It’s Thursday, May 21, and we need to get going, both back in history and in terms of these blog posts….
Now here’s an example of how it’s important, while traveling, to leave space and time for new and unexpected discoveries. At this point, the shape of the next three days was to be mostly Bryce Canyon. But since I had never been there before, I had no idea how much time we would want or need to get our fill of it. Would Thursday late afternoon and evening and Friday be enough? Or would that leave us aching for more and regretful that we didn’t have it? Would we want two full days? Three? The accommodations were booked – Thursday and Friday night at Bryce, Saturday night just over the border in Arizona, on the way to the Grand Canyon. But we could spend all day Thursday at Bryce (once we arrived)…or just the evening. We could spend most of the day Saturday, too. Hmmm.
Decision time. So, since we had that stretch of time open to us on Saturday, upon rising Thursday morning, I thought we might take a slight detour, head just fifteen minutes north of St. George to Snow Canyon State Park.
We spent all morning there, and could have probably spent the day.
It’s a gorgeous, fascinating landscape with lots of fossilized sand dunes, lava fields and white hills (hence the name).
(We never got the white hills, by the way)
We spent our morning climbing over the dunes.
Then set out in search of lava tunnels.
The trail to those tunnels is clearly marked at first, but somehow, we missed another sign at a crossroads – later, when we did find it, we all wondered how we’d missed it, but we did. No matter. That particular detour led, as detours often do, though, to one of the more memorable sites of our trip – a prairie dog stretched out in a bush, leisurely stuffing berries into its furry fat cheeks.
We didn’t actually go into the lava tunnels because we weren’t at all equipped for it, and besides, I don’t do things like go into lava tunnels when I’m traveling alone with two kids. I’ll do a lot, but I always have the what if something happens caution in the back of my mind. I mean…there’s only me. Aside from my obvious safety concerns about my kids, sorry, but * I* have to stay safe. There’s no fallback.
I believe I had read about this park before, but hadn’t worked it in because I was fixated on the big sites and, I’ll repeat, I had no good understanding of the distances, and didn’t realize that it was such an easy drive from St. George. It would be a great spot to spend an entire day…or two….
We finished up around lunchtime then headed back into St. George to the Chick-fil-A my son had tracked down, and then it was on to Bryce….
Which is amazing. Other-worldly, and quite out of the blue. You could spend your life living five miles away and never know it’s there – which is sort of what happened, historically.
Almost every natural site we visited on this trip was a canyon or valley, but none were anything at all alike.
Bryce Canyon is called a “canyon,” but it’s not primarily formed, as most “canyons” are by a body of water moving through it, carving that canyon which is the first stage to “valley.”
These hoodoos and other formations have been formed, they say, not by the wind-generated erosion like that which formed the hoodoos we saw in New Mexico, but by a particular process. Bryce is in an area subject to extreme temperature variations. During the winter, there is a lot of snow and ice, which settles into the rock. With all these temperature fluctuations and the presence of the freezing, then melting ice, the softer forms of rock crack and erode away.
Let’s backtrack a bit. How did I get to Bryce? Well, I drove on the interstate 15, then up and over. For the next few days we’d be staying in accommodations that, I knew, held monopolies over the areas in which they were located, and prices on things like breakfast bars and snacks and fruit would be high (I was right). I wanted to avoid being gouged, so a side-trip to the Wal-Mart in Cedar City, Utah seemed like a good idea, and it was….and by the way, that was a bit of a shock…to get out of the car into temps in the high 30’s? What?
(It ended up not being that cold in Bryce, though.)
The drive to Bryce takes you through the beautiful and aptly named Red Canyon, which we would visit on the way out.
Now, this part of the entry is for those considering visiting Bryce. I want to clarify a couple of points that were fuzzy to me before I got there and actually saw how things were laid out.
If you want to stay at Bryce, you don’t have a busy little town as you do at the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, or Springdale outside of Zion, with more accommodations and restaurants from which to choose that are right there. (Not necessarily a bad thing, except….)
Starting from the closest to Bryce, your choices are:
- To stay in the park and the historic Bryce Canyon Lodge, part of the NPS, but operated by Forever Resorts (which also operates the Grand Canyon North Rim Lodge). This is, of course, right in the park, with hiking trails jutting off from it – great location. There are rooms in the lodge itself, plus a bunch of cabins, which looked nice. I checked here, but there was never any availability that popped up during the month I was searching. Note, there’s no internet at the Lodge.
