We were looking forward to our day of excursion at Bryce Canyon- a misnomer, because in fact Bryce Canyon is not a canyon at all. It is a vast spread of reserve covering an area of 145 km² (14,500 hectares or 35,835 acres) of distinctive rock formations, specifically the spiral shaped hoodoos, fluted walls, sculptured pinnacles, lookouts, forests and valleys. Through the millions of years, weather had landscaped, carved and created this wild but strikingly scenic park. The surrounds were not entirely just rock formations. In fact, the higher altitude of Bryce Canyon receives more rainfall than the surrounding desert so it wasn’t a surprise to see different varieties of pines like Douglas fir, Limber pine and Bristlecone pine as well as a great assortment of wild flowers and shrubs. The lower and drier levels of the park hosted varieties of plants such as cactus and yucca. Bryce is also the natural habitat of more than 50 species of wildlife such as elks, gray foxes, mountain lions, mule deer, the difficult to spot black bears and many more plus a throng of different bird species including the raven.
Just a handy tip; it’s always good to start early to avoid the long queues and to enjoy the full day at the park. We left Kanab as soon as we had our breakfast to get there right after their opening at 8 a.m. The drive north via highway 63 took only 90 minutes and even though it was a bit foggy when we left, the sun broke through the clouds and beamed down on us as we set out to find our way. It’s always good to plan ahead and get the current information about opening hours, weather conditions and the like. Our first stop was the Visitor Centre where we obtained information about the free shuttle bus services. For us, this was the most efficient way of seeing the highlights of the reserve as it allowed us to stop and take photos of the various points and places of interest. Gorgeous weather and gorgeous sights. The highlight for me would have been the Bryce amphitheater, situated between Sunrise Point and Sunset Point on the Rim Trail. Sunrise Point is the perfect spot to see an unobstructed view of the canyon amphitheatre.
At the end of the day, we thought that so far this national park, settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1850’s, named after homesteader Ebenezer Bryce and visited by over one million each year was so extraordinarily beautiful and as the story goes, Bryce described this vast reserve as “a hell of a place to lose a cow”.
The north to south drive back to Kanab was leisurely via highway 63 to take in closer views of the Grand Staircase Escalante, and the pink cliffs. Earlier on from Farview Point at Bryce National Park majestic sceneries of the natural bridge and other formations including those in Yuvimpa Point and the hoodoos at Agua Canyon were a medley of different shades of red, represented in the dirt and rock, from rust to vermillion to a sandy pink. Just gorgeous!
The next day, we had the North Rim Grand Canyon on our agenda. When we planned this road trip, we wanted to see the Grand Canyon from the north, the east and the south. We already had been to the west entrance coming from Las Vegas when we took our sons to the USA many years ago. The north is less accessible than the south and the west vantages of the Grand Canyon and unless one is already in the vicinity of Arizona and south Utah, it is considerably remote. This is probably why it has fewer visitors per year (only 10% of the total Grand Canyon visitors per year) compared to the other three points. Our day trip to the north rim was much anticipated.
It would take 80 miles of driving south from our base in Kanab to get to the entrance of North Rim Grand Canyon. It was a very pleasant and scenic drive as our ‘caddy’ slowly drove through the Kaibab National Forest (elevation varied from 5,500 to 10,418 feet). The higher up we drove, we felt the drop in temperature at the same time. And as our car climbed up and up, at some point, we found ourselves driving through the snow. It was just breathtaking!
The North Rim Grand Canyon is closed for the winter but we planned our visit to coincide with the first day of the opening of the summer season in May. In fact, Grand Canyon North Rim’s season is short. From approximately mid-May (dependent on the snow fall and whether roads are passable) to mid- October, visitors who want to explore, hike, and camp in the park keep the rangers busy at the height of summer. Word of advice: Go early(just like the day trip to Bryce). When we reached our destination, there were only 12 cars lining up on the gate; on our way out, there would have been 200 plus in the queue waiting to get in!
Once inside the campground and parked, we headed for the Grand Canyon Lodge, built in the 1920’s and funded by the Utah Parks Company, a subsidiary of the Union Pacific Railroad. The lodge reminded me somehow of a scene in the movie based on Stephen King’s book ( made into a movie with Jack Nicholson) , ‘The Shining’. The Lodge however had a more friendly and cosy ambience, walls adorned with memorabilia from the era when it was built and fire blazing in the fireplace.
We stood out on the veranda to take in the magnificent grandeur of the canyon, and tried to commit everything we saw to memory… peaks, plateaus and canyons of different hues of crimson, albeit sprinkled with snow.The north rim is elevated at 8827 ft., which is 1000 ft. higher in altitude than the south rim and about 10 degrees (Fahrenheit) cooler. Just as well we came prepared and were well rugged up. It was freezing (28 degrees Fahrenheit or -2 Celsius that day) and I also felt light headed*. It was a good excuse to go back indoors and into the warmth to peruse at the Grand Canyon Association bookstore and gift shop adjacent to the Lodge. The next stop was at the kiosk for a drink of hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows!
*( 8,000 ft is apparently the point when one feels symptoms of altitude sickness)
The visitation area of the North is smaller than South Grand Canyon with only three major viewpoints. Standing on the bluff, regardless of the low clouds interrupting the vista, somehow, I could see down the canyons and over the peaks. I really felt the quiet and wild beauty of this vast land, offering comfort in reflective moments like this one. Indeed, time was different here. The magnificence of the North Rim Grand Canyon is indescribable; so peaceful and sacred it almost made me cry.
On our way out from the Lodge, we drove to one of the three overlooks, ‘Point Imperial’ where, even with the snow we saw glimpses of the Painted Desert, Marble Canyon, and eastern Grand Canyon. It was one of those precious moments where I wished we had organised to stay longer and just soak in the magic that surrounded us. But it was not to be and soon we headed back to Kanab via the Coral Pink sand Dunes (between Mount Carmel Junction and Kanab)
Still overcome by the awesomeness of the North Rim Grand Canyon, we were delighted with the sight of the pink and coral coloured sand, littered with juniper and pinion pines. On our drive back to Kanab, we veered just off highway 89 to Coral Pink Sand Dunes. This park is popular with campers, picnickers because it has about 22 campground rests, modern service amenities and facilities. Those who want to use the Coral Pink Sand Dunes as their base camp can do so quite comfortably. We didn’t stay very long but managed to take some interesting images to remember.
The next day came too soon and it was time to pack up and continue our journey towards Monument Valley, Bluff and Canyon de Chelly.