Bryce really is this colorful. I’ve wondered about that every time I’ve seen a photograph of the beautiful hoodoos there, and always assumed that photographers were over saturating their photos, but no. I entered the area through the Dixie National Forest first, and literally had to pull over to just look at the rocks for a moment. It was late afternoon and they were glowing as orange as jack-o-lanterns. The colors are a function of the types of rocks located here.
Limestone is white in its pure form, but when small amounts of iron are added, and then oxidize (rust), it changes to produce red, orange and brown. Magnesium oxide causes the blue and purple tones. Add the light from the sun, which changes all day long, and you end up with a beautiful rainbow of colors. The hoodoos themselves are a function of erosion. The top layer is the cap rock, which protects the structure and allows it to erode away in the column form, but that to will eventually erode and the hoodoo begins to degrade Here at Bryce, all of that is going on all over the place in a way that doesn’t happen anywhere else in the world. It’s spectacular.
I started the day early in the morning, because I prefer photographing in soft morning light, and boy am I glad I did. Ironically, I headed to Sunset Point for my sunrise photos, and was rewarded with lovely soft light that illuminated the rock from behind and bounced back on the layers to enhance the color even more. From this point, the Navajo Trail heads down into the canyon and passes by the famous “Thor’s Hammer” formation before working its way down to the floor and to another famous slot canyon formation called “Wall Street”.
I got a good bit of the way down before discovering that Wall Street was closed due to a rock slide the previous day, so I headed back up to the rim and decided to drive all the way to the south end of the park, which is its highest elevation of just over 9,000 feet at Rainbow Point.
What a fantastic view! After spending some time up there, I worked my way back towards the north side of the park, taking advantage of the many stops along the right which featured plenty of beautiful vistas.
The drive wanders through a pine forest and meadows before returning back to the area of the visitor’s center and the Bryce Canyon Lodge.
I headed to the lodge to see if I could book a last minute afternoon horseback ride into the canyon, and lucked out with a standby ticket and a three hour afternoon ride. Our cowboy guide asked me if I minded riding a mule instead (I did not mind at all since I love mules) and I was introduced to Mary Belle, who was an awesome ride! Mary Belle liked to walk right on the edge of the trail with the huge drop offs, and I was assured that was not a problem (yes, it definitely was a problem for me!) but fortunately, she was well trained and easy enough to convince to move over to the middle of the trail with just a little bit of leg pressure.
The ride into the canyon was a lot of fun, with our cowboy guide pointing out lots of features of the canyon, including close up views of some of its famous formations, and he also shared some of the history of the area with us. Several people were curious about possible petroglyphs in the canyon, but he explained the Paiute people who lived there believed that the hoodoos (which they called “anka-ku-was-a-wits” or “red painted faces”) were Legend People that the Coyote God had turned into stone, so they generally avoided the canyon. He also pointed out trees that had been struck by lightening, which ended up having a swirling kind of grain to the wood afterwards. We saw some wildlife, including mule deer that were completely undisturbed by our presence. It was a very nice way to explore the canyon, although the hikers we passed on the trail took every opportunity to let us know we were cheating by riding through. Fine by me. By the time the ride was over around 4:30 p.m., I had spent a full day at Bryce and loved every minute of it!
Overall impression: This is a must-see park. There is just nothing like it anywhere else, and the colors are so striking. It’s worth staying several nights in the park campgrounds (if you can get in) and exploring the different elevations, that each offer their own experience. There’s a lot of diversity here!
Costs: Admission to the park is $25 per vehicle. I got in free with my annual National Park Pass. The 3 hour ride into the canyon was $90, and you sign up for that inside the park at the lodge. I stayed at the KOA Campground in Cannonville, which cost $80 for 2 nights, include my 10% KOA rewards discount. That campground is 15 miles from the park entrance and an easy and pretty drive, but I would probably stay in the park campground if I went again, despite having fewer amenities. There aren’t any restaurants in Cannonville (there is a BBQ food truck that is sometimes open and I heard is good, but I didn’t try that). I ate at Clark’s Restaurant attached to the General Store in nearby Tropic, which was convenient and had good service, but was very expensive and the food wasn’t great (this is a common theme for restaurants in out of the way areas, so I wasn’t totally surprised.) If I went to the area again, I would cook at the camper.