In Praise of Place: Joining the Crowd at Bryce Canyon
On the way from our humble and charmingly cheesy motel accommodations (the Cowboy Country Inn) in Escalante to Bryce Canyon Natl. Park, we were treated to a rare blanket of fog covering the landscape. It provided thrilling views of the unnamed butte w. of Henrieville (locally referred to as Wildcat Butte, from what I can garner) — it also promised some spectacular image opportunities in nearby Kodachrome Basin St. Park, so we quickly hopped off the hwy. onto the access road to that reserve with foggy stars in our eyes.
Unfortunately, the heavy rains of the previous evening — which were probably in large part responsible for the foggy conditions — had resulted in a washout of the bridge over the Paria River, making Kodachrome inaccessible. I can only imagine the kind of spooky, atmospheric images that might have resulted had we been able to continue down that road.
[We found out later that there had been a car on the bridge when it collapsed, trapping a family inside as it plunged into the waters below. Somehow rescuers got to the scene in time to pull them from their vehicle and save their lives, though they did in fact suffer from exposure and hypothermia.]
Traveling on to Bryce (and never having been there before), we did not know exactly what to expect — I had seen the cluster of available hotels on the north end of the park and had, in fact, attempted to book a room in several of them while planning our trip. (They were all booked up.) What we saw upon arrival reminded us of the kind of tourist strip you’d find in any resort area, replete with sprawling motel properties, quick stops and chain restaurants. Bleh!
This more or less prepared us for the crowds of humanity we’d encounter in the park itself — some folks were being bused in from the motel strip while others (like us) navigated into the park in private vehicles. Not the kind of wilderness experience anyone who sought such a thing might have in mind, by any stretch of the imagination. (I was relieved that I had not been able to book a room nearby, and had been forced to opt for more remote digs in the quaint and quiet burg of Escalante.) And, while not exactly the off season, our late September arrival had me wondering how much worse things might have been had we visited during summer.
The scenery at Bryce is, of course, to die for, as anyone who has viewed photos from the place is aware. As usual, it’s even better in person. We amazingly found a parking spot at Sunset Point (by waiting for a car to back out and nabbing the space post-haste) and set about gearing up for the Navajo Loop Trail, which winds down into the depths of the canyon before (natch!) winding its way back up again. We learned from our hotelier in Escalante later that evening that this and other trails at Bryce are prone to requiring lots of rescues because people blithely amble downhill to the bottom and then experience difficulty making it back up again. (It’s easy to see how this could happen.)
I’m not sure how it worked out this way, but our downward leg of the loop (we chose a counter-clockwise approach, though it’s possible to do it the other way) ended up being crammed with humanity, while the upward arc found us relatively unmolested by people trying to elbow us out of the way. Perhaps the hungry troll at the bottom of the canyon was putting in overtime that day.
In the planning stage, I had also thought it might be fun to stay and/or eat at the historic Bryce Canyon Lodge — built by architect Gilbert Stanley Underwood in 1925 to reflect the same rustic style employed in the other grand lodges of the early national parks like Grand Canyon and Yosemite. That facility, of course, was also booked up when I inquired. Upon hiking up to the lodge after our Navajo Loop jaunt, however, I was disabused of any romantic notions of a tranquil wilderness resort: the place was crawling with tourists lining up for seats in the restaurant and queuing up to pay for chotchkies in the curio shop. Again, I thanked my stars that the space had been all booked up well in advance. (If I want to “enjoy” a resort property stay surrounded by thousands of other like-minded shlubs, there are opportunities aplenty for such right here in my North Texas backyard.)
Enough grousing over rabid humanity. It’s true that we only scratched the surface of the trails available to hikers at Bryce, and I understand the worldwide appeal the place has. It is, indeed, one of the southwest’s great scenic wonders.
But, having been there and done this, I probably won’t be going back.