Bryce Canyon: Lighting the Candles at Both Ends

My stay in Kodachrome Basin State Park has me located just 30 miles outside of Bryce Canyon. I’d like to make a stop, but I have a deadline to meet. I am trying to make it to the Plein Air Invitational event scheduled in Zion National Park in time to attend the demo by my favorite artist. If I want to visit Bryce Canyon National Park, I’ve only got one night to do it.

I’ve been to Bryce Canyon National Park before as a day trip from Snow Canyon back in 2006. But I did it as a “drive by tourist.” I’m not sure I even got out of the car but for the distance between the parking area to the overlooks. I saw the canyon looking down from the rim, but did not venture below on any of the hiking trails. If I am going to make a stop, this time it will be to see it “from the bottom up.”

View on approach up Hwy 12 from Kodachrome Basin SP.

Preparing to descend via Queens Garden loop.

Queens Garden trail leads through some arches with stunning views. Follow the trail down which leads to one of the many arches cut into stone.

The Queens Garden loop really does feel like hiking through a Queen’s castle with moats, turrets, and gates.

Not only do I have only one overnight to spare, it’s a cold one. At an elevation of over 8,000 ft, Bryce’s overnight forecast calls for a low of 22°. That’s pushing the boundaries for my non-winterized rig, but I figure I’ll splurge on full hook-ups at Ruby’s RV Park. Having electricity will allow me to run my electric heater all night, and I’ll place a 60W “drop light” in my plumbing bay to generate some heat on the outdoor pipes.

It’s midweek in the low season, so I don’t call ahead to Ruby’s for a reservation. I know it’s a big place, so I figure I won’t have a problem getting a site for only one night. What I didn’t count on was pulling into Ruby’s only to find yellow caution tape blocking the driveway, and a sign stating….”Closed for the Season.” YIKES! Now what? Here I am facing freezing temps with “no room at the Inn.”

Many castles made of sand along this trail.

The Queens Gate

Queens Garden is named for Queen Victoria. Her likeness can be seen at the top of the spire on the left.

The top of the spire on the left resembles a statue located in London of Queen Victoria’s profile.

Queens Garden trail intersects with the Navajo Loop to make a 3 mile loop.

This side of the Navajo Loop is called “Wall Street,” which requires ascending a series of switchbacks.

Overlooking the Navajo loop.

A quick stop by the Bryce Visitor Center, and I learn there is one loop still open in the park’s North Campground, and there are some vacant spots long enough to accommodate me. She tells me not to tarry too long though, as it’s the only campground open for miles around.

There are no hook-ups, but I have a full tank of propane. I don’t like to run my furnace during the night, because the motor is right beneath my bed, and the starting and stopping wakes me up throughout the night. But alas, I’ve got no choice as darkness comes fast at this time of the year. So I set the furnace at 55, open up all my cabinet doors, and pour some “pink stuff” (RV antifreeze) down the p-traps, hoping for the best.

Ranger recommends watching the sunrise from Bryce Point. (See small group gathered for the sunrise on the right.)

Early dawn light over Bryce Canyon.

Sunrise was beautiful, but challenging at this below-freezing temperature as there is also strong winds out on the point.

The sun hitting the tops of the spires is what the Ranger referred to as “Lighting the candles.”

While at the visitor center, I also ask the extraordinarily helpful Ranger for suggestions on hikes. I tell her I want to cover the maximum number of trails in a 24 hour period. She maps out an itinerary for me that includes (gulp) sunrise at 5:40am. She tells me sunrise is something I just can’t miss while in Bryce Canyon. “We call it ‘lighting the candles.”

There is just enough time after getting settled in the campground to do the Queens/Navajo Loop before dark. Then I will set my alarm for 5:00am, bundle up in the below freezing temps with down jacket, hat and gloves to watch the sunrise over Bryce Point, after which I will drop down and hike the 5.5 Peek-a-Boo Loop. That should have me finishing up by noon, which should leave me enough time to hitch up, dump and fill my tanks at the Sinclair station, then make the 130 mile drive to arrive at my planned boondock spot outside of Zion just before dark.

I feel like I am not only lighting Bryce Canyon’s candles, but burning them at both ends…

To reach Peek-a-Boo Trail, I must descend the other set of switchbacks along the Navajo Trail. (Switchbacks are on both sides of the Navajo loop.)

Thor’s Hammer

Along the Navajo Loop is an alcove named “Two Bridges.” These “bridges” are two strange rock formations suspended between the two rock walls.

While Peek-a-Boo Trail is gorgeous, it has over 1,700 ft in elevation change, not only to reach the bottom of the canyon, but a lot of ups and downs over ridges within the canyon.

The “Wall of Windows” is one of the more famous landmarks along the Peek-a-Boo Trail.

Bryce Canyon NP has a fun challenge called “Hike the Hoo Doos. You need to take a selfie along certain designated points to prove you hiked three miles through the canyon.

Unfortunately, the “reward” for the Hiking the Hoo Doo challenge is only a crappy sticker. I hoped it would be a badge to add to my collection. 😉

I am amazed by the uniformity along this wall of hoo doos, not only in color, but in shape.

14 thoughts on “Bryce Canyon: Lighting the Candles at Both Ends

  1. Lovely that time of year. We were there in May and it was getting pretty crowded. We did the Queen’s Garden the other way finishing up on those switchbacks and it was quite the challenge. We hear Bryce is a must visit in the winter with snow but there’s the cold weather you mention. Enjoy Zion! It was 16* here this morning.

  2. Good grief! Stay warm and safe!! What a beauty of a place, definitely on my bucket list next year, albeit when it’s a tad warmer.
    As always, thanks for sharing in the beauty.
    Enjoy the Holidays..

  3. Thanks for getting up early, and the nice pictures…I enjoyed them…
    I try not to get up before 10 A.M…Retirement..Yes..

  4. As much as I love this intimate view of Bryce and love the idea of “lighting the candles” I can’t wait to see your post on the Plein Air ivitational to find out who is your favorite artist!


  5. “Bows and flows of angel hair and ice cream castles in the air
    And feather canyons everywhere, I’ve looked at clouds that way
    But now they only block the sun, they rain and snow on everyone
    So many things I would have done, but clouds got in my way…”

    This post of stunningly beautiful photos had me humming Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” all the way through….what gorgeous amber colored ice cream castles you captured for us that day! Thank you, Suzanne…:-)

  6. It’s been a few years since we have hiked these trails, so this was a nice blast from the past. I didn’t know the expression “lighting the candles”. How great to see this at sunrise! Happy holidays to you Suzanne.

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