By Craig Davis, Craigslegztravels.com
Touring Bryce Canyon, you can expect to see nearly as many smiles as fabulous rock formations.
You will also become a connoisseur of hoodoos — you’ll see thousands of them.
Southern Utah abounds with geological wonders. But there is no place like Bryce.
Whereas at Arches National Park you look up at all the fabulous rock formations, at Bryce the action is below, laid out in a grand amphitheater. There is a sense of watching a play.
And it is all so whimsical. That explains the abundance of smiles.
This place is a dreamscape for geologists and naturalists. They will explain how these hoodoos — tall, thin spires and pinnacles of oddly shaped rock — were formed by erosion of sedimentary rock, and that the peculiar shaping is due to alternating layers of hard and softer rock.
But those of us crowded along the railing at Bryce Point know better. Hoodoos are people from an other-worldy land of giants. Or they were sculpted to resemble a mob of characters in some surreal, colossal passion play.
That is not an imaginative tourist perception. The Paiute Indians, who inhabited these parts for hundreds of years before the Kodachrome or iPhone brigade came along, explained the colorful hoodoos as ancient “Legend People” who were turned to stone as punishment for bad deeds.
Those of us now zooming in with cellphones and high-end digital SLRs are intent on capturing what was going on at the moment of the big freeze in the action.
Surely there are conversations and conspiracies afoot in every corner of the arena. There are cliques and couples in sub-dramas being played out throughout the giant arena. Observers zero in on different areas and share their theories about what various groups of hoodoos are up to.
Hoodoos come in all shapes and sizes, from 5 to 150 feet tall, and they have distinctive looks that do appear humanoid.
While nothing compares to the vastness of the Grand Canyon, it can be argued that Bryce Canyon offers a better experience in that what you’re viewing is so much closer. Anywhere along the rim there is a panorama of sculpted rocks in varying shades of reds, orange, vermilion, light pink so close you can almost touch them.
The sense of being at the top of a stadium is pervasive. It’s like looking down from the Colosseum in Rome, except the attraction in the stadium has held up through the passage of time — though effects of erosion continue to alter the view.
While there are more than 65 miles of trails winding through the hoodoos for endless hiking possibilities, Bryce Canyon can be appreciated on a short visit as well.
Hop on the free shuttle at the Visitors Center and stops at the four main observation points — Bryce Point, Inspiration Point, Sunset Point and Sunrise Point — will provide a comprehensive overview of the sights in about three hours.
The highlight of our visit came on a tip from the shuttle driver as we got off at Inspiration Point. He said the trail north along the rim to Sunset Point, just under a mile away, was a pleasant walk that goes unnoticed by many visitors.
It turned out to be relaxing, uncrowded and scenic. We encountered fewer than a dozen people along the way. There are hoodoos aplenty just beyond the rim all along the walkway.
Approaching Sunset Point we spotted a couple that had ventured off the trail and was perched somewhat precariously but peacefully on a sloping patch of rock. They sat staring at the scene before them as if watching a play or enjoying a concert.
From higher ground behind them, we could imagine the music too, and had our own visions of nature’s drama playing in our heads.
Bryce Canyon is an enchanting place, and it’s common to become caught up in nature’s handiwork on display in such a grand scale.
At Sunset Point, an elder Japanese man trudging up Navajo Loop with his walking stick exclaimed to no one in particular, “It’s a wonderful world.”
Visiting Bryce Canyon
The cluster of lodging options, restaurants and stores just outside Bryce Canyon National Park is known as Bryce Canyon City.
Though it was incorporated in 2007, it isn’t a city at all or even a town, but rather encompasses Ruby’s Inn resort and associated properties. It has a kitschy, touristy feel, including the Western-themed dinner theater across the street from Ruby’s as well as Old Bryce Town, a Faux-ld West street town — much different feel from the gritty adventure town of Moab near Arches National Park.
We didn’t spend the night on our visit to Bryce. But arriving during a midday rain storm, we were glad to find refuge and a satisfying meal in The Cowboy’s Buffet & Steak Room at Ruby’s. It provided ample fuel for a memorable afternoon at Bryce after the sky cleared.
Ruby’s Inn celebrated its centennial in 2016, though it has undergone many incarnations since Reuben C. (Ruby) Syrett brought his family to the wilds of southern Utah and established a ranch near the present site in 1916. The original 100-room lodge burned down in 1984 and was rebuilt into the current configuration with 700 rooms over three buildings.
Some of the history is depicted in photographs inside the lodge. The one that caught my attention was from 1923 of a group of eight — children and adults — posing around what would have been an SUV of its time.
The caption read: “Down from Salt Lake City. Ready to hike Bryce Canyon.”
Not clear if they made the 270-mile trek in that vehicle, but they appear in the photo as a happy group. Underscores that Bryce Canyon has been putting smiles on faces since long before the roads were smooth and passage was in air-conditioned comfort.