Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

Monday, July 14

Today’s mission: Bryce Canyon National Park, located 73 miles from Zion. I make a sandwich, gather up snacks and my water bottle, and hit the road.

The drive is very scenic. Route 9 meets highway 89 and there you turn north towards Bryce climbing through the White Cliffs of the Colorado Pleateau. Grand Staircase – Escalante Monument may lie to the south of here, but this whole area is still a part of it: a series of plateaus made up of layers of different colored sediments laid down over billions of years. Zion sits in the middle elevation wise, the Grand Canyon is at the bottom, and Bryce is near the top – in the Pink Cliffs.

Turning off of 89 and onto highway 12 I see a sign: Entering Dixie National Forest. Just beyond that, red cliffs eroded into fantastical shapes greet my eye, wow, this is pretty cool. There’s a Forest Service visitor’s center nearby for Red Canyon and a campground that I bet I would enjoy staying at. I pull into a turnoff and snap some pictures, quickly getting distracted.

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But I’m still miles from Bryce, and can’t linger long. I had no idea this place was here, it bears further exploration at a later date.

Beyond that, 12 continues to climb and another right turn takes me into Bryce. Unlike Zion, I don’t have a employee pass that’ll get me in for free. I spend the $80 for a year-long pass that will get me into all National sites, considering the fee just for a regular pass into Bryce is $25, it’s a prudent choice for full-timers who plan to visit a lot of parks.

It’s all pine forest near the visitor’s center. Pinion Pine I think, the same kind of drought resistant trees with next to no underbrush that I saw on Defiance Mesa in the Hopi reservation. Just after the fee station is the Visitor’s Center, where I learn that there’s a shuttle that visits the first five viewpoints, sounds good to me. Bryce is set up a little like Zion in that way: it’s a drive 18 miles long along the edge of the bluff with viewpoints and trails along the way.

The first viewpoint is called Inspiration Point, I exit to walk out to the edge and take a peek.

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Woah, and I do mean, woah.

Only 73 miles from Zion, and yet totally different. Those rows of spires are called hoodoos, the making of which is a combination off soil composition and erosion caused by frost wedging (Bryce gets below freezing 200 days out of the year) and heavy thunderstorms. The cliff walls erode into thin lines called fins. Those fins develop cracks which widen into windows, and then the tops of those windows cave in and leave a hoodoo behind. The hoodoo eventually erodes away into a pile of dirt, but new ones are being made all the time.

A person could get lost real easily down there. The road travels exclusively along the rim of the plateau (Bryce Canyon is not actually a canyon) but there are trails that head down into that labyrinth, and I bet they’d be fun to walk. The three viewpoints I visit on the shuttle have similar views to this, overlooking vast cathedrals of hoodoos.

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When I get back to the Visitor’s Center, I know I need to get back into Bertha and drive to the other viewpoints. It would be criminal not to see all of the beauty of this place, plus there’s a short trail at the end that will take me out to something else that’s been on my list to see since I started RVing.

One viewpoint overlooks Thor’s Hammer, a sizable hoodoo standing mostly by itself and featured on many Bryce souvenirs. Another features a magnificent arch wide and tall enough to drive the biggest Class A or 5th Wheel through, not that you’d want to try driving it down that steep a slope. Others feature sheer cliff faces with salmon colored rock against a deep green pine background.

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The whole while, the sky gets angrier looking, and the occasional rumble of thunder sounds in the distance. If I want to make it to the end before the storm hits, I’d better get moving!

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Wildlife crossings make picking up the pace a challenge. Twice I slow down for mule deer, who seem to know that in this place humans aren’t a threat to them. I snap a picture as two cross the road and nibble on dry grass the same color as they are. Then I stop at a viewpoint that has climbed high enough that the pines have given way to spruce and fir with the occasional aspen. Walking back to the truck I discover white fluid dripping from the back, uh-oh, what the heck is this?

