Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Scenic Highway 12- Bryce Canyon

Day 1

Starting point: Las Vegas, NV

End point: Bryce Canyon, UT

Roads traveled: I-15 N to Cedar City, UT -- UT 14E -- US 89N -- UT12E78 -- UT 63S (within Bryce Canyon National Park)

Highlights of the day: Scenic Byway 12 Entrance area,
                                      Lookouts in and sunset over Bryce Canyon

As we traveled away from flat Las Vegas strip, flatness which remained vast initially started to narrow down gradually and rocky hills reproached closer and closer to the I-15. Interestingly, before entering Utah, I-15 passes through the  north western corner of Arizona, so you get a state welcome sign- "The Grand Canyon State Welcomes You". For me, it was as sweet and pleasant an invitation as it were a dear friend inviting to his/her home. We were missing Grand Canyon by couple of hundred miles. After a few miles- " Life (was) Elevated" and we were excited to be near our destination.

Immediately after the state line, red rock started to appear and terrain become hilly. We could see distant snow-caped (Cedar?) mountains.

I-50 entering Southern Utah

We pass through St. George, Cedar city on our way to US89 N which leads to the western end of Highway 12. There was a big, well fitting sign suggesting the road's character - scenic, red and beyond speed limits.

Western end of Scenic Byway 12
After a few miles on this road, there comes a sort of natural gate - road narrows a bit and red rocks come to stand like pillars on both sides, almost like the Gates of Argonath (Lord of the Rings), inviting into Red CanyonThere are three information boards- about the highway, landscape and safety and attractions on the route.

Start of Red Canyon

Interpretive Exhibits
The road starts within Dixie National Forest and Red Canyon is the first attraction. This area has hiking trails, and a seasonal visitor center just besides the road, managed by the Forest Service. There is a camp ground too. For more info go to Red Canyon Visitor Center. When we passed in late April, both visitor center and campground were closed. We were still 30 or so minutes away from Bryce Canyon and it was already 2pm. So, we took pictures and did not hike in this area.

Hoodoos of Red Canyon, a preview of next stop

We turned on to UT 63 S toward Bryce Canyon. The 2.7mile road passing through unbelievably recently established and incorporated Bryce Canyon City has inns, RV park and grocery stores. It is just outside the park entrance and shaped up to cater tourists. An interesting fact from Wikipedia: Bryce Canyon City is a company town consisting solely of the property of Ruby's Inn and the Syrett family, its third-generation owners. Rod Syrett, the company's board president, was chosen as the first mayor. 

We entered the park and went to the visitor center for trail and weather information. It was already approaching 5pm, luckily we were there just at the start of the extended hour schedule. So the visitor center was going to be open till 6,30pm and in-park shuttle service was going to start the next day. By the way, taking a picture with the park entrance sign, stamping my passport and picking park map and latest newspaper/guide has become a mandatory tradition for me. I have a collection of those now and for me, they are the best souvenirs.

We were prepared for camping. So first thing we did was to secure a campsite at North Campground and setting up the tent. Luckily a couple of sites were still available. Sunset was going to be around the longer days...especially while visiting parks. Based on advice from a ranger at the visitor center, we decided to drive up to Paria view lookout a few miles south and drive back with stoppage at each lookout, last being the 'Sunset' point at sunset. Hiking was planned for the next day.

We first stopped at Bryce Point lookout. It overlooks the most beautiful and quintessential Bryce Canyon area- the Amphitheater. It is a view one should not miss. When you stand at the end of the trail, overlooking red banded, delicate, spiring hoodoos carved over millions of years surrounding you, it is hard to decide who is the spectator and who is the performer. Symmetrical rows of hoodoos one behind the other, is one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring creation of nature. It is a joyous spot.

A section of the Amphitheater at Bryce Point

Tried to capture the Amphitheater in sectional panorama

Our second stop was Paria View which is on the opposite direction from the Bryce Point and over looks Paria river watershed. You can see the end of the Bryce canyon and large tree lined valley beyond. It does not have dramatic views as of Bryce point but it is a good place to see hoodoos in last rays of sun before sunset. For more info check NPS' page. You can go window hunting in this area. There are a couple of window formations in rocks near and far. If you are interested in geological changes leading to a hoodoo or a window formation go here.

Paria View overlooked Paria River watershed

Now we were driving back towards North Campground. Next stop was Inspiration Point. It is in same general area as the Bryce Point but overlooks different section of the canyon and has hoodoos stacked in rows on one side. From the parking lot for the point, there is trail leading up to a lookout which is on the rim trail. There is another lookout a few steep feet higher up the rim trail. Evening light on the hoodoos was enchanting.

A view from Inspiration Point lower level

Next stop was Sunset Point. It is near to the Sunset campground and Bryce Canyon lodge. Rather than a single lookout point, it is a sami-circular extension with a walking path along the rim. You can connect to Navajo loop, Queen's Garden trail and Peekaboo canyon trail on canyon floor by hiking down which involves switchbacks. We spent remaining evening here walking around rim trail and clicking different hoodoos.
Spot a hiker on rim trail (lower left)
Banded Hoodoos

Hoodoos and shadows at evening
the E.T. hoodoo in view
Switchbacks to Navajo Trail leading through The Wall Street It was closed when we went.
The Sentinel hoodoo

Sunrise Point which was the last stop, closest to our campground were to be visited the next day.

We went back to campsite, cooked and finished dinner. By that time, I started to realize how cold the night was going to be. I was curious to see the night sky over open canyon and see how photographs of hoodoos turn out with starts. So, we went back to Sunset Point. It was hard to believe, the canyon was so dark, no a hint of so many hoodoos. We could not see anything beyond couple of feet from the railing. Sky was clear, moon was hours behind to shine over the canyon. We tried to click long exposure photographs. They were better than our vision but did not turn out as crisps as we wanted. We had to fight with darkness and growing, biting cold (remember elevation is 8000ft), which we could not withstand even with winter jackets, hats and regular gloves.

From Sunset point at Night
We rushed back to our tent, tucked inside our sleeping bags. Who knew my brand new sleeping bag which promised to work comfortably at 15 degree Fahrenheit did not keep me warm at 24 (despite woolen socks, jacket etc.)?!! My husband's sleeping bag was suited for much warmer temperature, however he was not troubled by cold. So, for the next night camping was out of the question. Bryce is at the highest elevation on highway 12 and on the Colorado Plateau for that matter, 'currently'. As we traverse eastward on highway 12 elevation reduces and nights become warmer.

Same travel description in StoryMap