We arrived at Red Canyon campground in the Dixie National Forest in southern Utah relatively early in the day because they don’t take reservations. Not having a guaranteed camping spot where we’re headed makes Pat very uncomfortable—hence our 7:00 a.m. start. We were all set up in our site by 2:00 which gave us the chance to bike to the nearby visitor center and get recommendations for the following days, and then relax. The view from the front yard was amazing!
Amazing was the key word for the week! Everywhere we looked we saw views that were beautiful and totally unique to our “Michigan” minds. The day after arrival, we headed for Bryce Canyon National Park, about 13 miles from our campground. We boarded a free shuttle bus for the Rainbow Point Tour. This guided tour took us to the far southern end of the canyon (well, as far as you can go by car or bus)—about 18 miles from the park entrance and then we stopped at many of the overlooks on our return trip. The bus driver/guide was entertaining and knowledgeable, making us very glad for this recommendation from the ranger at the visitor center. One of the most picturesque views in Bryce Canyon is the “Amphitheater” seen from Inspiration Point.
Technically, Bryce is not a canyon because canyons are primarily carved by flowing water. Most of the sculpting at Bryce Canyon was, and continues to be, done by the freezing and thawing of water. Approximately 200 days a year, ice and snow melt and refreeze at night. When the water becomes ice, it expands causing cracks and eventually the rocks are chiseled into the existing shapes. The process was began 55 million years ago and continues today! The shapes are called hoodoos. The hoodoos sometime look like familiar shapes, one of them actually looked like a poodle! Arches are also created when holes are enlarged but the top has not yet eroded away.
In the afternoon we hiked the Rim Trail for 1.5 miles. As the name implies, this trail follows the rim of the canyon. Every turn in the trail produced another amazing view. Good thing we had a good charge on the camera! Following that, we hiked the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop trail down into the canyon. Our morning guide had recommended this hike, and said that we should start it at the southern end (called Sunset Point) and end at Sunrise Point. We were really grateful for this advice by the time the hike finished. Our beginning was very steep with many, many steps going down into the canyon! The climb back up to Sunrise Point was long but much more gradual. Pat really wouldn’t have wanted to go up all of those steps at the end of the hike!
We ended the day watching the sunset from Sunrise Point. The sun was actually setting over the mountains to the west of the canyon and we were on the west side of the canyon so we weren’t seeing the sun set in the canyon but the shadows in the canyon were very interesting. It was a fitting end to an “amazing” day.
The next day we headed for Zion Canyon in Zion National Park. This area is equally beautiful but different than Bryce. The massive rock walls surround the spectacular gorge of the Virgin River. We entered the park via the East entrance which involved passing through a 3 mile man-made tunnel. It also involved descending from an elevation of about 7000 ft. to about 4000 ft. with lots of switchbacks. Bob wasn’t allowed to view the scenery as he drove!
One of the big differences between this park and Bryce is that we were seeing this canyon from the bottom instead of the top. Looking up at the walls that were up to 2,000 ft. high was overwhelming! Our camera was again in constant use. Like Bryce, the park had a bus system so we could ride the bus from one landmark to the next. In fact, much of the park was accessible only on the bus (or via bicycle)—no cars allowed.
We had our lunch at the beginning of “the narrows”. This is near where the river enters the canyon and you can walk along the river trail with the canyon walls just a few feet away. As you can see, we had a visitor join us for lunch. Unfortunately for him there are strict rules prohibiting the feeding of animals. The soaring walls, natural springs, and hanging gardens create an unforgettable experience. We hiked along this trail for about a mile and then hiked the Kayenta trail to the Emerald Pools which was a three mile loop. As barren as the canyon sometimes seems, there is wildlife everywhere if you look for it.
After stopping at the visitor center and the Zion Human History Museum we were ready to leave. We had to be out of the park no later that 7:00 because of our big truck. The tunnel we had passed through coming into the park (and via which we would leave) was too narrow for two-way traffic when any of the vehicles were as wide as a dual rear wheel (doolly) truck. This meant that they had to stop traffic from the opposite direction in order for us to pass through and this would only be done up until 7:00 each evening. We weren’t taking any chances that we’d miss that deadline!
Our last day at Red Canyon was a day to relax. Bob did some hiking on the trails around the campground and Pat rode her bike on the bike trail and then we packed up and prepared to hit the road early again the next morning. Next stop—the Grand Canyon for more amazing scenery!