After our diner breakfast, we set out en route to Bryce Canyon. We stopped along the way in Red Canyon, which is impressive in its own right, and lives up to its colorful name. It was extra dramatic because it was cloudy at the time, and the sky added an ominous cast to the orange/red stone.
After scrambling around on the slippery, flaky red shale (probably not technically shale, apologies to any geologists in the audience), we drove on — and up; the rim of Bryce Canyon varies between about 8,000 and 9,000 feet.
We stopped briefly at the visitor center, and then went exploring. Due to a misunderstanding between me and the [very vague] map provided at the front desk, we overshot the main tourist viewpoints by several miles, and wound up near the other end of the canyon, but not to complain, as the view was excellent:
After gawking at the view from that end, we wound our way back to the ‘main’ part of the canyon, where the rock formations (hoodoos) are the most dramatic and where the main trails are located. We wandered along the rim for awhile, admiring the view and the changing colors as the clouds shifted:
We didn’t do too much of a hike below the rim — the air’s a bit thin up there, and the trail was fairly steep, so we elected to stay near the top. We saw some of my new favorite trees, the ancient and precarious Bristlecone Pines. They grow normally, but they stick around for so long that the soft stone erodes away from under them and they wind up perched on impressive stilt-like roots:
How long do they grow, you ask? This particular species is the oldest single organism in the world, and can be up to 5,000 years old (yes, that’s a five followed by three zeroes).
After our hike, we left Bryce and stopped in the friendly little town of Panguitch (still not sure how that’s pronounced) for lunch in a small restored theatre, the Gem. It was mid-afternoon, so options were limited, but this place was great, with house-made ice cream and fresh sandwiches scooped/prepared by a very nice IT nerd from Salt Lake City who was helping the cafe owner (a friend of his) by minding the shop solo for a few weeks. He told us about three recent tornadoes in town and made a mean reuben sandwich.
Then we headed through the Dixie National Forest on a smaller, more scenic route than the main highway suggested on maps. Utah is deeply invested in making sure you don’t get lost a.k.a. venture off the main road and disturb the locals. We regularly saw signs on highway exits saying things like “NO SERVICES” which could have meant anything from “tiny friendly community with no shops” to “abandoned ghost town” to “crazy cult headquarters, trespassers will be shot”. My favorite sign, though, was the one shortly after exiting the main highway (89) onto route 143:
|Are you sure, though? I could have sworn it was.|
Dixie National Forest was fairly unexciting, though it was a nice drive. At the far end we found our next destination, Cedar Breaks National Monument.
Cedar Breaks is an International Dark Sky Park, and there were meteor showers scheduled (scheduled? you know what I mean) for that night. It’s also over 10,000 feet above sea level, and has similar geology to Bryce Canyon, so I was thrilled to visit. We first drove past and checked into our hotel in the little town of Parowan, then drove back up the mountain to make a scenic circle on our way to dinner in a larger town.
We watched the sunset from the canyon rim, which was quite spectacular:
And then drove down the long way ’round to Cedar City for sandwiches. After dinner we drove back to our hotel on the main highway, to layer clothing and gather blankets and flashlights. Then we drove back up the mountain on my new favorite stretch of road (which included one of the steepest switchbacks I’ve seen for awhile, with a 15mph speed limit, and a runaway truck ramp that ended in a large mound of sand). We saw herds of mule deer the whole way, so I stuck close to the 25-35mph speed limit. We lost count of deer at about 24 (roughly half of them cute little fawns). Then we arrived at the main lookout, having seen I think one other car on the road. We had the whole mountaintop to ourselves. The ski resort on the nearby peak gets an average of 27 feet of snow per year, and we were near the start of snow season, but although the temperature at the lookout was in the mid-30s, the skies were clear. That would have been great news for stargazing, and I was really hoping to see something like this:
|Photo by Steve Jurvetson via Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-2.0|
But the moon was up and about half full, so although we could see many stars and the Milky Way, it wasn’t quite so dramatic. It was beautiful, though, and wonderfully quiet, and very much worth the trip. I was also a bit glad of the bright moonlight, given my fear of the dark, which wasn’t helped by my mom hinting that the woods around us were full to the brim with cougars (which was worryingly borne out by later research, but we didn’t see any, so it’s alright).
After our late-night stargazing adventure, we drove back down the mountain to our little Victorian inn, and went to sleep for the last night of our trip.