Bryce Canyon National Park & Scenic Byway 12
Hatch is located about 30 miles away from Bryce Canyon, our first stop for the day. There is a town called Bryce Canyon City literally on Bryce Canyon’s doorstep, but I thought the hotel rates there were a bit overinflated. We liked the idea of staying at places that were a bit less polished…more “old time”…where we could.
We were up early and ready for breakfast across the street at the Hatch Station, which was a combo quick mart and restaurant.
We ordered breakfast at the counter and went to their little dining room off to the side to wait for it. It was worth the short wait -we had a good breakfast.
Feeling fortified for the day, it was still dark when we hit the road for Bryce Canyon National Park. As much as I try to figure out what’s what on our trips, it was an unexpected surprise when we came to this sign for the Dixie National Forest.
Luckily there was enough sun over the horizon to take a couple of pictures. The red rocks were really amazing to see.
I have since learned that the Dixie National Forest is spread out over nearly two-million acres and stretches about 170 miles across Southern Utah. That explains why -over the next couple of days- I kept commenting on seeing yet another sign for the Dixie National Forest along our route. You could probably spend a week or more alone just exploring this national forest.
I’m always excited when we get to drive through a rock tunnel like this.
About ten miles past the entrance to the national forest, we drove through Bryce Canyon City and approached the entrance to Bryce Canyon.
I had my Senior Pass ready to show, but there was a big sign at the entrance informing visitors that it was “Free National Park Entry Day”. We barely touched the brakes as we were waved through by the ranger. We made a brief stop at the park’s visitor center and then continued to the parking area near the trail I’d picked to hike.
Bryce Canyon was made a national park in 1928. It is not technically a canyon. It is actually a series of natural rock amphitheaters. Although Native Americans had been in the region forever, the first Europeans to see it were two Spanish explorers in 1776. By the 1850’s, this area, like Zion, was being checked out by Mormon explorers for possible settlement. In 1874 a Mormon man named Ebenezer Bryce homesteaded the land in the valley beyond the “canyon”. He is quoted as saying the area was a “helluva place to lose a cow.” People in the area started calling it Bryce’s Canyon…then eventually it became Bryce Canyon. By the late 1800’s, most of the settlers had moved on to greener pastures due to drought, flooding and overgrazing.
In the early 1900’s entrepreneurs started to create attractions and lodging to bring tourists to the area. Ultimately when people realized that this fragile environment was being overused and damaged, a movement was started to protect it and eventually Bryce Canyon was added to the collection of National Parks.
The park is situated on the plateau above the amphitheaters. The amphitheaters extend for more than 20 miles. The Bryce Canyon amphitheater is the largest -12 miles. There is a dead-end 18 mile scenic drive -out and back- with stopping points. It is estimated that the drive takes at least three hours. We had the longest drive of the trip planned for that afternoon, so we had to pass up the scenic drive.
I had picked the Rim Trail for our hiking adventure at Bryce Canyon. The Rim Trail, as the name implies, follows the edge of the rim for about five miles, with a few overlooks along the way. There is an adjacent parking area near each of the overlooks, so it is possible to drive and stop at each one. We planned to start at the second overlook on the trail -Sunrise Point. Even though it was still early in the morning, the limited parking area we went to was already pretty crowded. We got lucky to find a parking spot. Like Zion, visitors could spend several days at Bryce Canyon -there are quite a few day hike options, a bike trail and a horse outfitter.
We parked and followed a sidewalk to the first overlook. This picture is looking out into the distance.
Let me just say here that Bryce Canyon is pretty spectacular! Pictures don’t really do it justice. It seemed like everywhere we looked we saw a view we wanted to try to capture. From the Sunrise Point overlook, we continued to walk along the edge with lots of stops for pictures.
The rock formations are called “hoo-doos”.
When you turn your back to the canyon -this is what the scenery looks like (when a parking lot isn’t in the way!).
This was a small stretch of trail that wasn’t within a few feet of the edge of the canyon.
There was a trail that went down into the hoodoos -but it looked like a lot of work to climb back up! You can see some hikers in the picture below.
We turned around at Inspiration Point and headed back the way we’d just come .
