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.

Leave While You’re a Little in Love…

I have this behavioral quirk (okay, one of many) that I have come to recognize about myself.  Whenever I arrive at a destination, particularly one that is short on amenities or creature comforts, (in this case, contact to the outside world) I am overcome with the urge to bolt.  Whether it be a beach hut in Bali or a shipboard cabin in Seward, I spend the entire first day figuring out an escape route, and the last day crying because I have to leave.  It took me some time to recognize this pattern and learn to just settle down and give it a day or two before I blow up my original plan.  In keeping with my usual M.O., such was the case with Capitol Reef. Continue reading

I May Have a New Favorite…

No offense to Lower Spring Canyon, but I may have a new favorite hike in Capitol Reef, the Navajo Knobs trail. The author of my favorite Utah hikes reference book, Hiking from Here to Wow, describes most of canyon country as “down and in,” whereas Navajo Knobs is “up and out.” The author states the most desirable hike in the park is a tossup between Spring Canyon and Navajo Knobs, depending on whether you want “depth versus altitude.”

Navajo Knobs is a long hike at 9.5 miles round trip with a 2,500 ft elevation gain. But I Continue reading

The Golden Path to the Golden Throne

I carefully timed my visit to Capitol Reef to hit the cottonwood season. Sure, there is the perfect, crisp cool fall days. And the promise of lighter traffic once school is back in session. But the main reason I was really longing to return was to try to ride the golden wave of autumn. There is something about the brilliance of those giant cottonwood trees that just mesmerizes me. And if my timing is right, I can ride that golden wave all the way down to Zion. Continue reading

Nine Days of Democracy Detox

As I approached Capitol Reef National Park at the end of October, our country approached one of the most significant yet divisive mid-term elections in my lifetime. In the weeks leading up to Election Day, my addiction to news had reached toxic proportions. Once content with a few headlines at the end of the day, followed by a few laughs compliments of Stephen Colbert, I had now turned into an insatiable political junkie with a 3-4 hour per day habit. Continue reading

Communing with Nature in Cohab Canyon

I am happy to be hiking again! After a couple of weeks driving across the heartland to make the View Rally, tag my last two remaining states, and get back across the Mississippi River and the Continental Divide, my hands on the wheel have done more movement than my feet on the ground. It’s always a bit of a panic, as my mantra is “Move I must! If I stop, I’ll rust!” Had two weeks behind the wheel caused me to rust?   Six miles up through Cohab Canyon and across Frying Pan in the first day tells me all is not lost. Continue reading

TRNP North Unit — Don’t Skip It!

So when pondering the words of advice regarding the North Unit of Theodore Roosevelt National Park from the Rasta-man working construction in the South Unit to “Skip it!” on the premise that I had “seen the best of it,” I ask myself, what self-respecting National Park junkie would drive all this way just to see a national park, and only see half of it? Continue reading

North Dakota’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park

I often say that having a goal, or the over-used term “bucket list” is a means to an end to aid in fulfillment of the old adage, “It’s the journey, not the destination.” If I did not have the goal to see all the national parks in the US, why on earth would I make the journey to North Dakota? Without Theodore Roosevelt National Park in my sights as my Continue reading

South Dakota’s Badlands: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I encountered a whole lot of good, a little taste of bad, and a few days of ugly on my trip through South Dakota’s badlands. I’ll start with the good, which was the Badlands National Park itself.

This park of 244,000 + acres exceeded my expectations. Photos I have seen in the past gave me the impression that I would be driving through some monotone beige rolling hills that undulated out to the horizon. With a name like “Badlands” one expects a Continue reading

South Dakota’s Wind Cave

It doesn’t take long after crossing the state line into South Dakota to reach the first of the state’s two national parks (Parks with a capital “P” of which there are 59 in the NPS.) A quick pass through the town of Hot Springs, and I am crossing the park boundary before I know it. Research has indicated that the town of Hot Springs is “HSINO,” (hot springs in name only) as the only source for the spring is a kids pool that is warm, at best. So I skip the pool and go straight for the park. Continue reading