stopped in Kodachrome Basin State Park on the way to Bryce, and wound up spending the better part of the day hiking among its sandstone spires. The National Geographic Society explored and photographed the area in the late 1940’s for a feature story for its magazine. The photographers were so awed by the formation’s pallette of red hues that they called it Kodachrome Flat, after Kodak’s recently introduced color film. When the area was designated a state park in 1962, it was called Chimney Rock until Kodak gave permission for the park to be renamed after its film.
Kodachrome Basin is pretty and can be easily explored during a day trip. The 6-mile panorama trail winds close to many of the sand spires and passes an old Native American cave before ascending to the obviously named panorama lookout point. The trail covers the bulk of the interesting formations in the park. We wound up hiking the trail backwards, first ascending to Panorama Point, and then doing the rest of the loop. We also drove up to the Shakespeare Arch trailhead and walked out to the arch and the Sentinel Rock behind it before calling it a day.
We arrived in Bryce as evening fell. Sadly, though predictably, Bryce’s well-deserved popularity has gutted the once-cute town that serves as a base for visitors to the park. At the same time that prices in Bryce and the nearby town of Tropic have skyrocketed, quality has taken a major nosedive. Gone were the local-sourced, chef-owned restaurants we enjoyed in the Grand Staircase, replaced by overpriced and generic fare. The Western-style Ruby’s Inn where we stayed was the only affordable lodging option; it had been subsumed under the Best Western hotel brand and robbed of its originality. We were thrown off a bit by this corporate encroachment and very much looked forward to restoring our sense of peace by visiting the park the next morning.