By the time we got back to the car, we’d walked about four miles. We really enjoyed the views at Bryce Canyon.
There was a long drive ahead of us for the afternoon. Aside from the Grand Canyon, the only other sight Mike wanted to see in particular was Monument Valley. Monument Valley was pretty far off our beaten path. When I put that puzzle together, I decided that the best place for us to stop for the night was in Moab, Utah. Google was saying that the most direct route between Bryce Canyon and Moab would take over four hours by car. Then I found out that Highway 12 was a scenic byway.
We’d taken Highway 12 to Bryce after turning onto it about 5 miles away from our hotel that morning. It continued past Bryce for another 100+ miles or so. If we drove to Moab that way, it would take nearly six hours. Since Mike was doing all of the driving, I gave him the choice as to how he wanted to get to Moab.
He picked the Scenic Byway. (Which I had hoped he would!) It was a long afternoon, but we both really enjoyed the ever-changing scenery along the way.
At first, things started out looking pretty mundane. It seemed that anywhere there was enough space, there were small farms or ranches.
We were driving alongside a long rock formation (similar to the one in the picture above) and went around a blind curve and suddenly saw this incredible view. We stopped at the overlook. Again pictures don’t do it justice.
I was fascinated by the road winding its way down from where we were standing, but it was hard to photograph. (After we continued on our way, if someone had taken this same picture when we were on the upper section of road you can see below; our car would have been coming toward them.)
This picture is looking back up toward the overlook we’d just been at.
The scenery just kept surprising us
We saw several signs along the way for the Dixie National Forest. We also saw warnings that there could be cows on the road. There were some ranches up in the more forested parts we drove through. We only saw cows next to the road once -and I didn’t have my phone out.
At one point the road actually climbs up to and goes along the ridge of a mountain for about five miles. They call it “The Hogback”. There was a bit of a white-knuckle reaction to being on that stretch of road as you can imagine. It would have been a long way down if we’d missed a curve! (Although some spots were wider than others.) I found a picture on line that might help illustrate what it is like.
We had been seeing all these dramatic reds and browns and then we started seeing nothing but gray. At the time we said it was like being on the moon or something. Or being in a black and white photo. It was also beautiful in it’s own way.
It wasn’t just wilderness along the way – we passed through several small towns, There were also country homes, ranches, and random campgrounds or hotels.
At the end of Highway 12, we still had a lot of miles to go before Moab. We got on a highway that crossed a plateau and I swear the road was as straight as an arrow (with maybe only one or two side roads) for about 50 or 60 miles -just nothing to look at. It was like staying to watch the credits after a movie. I took this picture below because in the distance you can see a curve -which at that point was kind of exciting.
The scenic byway was sort of “bonus” scenery that we hadn’t expected. We’re glad we took that way to get to Moab. But by the time we arrived in Moab we were really happy to get checked-in and be out of the car! Our hotel was on the main drag and within walking distance to most of the downtown area.
Our next order of business was finding dinner. We checked out our options and decided that BBQ sounded good.
We had a pretty good dinner and a couple of adult beverages. Oddly, it seemed like adult beverages were sort of “downplayed” around town. You could find a drink, but there wasn’t a “tourist party town” vibe at all. We chalked it up to being in Mormon territory.
Tip #3 for visiting our National Parks: Look for ways to see and experience more of the parks beyond the most famous feature they are known for. Mike and I are notoriously guilty of doing this pretty much everywhere we go. We are working on changing our ways. For this trip I made sure to plan a small activity at each park, that would work with our limited time, before we even left home. Deciding what we were going to do in advance helped avoid the feeling of being overwhelmed with choices after getting somewhere. It also helps to plan in advance if your activity includes renting equipment -such as bikes.
What surprised me today: Years ago, I was a devoted reader of Outside Magazine. The stories that appeared about this area if the U.S. were more geared to back-country activities than “tourists at an overlook”. My impression of Moab from that was of it being a laid-back rock climber outpost. I wasn’t quite expecting the size of the town or the more upscale aspects we noticed. I also wasn’t expecting the high volume of traffic passing through on the way to somewhere else.
Categories: The D'aventure Where We Go West