It is Friday the 13th when we board a plane to the Southwest. Are we testing our luck? Possibly. Did everything turn out wonderfully? Sure did. Am I now in love with the desert? Absolutely.
Embracing our inner Weekend Warriors, we decided to mosey down to Utah for a few days to see the hoodoo rock wizardry that is Bryce Canyon National Park. To get there, we flew into Las Vegas, which is about a 4-hour drive to Bryce Canyon, but first we had to make a quick pit stop. Seeing as we happened to be in Vegas and it was indeed Friday the 13th (and also just knowing that we are guilty of being who we are), we decided to get tiny $13 tattoos. When in Vegas, right?
After getting the important things out of the way… onward to Utah we went!
Many years ago I had driven through the Southwest, but I either forgot how ridiculously gorgeous it is (unlikely), or I slept through the entire ride (extremely likely), because holy moly, it is one fantastic slice of planet over there. There’s just something about the desert landscape with sage green bushes against red-rocks that I just can’t get enough of. It was nice to take a break from driving for a bit so that I could more adequately stare and utter the word “wow” over and over again like a broken record. Poor Jess, my desert-born best friend that grew up amongst the cacti and dry heat of Arizona, had to deal with my ooh-ing and ahh-ing all weekend long. And trust me, I did a serious amount of both within a 72-hour period.
Our first order of business was to check-in at our accommodations. This involved the very complex task of opening a gate, driving through said gate, and parking in front of our tipi. That’s right, I did indeed say “tipi.”
AirBnB is a glorious thing and stumbling upon this gem is really what set the trip in motion. Once I saw it from the comfort of my bed in Seattle, I was Googling flights and rental cars like a little planning ninja fueled by sheer desert determination.
Must get to Utah. Must stay in tipi.
The tipi is about a 20-minute drive from the park entrance and is essentially perfect in every way for the no-frills traveler. There are four cots, two little chairs, a small fire pit, gorgeous views, and we of course brought along plenty of Coronas to keep us two amigos happy. Sunrise wasn’t too shabby either.
TO THE HOODOOS!
We tackled Bryce Canyon over 3 days (or the equivalent of 2 full days) and it was the perfect amount of time.
Friday Afternoon: See the main sights, ooh and ahh at everything, catch sunset
Saturday: Hike, explore, stargaze
Sunday Morning: Sunrise and scenic drive
Bryce Canyon is best known for a little something called a hoodoo, which despite being an absolutely magical sight, is not to be confused with voodoo. For our purposes, hoodoos are the tall geological formations that are unique to the park and in absolute ridiculous abundance. Their shape resembles a totem pole and they range from teeny-tiny to super ginormous, which are both scientifically relevant terms to describe size. They are created through erosion patterns, mineral deposits, frost wedging, and other fancy rock happenings which are better explained here.
EXPLORING THE CANYON
When it comes to seeing the sights, you’re technically seeing the same thing over and over again, just from different perspectives. There are some hoodoos that are more famous than others, such as Thor’s Hammer, Wall Street, and the Wall of Windows, but they are all pretty neat. The main viewpoint of the amphitheater is Bryce Point, with Inspiration, Sunrise and Sunset Points being equally as popular. It’s really just a wonderful hubbub of hoodoos.
TAKE TO THE TRAILS
The Queen’s Garden is the main trail that takes you into the canyon so that you can get up close and personal with those fun hoodoos, or as we came to call them, hoodudes. At 1.8 miles along primarily flat terrain, this is the easiest and most accessible trail, therefore this is also where all the people are. We began at Sunset Point and ended at Sunrise Point (which sounds counterintuitive, but was a much nicer walk in my opinion). To extend the journey, you can venture onto the Navajo Loop or any of the longer trails in the area. Given more time, I would liked to have done the Fairyland Loop (8 miles) or the Peek-a-Boo Loop (5.5 miles). I guess I’ll just have to go back to do some more ooh-ing and ahh-ing.
This 20-mile drive has several overlook stops that offer fantastic views, and by “several” I mean 10 or so. It is suggested to drive all the way to the end and work your way back, which is just what we did. Each overlook offers a unique perspective of the canyon, with Rainbow Canyon, Agua Canyon, Black Birch Canyon, and Natural Bridge being my favorites.
If you want to hit more of them, you’ll want to throw in Yovimpa Point, Ponderosa Point, Piracy Point, Paria View, and Fairview Point.
As much as I loved Bryce Canyon, I reeealllly enjoyed Red Canyon for its untouched, raw landscape that was void of people. This heavenly bit of land was an absolute desert playground and I quite literally ran around the trees and climbed up and down rocks to my heart’s content.
UNTIL NEXT TIME
We said goodbye to our lovely little tipi and began the journey home. On our way back we technically drove through Utah, down to Arizona, back into Utah, back down to Arizona, and finally over to Nevada. I swear we aren’t that directionally-challenged, it just happened to be the road we were on.
We stopped a few times for a final desert frolic or two, watched some crazy stroms in the distance, and then found ourselves at a sweet little spot called the River Rock Roasting Company where we enjoyed deliciously cold brews (both of the coffee and beer variety), with an even sweeter view. Also, it was 100+ degrees and cold things became a life-sustaining necessity for a wimpy PNW-er, such as myself.
READY TO BOOGEY DOWN TO BRYCE?
If you are getting overly jazzed about hoodoos right now, I don’t blame you. In fact, I applaud your enthusiasm and 100% support it. If you decide that Bryce Canyon is the place you need to be (and trust me, it is), then there are few things I’d keep in mind:
— If you are coming from Las Vegas, don’t forget there is a 1-hour time difference.
— If you want to drive through Zion National Park when going to or from Bryce, consider purchasing the America the Beautiful park pass ($80 for an annual pass to all National Parks), as opposed to paying $30 for a 7-day pass to each park. This nifty little annual pass is really a no-brainer in my humble opinion.
— There is a shuttle service that goes through the park should you desire such a thing. We didn’t use it, nor did we want to, but it’s there if you need it!
— Considering that it isn’t too big of a park, 2-3 days is the perfect amount of time for a visit. Two days allows adequate time to do the scenic drive, a few hikes, and hit the main sights, while with three days you could throw in one of the longer hikes.
In school they teach you an easy trick to always spell “desert” and “dessert” correctly: There are two S’s in dessert because you’ll always want to have delicious seconds, and there’s only one S in desert because it’s way too hot to go twice. In 3rd grade that made sense, but after visiting Bryce Canyon, I’m pretty into the idea of a second helping of desert. Preferbly sooner rather than later!