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bryce-canyon-national-park7It’s my RV wax! At 8,900 feet, the expansion of the air inside the 5 gallon jug of it I carry around has caused it to burst, it’s sprung a leak in a weak point and is draining off the edge of the truck bed. The jug is over half empty, and when I turn it on it’s side to keep the wax from draining out, air hisses out in a rush to equalize the pressure. It’s a good thing I caught it when I did or I’d have no wax and a sizable mess. I make a mental note when I get back to Cas to open other airtight containers to let them equalize, even though my little RV is only at 6,000 feet. The wax container has a permanently swollen look and I imagine it was under stress before I got here.

Another overlook offers another stunning view. The dramatic clouds add to the pictures I’ve been taking out here, much more interesting than a cloudless blue sky. But I can also see the rain streaking down from this vantage, hurry hurry hurry.

At last I make it to the last stop, at a startling 9,100 feet. The one mile loop trail leads me through a eerily quiet forest. I think most other park visitors have left the trails due to impending weather and I only see three other groups while I’m out. The whole while dark clouds roll overhead, but I can’t leave without seeing what’s at the far point of this loop.

The spruce forest breaks on a jutting point with thin soil and strong winds. And there, clinging to the edges of the cliff in this harsh environment where no other trees can grow is my quarry: the Bristlecone Pine.

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Bristlecone Pine are the longest lived trees in the world, a few individuals of the species having reached the mind-boggling age of 5,000 years old – and they’re found right here in the western US. California has all of the truly ancient ones, but according to the plaque next to a particularly gnarled specimen that unfortunately looks to have died recently, it was over 1,600 years old. The Roman Empire was just converting to Christianity when this tree started growing.

They don’t look like much. The tallest among the ones here are maybe 15 feet, and the closer to the cliff edge one gets the more stunted they are. Nearly all have dead branches, about half have dead trunks and are now utilizing secondary branches as trunks. They’re survivors though, persevering through the ages. I can now head back home to the RV, another to-see item checked off my travel list.

On the way out, I spy a young Bristlecone perched on a rock beyond the safely fenced zone of the trail. Good luck little guy, may you have many, many years ahead of you.

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Becky

At IO I teach people how to ditch the status quo and travel full-time before retirement, and share stories of my adventures (and misadventures) to inspire future nomads and armchair travelers alike. Included at no additional charge: seizing your dreams, living boldly, and making a difference.

25 Comments

  1. […] the ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees that live here on fellow blogger Becky Schade’s site at IO (Interstellar Orchard). She visited the pines in Bryce Canyon, but their are some really ones here at Cedar Breaks. […]



  2. Furry Gnome on July 23, 2014 at 6:08 am

    Wow! That. Picture of the first viewpoint is one of the best I’ve seen from that area – southwest U.S. Is still on our list, and you’re making me think about getting there sooner rather than later!



    • Becky on July 23, 2014 at 8:54 am

      Do come! So much to see and do in this area.



  3. Dawn on July 19, 2014 at 6:15 am

    Bryce is my absolute favorite. I’ve walked down into the hoodoos a few times, there are spectacular shots down there..but it’s amazing from the top too. Glad you went!



    • Becky on July 20, 2014 at 8:17 pm

      I really haven’t been able to pinpoint which I like better of the two. I like them all!



  4. James on July 18, 2014 at 12:01 am

    Sounds like you are having a great trip Becky. The scenery is so dramatic and you’ve captured the drama beautifully. Keep on trucking.



    • Becky on July 18, 2014 at 2:18 pm

      Will do. 🙂



  5. Steve on July 17, 2014 at 11:48 pm

    Great report, I hope that you will have a change to get back to Bryce with more time to hike some of the trails. Zion and Bryce are two of my favorite parks for hikes. Hiking down into Bryce gives you a whole different perspective that up on the plateau, just as hiking up the walls in Zion also give you a whole different perspective. You can spend a whole year just visiting the National Parks and Monuments in Utah and still not see everything.



