Friday, January 23, 2015

HMV Day 7: Fairyland in Bryce Canyon National Park

We woke with the dawn on the morning of the seventh day.  We ate a quick breakfast and then beat it on down the road toward Bryce Canyon National Park.
We got to pass through the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel.  I really like tunnels.  I have going back as long as I can remember.  This one is short--only 1.1 miles--but is so narrow that RVs have to get a permit so that park rangers can direct traffic on either end making it a temporary one-way.
It was a lovely drive with segments that struck us as looking much more like Montana than we'd have figured possible--though there were some pretty great red mountains, too.  There were very few other vehicles on the road as we cruised with the top down.  We saw desert bighorn sheep along the roadside.  It was only 35 degrees F. as we started the day.  It was sure brisk, but we were determined to utilize that convertible to the max!  Blasting the heater made it quite comfortable.  That 360 degree view of the scenery was pretty fantastic.
We arrived at Bryce and set up camp in the North Campground.  Then, it was off to Fairyland--to hike in the hoodoos.
We hiked an eight mile loop through the magnificent Fairyland Canyon (7,758 feet above sea level), just inside the park entrance.
The Fairyland Loop starts off at Fairyland Point and follows a wide, gravely path gradually downward into the canyon.  It was really strange because we could not see the hoodoos or canyon in all their ocher glory until we were right up on the edge of the rim.  A forest leading up to the edge completely obscures it from view.  And then all of the sudden it is there.  Breathtaking and wide.  Towers and pinicles leading off into the horizon under a brilliant azure sky.
As we began downward, following a ridge line and then weaving between the hoodoos there were only a few other people in sight.  Soon it was like we were in our own little world.  Or, our own big, strange, red, gnarled, magical world is more like it perhaps.  The silence of the place remains one of my strongest impressions from the hike.  It was beautifully quiet in there.  Matt and I stopped to marvel at it several times.  It was a blessed feeling of solitude.  It was like a fortress of solitude.
The trail crosses several draws where the evidence of the power of water is abundantly clear--as if the hoodoos didn't make that clear enough in a different way.  There was no water, but the path the spring melt takes as it tears toward the sea was very evident.

We crossed paths with Clark's Nutcrackers, Mountain Chickadees, Stellar's Jays, Juncos, Crows, and a few birds that we were never able to positively ID, like that possible Violet Green Swallow near the Tower Bridge formation that was acting nothing like any swallow I've seen.  We're still not sure about what it was.
We saw wildflowers and plants which added to the bright colors of the canyon.  The manzinita was thick and the green contrasted brilliantly with the red-orange stone.  We saw Bryce Canyon Paint Brush, some sort of aster,  and small, richly red star-shaped flowers I admired, but was never able to identify.  There were several kinds of evergreen, including the delightfully peculiar bristlecone pine.
There was a lot of up and down.  That would prove to be the theme for the remainder of our megavacation hiking.  Lots of up and down.  The trail would climb and descend, climb and descend, climb and descend as it followed the contours of the land.
Boat Mesa
About three miles in we took a little 200 yard spur trail to take a closer look at the Tower Bridge Formation.  As the name implies its a stone bridge spanning between two hoodoo towers.  We took a little breather in the shade of the trees before heading back to the main trail which began a steady climb upwards as we approached the Chinese Wall.


At the Chinese Wall we were witness to a fantastic play of light and color in the rocks.  As we admired the wall the sun broke through the clouds--it had been intermittently cloudy and sunny all day--and illuminated the Wall.  Brilliant, golden light shot through each of the crevasses and windows.  It was astounding the way it lit up.  In under a minute the light was gone again, obscured behind a puffy, white cloud.  The rocks were still striking, but not quite so striking as they had been when back-lit.  It was remarkable.  The lighting made such a difference.
The Chinese Wall
The trail follows along the base of the Chinese Wall for some ways, about half the length of it, it seemed.  It is so interesting how different perspectives can drastically alter perceptions.  To see the rock formations from above was magnificent in a completely different way from the magnificence of walking at their feet.   On this hike we had the chance to view them from their level, from above, and from below.  It was superb.
The trail then began the ascent back up to the rim of the canyon where the trail met up with the Rim Trail.
After making the climb we selected a nice spot along the rim to sit a while.  We had a little snack of fruit and gazed out into this wonderland.
We followed the Rim Trail for the rest of the loop.  I was overwhelmed with the awesomeness of the hoodoos.  They were unlike anything I could have imagined.  I'd seen photos of them and all, but to be with these giants!  Oh!  It was a physical experience that made my core hum.
The guidebook said this hike could be done in four hours.  I don't see how.  I had to stop and marvel every twenty feet it seemed!  So many hoodoos!  So many windows!
One of many windows
I could have gazed at them forever, I think.  Plus, I was a little worn out from all that up and down!  I enjoyed the rest.
The end of the hike brought us through the forest again, heavy with juniper and other evergreens for the last mile, mile and half until Fairyland Point was once again in view.  It sure felt like we'd been to another world.
Sinking Ship (on right)
After concluding with the Fairyland Loop we took a little driving tour of some of the viewpoints and overlooks.  We stopped at Sunrise Point (8,015 feet above sea level)...
...followed by Inspiration Point (8,100 feet above sea level).  I could sure see where it got the name.  It was unreal...except that it was totally real.
At Paria View (8,175 feet above sea level), in addition to the epic ocher formations we saw a Brown Creeper making its way down a tree trunk.  We've only seen this peculiar little bird once before--in Glacier National Park.  As such, it was a pretty exciting sighting.  They're funny little things.  They move in a very unique way.
We then worked our way over to Bryce Point (8,300 feet above sea level) where it became clear that we were not going to make it to Sunset Point in time for sunset.
We ended our auto tour at Sunset Point (8,000 feet above sea level) well after the sun was gone from the hoodoos.  It was really hard to time when "sunset" was exactly.  The park newspaper gave the official sunset and sunrise times, but we found that the canyons affected the way the light played out making it harder to predict than we'd have thought.  Oh well, it was still beautiful.  Our experience with the Chinese Wall made us realize it could have been even more stunning, but still.  It was incredible to behold.

Then it was back to camp for a fire.  We were both quite worn out.  There was a big patch of open sky through the trees in our campsite which permitted a tremendous view of the night sky.  The stars were sure out in dazzling array.  It got quite chilly overnight, but with a good day of hiking beneath us we both slept our best night's rest of the trip yet.

What an outstanding, magical seventh day.  Zion had been marvelous, but somehow Bryce managed to win my heart.  Even after the Grand Canyon I would look back on Bryce as my favorite.