- Moving out from there, you have the Ruby’s Inn complex right outside the park itself – and I mean, right outside. It’s a five minute drive from the Visitor’s Center. There are two hotels, a general store, a souvenir shop, a campground, gas station, etc. The hotels are now part of the Best Western chain. Super convenient, but you pay for it.
- Then moving maybe ten to fifteen minutes further down the road, off the Ruby’s Inn property, there are a number of smaller hotels, motels and cabin outfits.
Of course, you can guess that the price of the accommodations increases, the closer you get to the park.
The Lodge wasn’t going to happen for us, so I settled on Ruby’s Inn. It wasn’t terrible. It was fine! The room was clean and normal sized. I got an internet special, so that helped. But if I were to do it again, I wouldn’t stay there. Here’s why:
- The distance of the other, smaller, less expensive accommodations from the park isn’t that far, and the drive is very easy. You’re not having to deal with winding switchbacks or driving through miles of nothing to get from those further-away hotels to Bryce Canyon. You can stay in a decent place for less money that’s fifteen minutes away on straight roads that are no hassle to drive any time of the day or night.
- The Ruby’s Inn complex is a monopoly – they own that property right outside the park (they were the original developers of the area as a park, and that’s all a very interesting history), and ….they hold that monopoly. Prices on food in both the stores and in the restaurants are very high – ridiculously high, even for an area in which prices do tend to be higher in restaurants because of a general lack of competition and the cost of getting supplies. I mean….$23 for a mediocre buffet for anyone over 11?
- I just wouldn’t want to get caught in that web again.
So, that said, there we are…
Checked in, along with half of Germany and a third of Japan (amazing!), and set out to explore. We drove into the Visitor’s Center, looked around there, then drove on down to a couple of hiking/walking trailheads.
(Note – Bryce, like Zion, runs a shuttle bus system. Unlike Zion during the summer months, it’s not required, but recommended because of possible parking issues. We drove the car, and had no issues, but it was also early in the season. Judging from what I saw, I would guess that taking the shuttle in the summer would be your best choice unless you were getting there at 6 AM)
OH – forgot this. Admission to these popular parks is not cheap, and that’s okay, since they really are one of the things that we do best, and a big chunk of the rest of the world gets to us via these parks, so they’re worth the upkeep. Plus, Nature. It’s now $25 per private car. Because we were visiting so many of these parks on this trip, I opted to just go ahead and purchase the “America the Beautiful” pass for $80 that gets us into all federal recreation sites (that sounds….penitentiary-like, doesn’t it?).
We drove out to Sunset Point, then walked the Rim Trail to Inspiration Point. Then we did a big chunk of the Queen’s Garden Trail.
It really is unreal.
Then back to settle in a bit more, eat and then return to the Lodge for a nighttime ranger program on astronomy. We drove out to the Lodge, at which point I discovered I had the program time wrong, so we had 45 minutes to kill. We killed it by driving up through a good chunk of the park and stopping at various viewpoints.
At one viewpoint, there was a very friendly, large raven. The couple that was there when we drove up said it just hopped right up to them. No fear. Obviously it has been fed by human beings, and this is too bad. It really was a little menacing, very Birds-like. When we went to our car it roused itself and flew right to our car, obviously holding out for one last opportunity. People are stupid. Don’t feed the wildlife. Please!
Now, back to the Lodge for the program. I had been looking forward to this. In fact, I had scheduled us to be at Bryce on a Thursday night so we could catch one of these astronomy programs. It turned out not to be….the best use of our time for a couple of reasons.
- It was cloudy. This couldn’t be helped, but it did mean there would be no actual star-viewing. But surely the program would be worth it anyway?
- Sorry, no. We heard some ranger programs at the Grand Canyon that were very good, and this, unfortunately, was not anywhere near the standard of those. The well-intentioned, enthusiastic fellow spent an hour giving a sort-of history of the science of astronomy, most of which was familiar to anyone with a high school education and not engagingly-enough presented to interest anyone else. I had expected a presentation about the skies above Bryce Canyon in May – what’s up there, how to see it, where to look….and that’s not what we got at all. It was fairly torturous. Not a good start to the NPS Ranger talk program…but it did get much better, so stay tuned for that.
But this would be awaiting us in the morning….so get a good night’s sleep!