    • Becky on July 18, 2014 at 2:17 pm

      I bet so Steve! But at least that gives me ample reason to come back. 🙂



  6. Reine on July 17, 2014 at 8:30 pm

    $80 for a year-long pass is a great deal for YOUNG fulltimers. For those of us who are 62 and over the Senior Pass, $10 for a lifetime, is an even better deal. Since the passes cover national parks, monuments and historical sites you can see a lot of America for $80, especially since many of the places are in the west either reasonably close to you now or places you can see as you move between jobs. Grand Canyon is also $25

    FYI, one fun thing we’ve done is to buy the National Parks Passport book and get it stamped at each park, monument, or other site we visit. I think the blank book is under $10. We don’t buy the pretty (stick on) stamps that cost a bunch. We just take it in and get it “cancelled” with the rubber stamp for the location. Since the cancellation stamps have the date on them, they make a great log of where we were when over the years. It’s a cheap fun souvenir.

    FYI, when you have the time, there are some great hikes in Bryce that take you down into the hoodoos.



    • Becky on July 18, 2014 at 2:16 pm

      I just take pictures wherever I go Reine, the cheapest souvenir, and it takes up no space and requires no effort when I get to a place. 🙂

      And yes, the senior pass is a no-brainer for those that qualify. It’ll be quite a while before I do. 😉

      And I hope I do get a chance to go back and hike when the weather is less threatening.



  7. Jodee Gravel on July 17, 2014 at 10:38 am

    For some reason the young pine in the last pic reminded me of you. Beyond the safety fence, close to the edge but out of danger, on its own, enjoying the view, and many, many years ahead of you.
    Jodee Gravel recently posted..Sacrifice for the Cause?My Profile



    • Becky on July 18, 2014 at 1:57 pm

      Haha, interesting comparison Jodee, and quite true in a way!



  8. Jo on July 17, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Becky, stunning photos and such a pleasure to read your account. Glen Canyon now checked off my list, Bryce and Zion remain. If you haven’t been, I highly suggest one of my favorite spots in the SW…Canyon de Chelly, AZ. There is one trail for visitors, several views from its rim, and Navajo still farm within its Beauty. A place I have returned several times and once years ago, camped with an official group in shamanic workshop. awesome. Plastic containers with liquid at high altitude…ugh.



    • Becky on July 18, 2014 at 1:21 pm

      I’ll look into that Jo, thanks. And while I drove through Glen I’ll need to go back to actually sightsee at some point.



      • jo on July 18, 2014 at 5:30 pm

        in june i spent two nights lakeside at lake powell resort
        pre-RV
        It was other worldly. Took my breath



        • Becky on July 20, 2014 at 8:13 pm

          Fun times. 🙂



  9. Ron on July 16, 2014 at 10:50 pm

    Incredible photos, thanks again for sharing. Ron



    • Becky on July 18, 2014 at 1:19 pm

      You’re welcome Ron, thanks for reading!



  10. Pleinguy on July 16, 2014 at 4:45 pm

    Good report on Bryce, and great pix. I’m pretty sure the critters you saw were young pronghorn, not mule deer. At least they have the markings for them.
    Pleinguy recently posted..Oregon CoastMy Profile



    • Becky on July 18, 2014 at 1:14 pm

      It was iffy Plein but you could be right. I saw 10 or so that looked like this and none had the prong horns or the white neck stripes that I could see, but they did have the white on their rump and side the way Pronghorns do.



  11. Todd on July 16, 2014 at 3:52 pm

    Nice job on the pictures. I need to go there some day.



    • Becky on July 18, 2014 at 1:10 pm

      Yes Todd, it’s every bit as beautiful as Zion, but very different scenery. I can see why people flock to Utah’s southern National Parks now: reasonably close together, yet very different.



  12. TravelBug-Susan on July 16, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    When I worked at AAA (American Automobile Association) helping travelers plan their trips, we described Zion as the park where you drive in the canyon and look up, and Bryce as where you drive on plateaus and look down. (I realize there are exceptions to these descriptions, but it was an easy way to let people know what to expect.)

    I love Zion, Bryce, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Arches, and Capitol Reef National Parks. Utah has the most amazing scenery when it comes to rocks, canyons, arches and geology.
    TravelBug-Susan recently posted..Update on Bob’s Second Opinion – Tues., July 15My Profile



    • Becky on July 18, 2014 at 1:06 pm

      That is a pretty good way to put it Susan! I want to visit all of Southern Utah’s parks before I go, but it might be a challenge, Arches is hours away and I don’t get two days off in a row. But that just means I’ll have a good reason to come back some day!



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