I arrived at Bryce Canyon National Park late in the day after negotiating through a wild winter storm in Flagstaff and sandstorms throughout northern Arizona. It was bitter cold and icy snow flurries pelted Big Blue as I entered Red Canyon, about thirty minutes outside the park and the first view of the region’s colorful hoodoos (the statuesque iron oxide formations everywhere).
First night’s camp was at the Bryce Canyon North campground and my only goals for the evening were to get warm and get some rest – tomorrow would be a big day of adventure!
The first stop upon entering the park was Sunset Point. It was snowing much heavier now, but fortunately the trails were still open. Ethereal and dramatic is the best way to describe the initial view. Hoodoos stretched out and down into the clouds.
I started with the Navajo Loop trail, a short but spectacular trail that drops directly into the canyon and weaves among the towering formations. As I entered the formation “Wall Street”, the trail was so slick with ice that the only way to descend was to sit and slide. This narrow canyon revealed only a sliver of sky above and fresh snow underfoot. I pass a couple arches carved by the water and then “Thor’s Hammer”, one of the park’s most famous formations.The giant Douglas fir trees living in this canyon are more than 750 years old!
At the bottom of the canyon is a fork heading off to Queen’s Garden trail. The canyon is quiet from the snow except for the occasional clacking of rocks eroding of the side of the cliffs as the snow melted. Bristlecone pines, some more than 1600 years old dot the escarpments.
The trail passes through a couple tunnels and then through some absolutely beautiful hoodoo castles – striking whites and oranges accentuated by the bright snow and green pines. The trail passes “Queen Victoria” the trail’s namesake and then gradually makes its way to the top, emerging at Sunrise Point.
From there it’s a short walk along the rim to the starting point, then lunch at the lodge.
I continue up the road toward Rainbow Point – the initial destination I had intended to start from for the backpacking leg of the trip, but as I ascended the mountain, the road got snowier and more treacherous. It was really nasty and cold and even if I wanted to tough out the weather, there would be no chance for any great views or photography due to the very low visibility.
I turned around at the Natural Bridge parking lot, where a stunning span or eroded red-hued limestone juts from the edge of the overlook. Although it’s called a bridge, it’s technically called an arch since bridges are formed by erosion of running water – in this case it was the freezing and thawing of water inside the cracks which shattered the rock and created the giant window.
At this point, it’s sooo bitter cold that all I can do is hop out for a quick photo, then rush back to the truck and creep back down the snowy mountain to the next viewpoint. The decision for tomorrow is easy: head to the lower elevation and warmer weather of Zion National Park and backpack into Kolob Canyon.