bryce canyon

One more exclusively natural wonders-related post, covering the last full day of my trip out west on Tuesday, Dec. 8. This post also covers the crème de la crème of the natural wonders I saw; namely, Bryce Canyon. It’s the smallest of the national parks I visited, but I took more photos in two hours in this park at sunrise than anywhere else. If I get to see anything of the park’s ilk again in this life I’ll be lucky.

For background purposes: I had walked to Bryce Canyon’s rim on the previous Monday, after driving over in the afternoon after morning inside Zion Canyon and a beautiful drive over, albeit one where I had to struggle to stay fully alert a couple of times. (I solved this issue by listening to a Frank Sinatra-themed channel, first, and then a classical channel via satellite radio from the rental care. Have no idea why that worked.) I snapped a couple of shots off the road at Red Canyon of an agglomeration of the same sort of rock formations found at Bryce, ones known as hoodoos.

Hoodoos at Red Canyon Visitors Center, about 20 minutes from Bryce Canyon National Park

I was walking stiffly when I got out of the car, however. And the front desk clerk at the Lodge at Bryce Canyon‘s Sunset Lodge, where I stayed, told me that I would definitely get better photos at sunrise, that it was the big thing there. He wrote down sunset and sunrise times as a matter of routine. He also gave me directions and phone numbers for food–important, since all park restaurants were closed. I opted to go look for food (settling on barbecue in nearby Tropic UT and getting breakfast foods at a grocery next door) before sunset instead of waiting for photos then, but I took a few shots at the rim all the same before doing so.

I got it at dusk, and enjoyed a quiet night in the TV-less lodge, but thankfully with good Internet, and furniture re-created from 1920s lodge patterns (as shown at right, above).

The next morning brought the drama. But I thought at first that it would be over quickly, given that it was so ridiculously cold at dawn–around 15, according to weather archives online–and windy. I was thinking, Maybe just take photos at sunrise, and call it a day? And I did take dozens of photos well before that, including the shot in the title shot above. Below are a couple of others.

When I made it to a designated sunrise point, there were only six other people around, no press conference-style environment with all the tripods this time. This made sense since most lodging and all park restaurants are closed for the year in November. The highest elevation at Bryce is 9,100 feet, and Sunrise Point is just under 8,000. It can get brutally cold at the park in winter. The front desk clerk told me that the only reason park lodging is available past mid-November and just past New Year’s Day is high Christmas demand.

There were so few people around, then, that it felt safe to talk with others from a distance for a bit. Then four in a group began walking around, and one guy started coughing. So I thought, Um, why not walk down this adjacent trail? It was the Queen’s Garden Trail, which headed down into the canyon.

Next thing you know, I was seeing more light out, and I was just too floored to think about anything else otherwise (besides reminding myself that I was walking straight down and would have to walk back up eventually).

Around 7:30, we had sunrise. A big, dramatic sunrise, in hindsight. I put together this panoramic shot from sequential ones later, a week or so after getting home.

I took at least 150 more shots just around or after that point, many of them through attempts to produce wide-angle shots without having to take off my backpack, open it, and get out my wide-angle lens. It was warming up, but still frigid enough that I didn’t want to bother. I realized later that I could have produced what I wanted to be composite shots in-camera. But I’m not sure how well that feature works. I will experiment with it later. The shots I took through Queen’s Garden and on through the open section of the connecting Navajo Loop Trail (the popular, towering Wall Street section was closed for winter) were still thrilling to check out.

The climb back was not that bad, about six or seven long switchbacks. Not long after making it up, I got a shower, checked out, and headed into Nevada again. I opted to take the scenic route on to and through Zion again, which took me again through places with plenty of evergreen trees and a curious array of rural fancy coffee joints. After getting through Zion and environs, I ate at an outdoor “diner” food truck in Hurricane UT, one that would surely be consistently mobbed in any city, small to large. Along the way, in one of the small towns I passed through, I bought firewood for a stay I had planned south of Las Vegas that night in the Mojave, at the far edge of San Bernadino County CA.