Bryce Canyon: Fins, Windows and Hoodoos

I am doing laundry, cleaning the refrigerator, mopping the floor and packing for Maggie Valley. And I am thinking of the gift I received from “The Figure 8” trail we hiked May 2nd at Bryce Canyon National Park. I was afraid to try it. When we hike in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, I dread the ascent, then sing or whistle all the way down. To descend from the rim at Sunrise Point to the floor, with multiple ascents and descents within the valley, and then — at the end of the day at max fatigue — to make a ferocious (for me) steep climb back out to the rim and end at Sunset Point, was daunting. Buck’s cheerful attitude and spirit of adventure carried the day. When we finished the loops and were looking down in amazement at where we had been, my body was tired, but my heart was emboldened and my spirit restored to venture out into wildness again.

When I start trying to winnow down the photos from Bryce Canyon to post only a representative few, I get totally stuck. I want to show them all. I am evangelical when it comes to Bryce. I want to take you by the shoulders and say “Go. You have to experience this place.”

The National Park Service website for Bryce Canyon is a great place to start planning a trip and learning about the evolution of what geologists call the Claron Formation.

Buck and I spent three nights at the outstanding  Best Western Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel.  It’s the latest incarnation of the late Ruby and Minnie Syrett ‘s lodging empire at Bryce Canyon that began in 1919 when they pitched a tent at the rim of the canyon to accommodate visitors. The next year, they built “Tourist Rest,” a lodge near Sunset Point. According to literature from Ruby’s Inn, visitors carved their names in the lodge’s heavy wooden doors, which became a wild west sort of guest register. Ruby and Minnie added several tent cabins and an open-air pavilion for dancing, and never looked back.  Sounds to me like sturdy, fun-loving folk gathered there. I suspect there was whiskey drinking along with the dancing. It’s a bizarre image, and must have been exhilarating,  like a fairyland at the edge of the universe.

Today, in the hub on the outskirts of the park, there’s a dinner theater, rodeo, kitschy shops, gas stations, restaurants, a general store, several inns and an RV park. We were there just before the season got into full swing, so even the park shuttle buses weren’t running yet.

Bryce Canyon rim elevations range between 8,000 and 9,000 feet above sea level, and I’m here to tell you that you will feel effects from that elevation when you’re hiking. Our first afternoon was spent reconnoitering, walking up to Sunset Point, and making plans for a major hike the next day. I’m a coward. I look for the Easy to Moderate Hikes in the Day-Hiking Trail Guide. Not Buck. He skips over those and the Moderate Hikes, and goes straight to the Strenuous Hikes (steep grades with MULTIPLE elevation changes).  The hike listed at the very bottom of that section was called “The Figure 8.” The description for it said, “Combine Queens Garden, Navajo Loop and Peekaboo Loop into one ultimate hike!.”  I could see Buck’s finger, like the Ouija Board of doom, hover and then stop on that one.

My finger stopped on the “Hiking Reminders” part of the description. It included such bullet points as:

♦  CAUTION – Rocks occasionally fall on most hiking trails. If you see or hear active rockfall, leave the area.

♦  Carry 1 liter of water per 2-3 hours of hiking.

♦  Park elevations reach over 9100 feet. Even mild exertion may leave you feeling light-headed and nauseated.

♦  Remember, you are responsible for your own safety.

 The next morning we strapped on our backpacks, laced up our boots, and headed out to do “The Figure 8.”  I started out wearing my warm Cabela’s fleece jacket. It felt good for about 10 minutes. As we descended into the valley floor, the temperatures rose. I lamented the extra weight and bulk of the jacket stuffed in my backpack.

In most places, the path is wide and safe. The connected loops wouldn’t be particularly strenuous were it not for the somewhat extreme, multiple elevation changes.  An excellent slide show and description of this loop by K. A. Bogan on an IPhone app called Every Trail is here.

Windows develop in rock formations. Through erosion, freezing, thawing, and freezing again multiple times, the formations gradually collapse to form hoodoos.

These hoodoos as still connected to one another. Time will pass, and they will stand alone in odd groupings and shapes.

A hoodoo stands alone.

The climb back to the rim was not a series of fairly gentle switch-backs like our entry path. My heart pounded. Here is where I felt the altitude most acutely. I look at this photo today and smile. We did it!

Tomorrow morning we’ll point the car toward Maggie Valley and the rainforest Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where I’ll breathe hard and mutter under my breath all the way to ridge tops, then whistle and sing all the way down, and stay up late rocking on the porch under bright stars.

Next: Salt Lake City — our last road trip destination before heading home.

8 thoughts on “Bryce Canyon: Fins, Windows and Hoodoos

  1. The description for it said, “Combine Queens Garden, Navajo Loop and Peekaboo Loop into one ultimate hike!.” I could see Buck’s finger, like the Ouija Board of doom, hover and then stop on that one.
    Good man.

    I visited Bryce 30 years ago. Clearly, it’s time for a return visit.


  2. It looks like such a breathtaking place to hike. I sort of can’t believe that, having grown up in Wyoming, I’ve never been to Bryce Canyon. Will you take me by the shoulders and tell me to go?


  3. Love reading about your travels and seeing your photos. Like you, I’m an altitude wimp (though it sounds as if you just mentally whine about it and then do it). I’m always glad when I drag my butt up a steep trail though.


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