Our day starts at the Grand Canyon North Rim. We’ve been staying at the lodge, enjoying the spectacular view, 5 star dining, and peace and quiet for two nights; tonight we will be staying in the heart of the Zion Canyon. As if these two parks, one in morning, and one at night weren't enough, today I have decided to stretch our day to capacity and include Bryce Canyon National Park.
We make an early departure as time is precious today, and within only a couple of hours we are stopping for refreshment across the Arizona border in the small desert town of Kanab. After our brief intermission, we arrive at Mt. Carmel Junction, to quickly drop the trailer, and pack our lunches. Normally, our itinerary would have us traveling west on Highway 9, and within only about 20 minutes into Zion National Park. But with a group of ambitious travelers we’ve decided to detour. Instead we move another hour and a half north, towards Bryce Canyon, first traveling through farm and ranch country, then the Red Canyon, and after parking and a brief walk Bryce Canyon is revealed.
Bryce Canyon is not listed on the itinerary, so most of the group doesn’t know what to expect. They’ve only heard of Bryce, and maybe seen some photos, but it is a place not simply put into words. Its collections of Hoodoos and Colors, back dropped by the endless expanses of central Utah makes it a destination which photos, words, and second hand accounts do not suffice. Upon my recommendation, the majority of the group has opted to hike the Queens Garden trail, connecting it at the base of the canyon to the Navajo Loop, starting at Sunrise Point, and ending at Sunset point. A hike that has aptly (and maybe biasedly) labeled the “best 3-mile trail in the world”! It slowly descends and meanders through massive sandstone pillars eroded in unique fashion creating geologic formations known as Hoodoos. They are stacks of colors from white to purple, and every variety of orange, red, and vermillion.
As the trail winds through the park scattered juniper and bristlecone pine trees provide the perfect amount of variation and contrast making photography simple and breathtaking. Once at the bottom of a the canyon, a new perspective is achieved and viewing the canyon wall, with its countless hoodoos and colors, adds a new feeling to this un-earthly landscape. A 100m vertical climb up switchbacks and stairs, through a slot canyon called “Wall Street” ends this hike back at the rim, and allows a perfect vista to reflect on the relatively short, but satisfying, and indescribable walk. But our day is still not finished. Another gem of the South West awaits us.
We head back to our van, and backtrack through the Red Canyon gateway, south to Mt. Carmel where our trailer awaits. We hook up, and continue across to the entrance of Zion National Park. Entering through the East side of the park the first views of the park is the highlands; a maze of smooth rolling sandstones, known as slick rock, caused by the petrifying of sand dunes of eons past. We’re almost immediately welcomed by a herd of Big-horned sheep, who frolic and climb the bare rock, and offer stoic and curious poses. Continuing on from the highlands we enter a tunnel, 1.1 miles long, which when built in the early 20th century and was designed with windows to entertain and mesmerize travelers as they enter Zion Canyon.
The first views are of sheer sandstone cliffs, which allow no perspective or true understanding of their size. Larger windows further into the tunnel create more amazement and offer more clues to what’s ahead. But it's not until you leave the mountain tunnel and the panorama of the canyon, that the size and grandeur can fully be understood. Sandstone cliffs, a thousand feet above the canyon floor welcome you, and hold you in the belly of Zion. Our lodge tonight is tucked away deep inside the canyon, with Zion’s spectacular walls surrounding you on all sides. The Virgin River, the creator of this marvel, peacefully babbles nearby. It is a reminder of the slow and mysterious workings of nature and its constant formation of beauty. We again dine in style, with a sunset canyon view from our table, and make hiking plans for tomorrow. This day is as full, and varying as any of our Grand American Adventures itineraries. It will be some time before the epic views of the Grand Canyon, the unique and colorful hike in Bryce Canyon, and the overwhelming welcome of sheep and the sheer beauty of Zion, are fully appreciated again!