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June 19, 2018 / annakpf11

Wonderland

“Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing, allowing no rest but in rhythmical motion, chasing everything in endless song out of one beautiful form into another.”—John Muir

 DAYS SIX & SEVEN:  June 9 & 10: Bryce Canyon

One side effect of crowded campgrounds is the opportunity to meet one’s neighbors. At Zion, we park next to a friendly retired couple and their dog, and they recommend a scenic route to reach Bryce Canyon, our next destination.

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We follow their directions to the vibrant town of Cedar Creek, and then turn onto Highway 14, where we happily trade desert mesa landscape for the alpine scenery of Dixie National Forest. Temperatures cool as we climb to a summit over 9,600 feet, and we drink in the sight of evergreen and aspen trees marching up and down slopes of coral colored earth.

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During the drive, Dave’s skill and experience behind the wheel saves us from mishap more than once: when a trucker swerves into our lane on a multi-lane highway, and later, when an oncoming SUV decides that a blind curve is a good place pull into our lane and pass a cyclist. Just before arriving at Bryce Canyon, we somehow manage to avoid colliding with a Northern Flicker, a large spotted woodpecker who flies at our windshield. I glimpse the flash of variegated feathers and cover my eyes, unwilling to watch the impact. But it never happens. “It veered away at the last minute,” Dave assures me.

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Once we enter the National Park, we make a beeline for the lodge, where Dave has reserved us a room for two nights. It’s too early to check in, so we take a moment to admire the historic structure, especially the whimsically flowing pattern of roof shingles, before walking the short distance to the canyon rim.

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Nothing has prepared us for what awaits: a natural amphitheater of time-sculpted rock formations that look like the dribble sand castles we made as children, only these fanciful creations glow with peach and salmon hues.

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Also, there is no railing. Pale-breasted swallows glide past us and dip into the void. For any creature without wings, one false step guarantees a long slide to death or assorted bodily mayhem.

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We inch closer to the brink, bewitched by the fantastical shapes and colors of the weird sandstone fins and spires called “hoodoos”, a term borrowed from folk-magic. We snap photos as long as we dare, until increasing ripples of vertigo compel us to back away.

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After our initial flirtation with the abyss, we stick to the safety of prescribed paths.

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Late afternoon heat eventually drives us into the hotel lobby, where the desk clerk, a fresh-faced schoolgirl, hands us the keys to our “room”, which turns out to be a storybook cabin.

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Built in the 1920’s of rough-hewn logs, our cabin has a shady front porch, a high peaked ceiling and exposed log beams, and is equipped with two queen beds, good reading lights, a tiny refrigerator (perfect for chilling beer and wine), a table and chairs, a full bath, a separate dressing room with sink and vanity, and even a fireplace.

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We have time before dinner for a bike ride, showers, and even a glass of wine on the front porch. A short walk leads to the lodge dining room, where we enjoy an expertly prepared meal of trout, roasted vegetables and herbed wild rice. Afterwards, we return to the canyon overlook, and in the gathering dusk, the columns of weathered stone glimmer like candles.

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Early the next morning, I embark on a hike into the canyon, armed against heat and sunlight with a full water bottle, long-sleeved shirt, sunscreen, and hat.

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Strictly speaking, Bryce is not a “real” canyon, because it is not carved by flowing water, but by a process known as “frost-wedging”. Temperatures fluctuate above and below freezing every day for almost seven months of the year, enabling melt water to seep into fractures during the day, only to freeze and expand at night. The ice exerts a tremendous force, and over time it shatters and pries rock apart. Rain, which is naturally acidic, plays a role too, slowly dissolving the limestone, rounding off edges and washing away debris.

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The view from below the chiseled rock forms is just as magical as the view from above. As I follow the trail’s winding course, I pass loads of enthusiastic tourists, some wandering closer to the sheer drop offs than I care to, and most speaking to each other in languages other than English. I hear Mandarin, French, Italian, German, Japanese and many more that I can’t readily identify. I stop to chat with a French woman from Montpellier, and she informs me that she and her husband find Bryce so inspiring, they return year after year.

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On the steep ascent back up to the rim, I pass tourists coming down wearing street shoes—even heels—as they navigate the gritty path. Some hug the side of the trail furthest from the void, but many walk right up to the precipice and pose for selfies. Just watching them makes me feel queasy.

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In fact, a mildly vertiginous feeling in the pit of my stomach never entirely abates during our two days here. I’m not so much worried for myself as for the heedless child who scampers too close to the edge, or the brash tourist who loses his footing while focusing his camera. But surely my worries are unfounded?

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At the top of the climb, I happen to pass a suntanned, gray-bearded gentleman wearing the uniform of a Search and Rescue volunteer. “Doesn’t it drive you crazy when people stand near the edge?” I ask. “Sure does,” he nods and smiles. “But only about three people fall every year. Out of three million visitors. Not bad odds, really.”

Suffice to say, I highly recommend a visit to the fairyland that is Bryce. But please take care. And no matter how much you want that special photo, stay away from the edge.

One Comment

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  1. Barry Supple / Jun 20 2018 3:28 pm

    DearAnns

    What s great post – and grand pictures.

    I’ve visited Bryce three times, and your descriptions are wonderfully reminiscent – and poignant tome since my bonding with Elllie may mean no more visits to the USA. Virginia and I also drove across Death Valley [in 2011], and you’ve caught it exactly.

    But it’s so good to have contacts like this.

    Elli and I hope that you and Dave thrive.

    Love

    Barry

    >

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