hiking the hoodoos
Bryce Canyon is nothing short of spectacular. From Dead Horse Point, to Needles, and the Island In The Sky, we had enjoyed plenty of spectacular vistas, but Bryce blew them all out of the water. In fact, it took us longer to walk the half-mile between Sunrise and Sunset Points along the Bryce Canyon rim, than any of the other 125 miles we hiked in the Southwest during the rest of our trip, and this despite the fact that the trail connecting them is flat and paved. We had purposefully avoided looking at photographs before seeing the canyon ourselves. Nature truly outdid herself with Bryce; we had to labor to pick our jaws up off the floor so that we could actually get on with our hike inside the canyon.
We had woken up early, but the morning was cold and drizzly. Bryce is at altitude, and the temperature that late October morning hovered not far above freezing. We tempered our excitement and opted for a hot breakfast instead of rushing to the park. At the visitor center, the park ranger gave us some more bad news. Bryce had received a third of its annual rainfall during the preceding five days, and was expecting more that day. One section of the trail we had wanted to do was closed due to rockfall, and the rest of the trails were muddy, but he urged us to go ahead with our plan anyway.
The trail we had envisioned was recently ranked as the second-best hike in the United States by National Geographic, second only to the Grand Canyon’s Hermit Trail. Even without the mile of closed trail, it more than lived up to the billing. Walking from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point, we enjoyed an unimpeded panorama view of the Bryce Canyon amphitheater, with its forest of hoodoo structures.
The heavy rain clouds that had blanketed Bryce in the morning had dissipated somewhat, allowing a few rays of sunshine to peek through. Bryce would be incredible even under a leaden sky, but it is especially radiant when lit up by the sun, the rays of light making the deep reds and ambers of the hoodoos seem incandescent. We had never encountered the term “hoodoo” before and turned to the information panels along the trail to learn how these sandstone spires were whittled by the forces of nature over the course of many millennia.
At Sunrise Point, we left the canyon rim and descended to the Queen’s Garden, a collection of hoodoos that owes its name to one standout structure that calls to mind the statue of Queen Victoria in front of Buckingham Palace. To call the hoodoos fanciful would be an understatement. They seem improbably beautiful — formations that belong in a Star Wars set, rather than in real life.
From the Queen’s Garden, we hooked up with a short spur trail that led to the Peek-a-Boo Loop, leaving behind the crowds in the process. Unlike the mostly flat Queen’s Garden trail, the Peek-A-Boo goes up and down a lot, providing an excellent workout in addition to amazing views. The only downside to the Peek-A-Boo is that it doubles as a horse path, leading the park ranger to remark sardonically that it should be called the “peek-a-poop” trail.
The Peek-A-Boo Loop links up — via the same short spur trail we had already walked — to the Navajo Trail, which led us back up to Sunset Point where we had started. All of the trails on this figure-eight path were neatly groomed, making walking a lot easier than it would have been under primitive trail conditions. Still, the ascents are all steep, and given how often we stopped to photograph the fantastic hoodoos, the 7 miles took us pretty much all day.
We had about an hour and a half of daylight left after completing the hike, so we drove the 18 miles out to Rainbow Point — the farthest and highest lookout point in the park — and then retraced our way back to the park exit, stopping at the lookouts on the way to gaze at the various hoodoo formations and arches that are inaccessible from the main amphitheater. Fittingly, we ended our day at Bryce Point just as the sun set, braving the bitter cold that had set in for one last look at this incredible canyon.