I woke from the confines of the back of my truck at dawn. Preparing my backpack for a full day’s hike, I then set off to Sunrise Point to capture the first rays of the day.
Braving the chill of the morning air, I walked to the top edge of the canyon; an overlook revealing for the first time the Hoodos of Bryce. This was the first time I laid eyes on the canyon-although I did try to sneak a peak last night; I had recently seen some stunning night photos photos by Royce Bair of the canyon and wanted to try and capture something similar. However, I couldn’t see a thing so all I collected was a series of black, blurry smears.
From Sunrise Point you gain the perfect vantage point to observe the Hoodos and stalagmites that form an incredible gallery known as the Amphitheater. I waited, with about 10 other people for the imminent arrival of the morning sun. However distant cloud cover on the horizon delayed this until the sun had already staked its claim in the higher reaches of the sky.
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The Queens Garden
I set off from Sunrise Point, descending into the canyon at just after 9. I am planning to cram in about 8 hours of hiking- taking in all 6 of the internal canyon trails. I follow the Queens Garden trail, digesting the scale of the huge Hoodo sediments. They stand like skyscrapers, towering some 50ft in the air. The trail drops deeper still to the very base of the canyon, where the Hoodos fatten out into large, crumbling rock pylons. The pigment of the rocky monoliths flicker through layers of orange to pink back to orange and then to brown.
Winding around the trail I encounter several natural bridges and tunnels that offer windows, opening into new valleys of the canyon.
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Peekaboo and Bryce Point
After some 2 hours of hiking I have reached the very pit of the canyon, where the trees are faded and tumble weed litters the floor.
I have now joined the Peekaboo trail which continues around the outer perimeter of the canyon, beginning to climb back up to the most outer peaks.
Along the way I see familiar faces of people from Zion and eventually bump into the two American guys who waded with me for about an hour or so along the ‘Narrows’. Whilst in Zion, I eventually tailed off into Orderville Canyon and didn’t see them along the river again. They explained that they shortly turned back after we parted at the fork as the rapids became too intense to continue farther. I was interested to know about the route of the trip they are taking and they explain that they are heading to Arches, Moab and Canyonlands after Bryce, having started at the Grand Canyon. I unfortunately won’t be heading as far East as Canyonlands as I will veer back South after Bryce towards the Grand Canyon. They tell me that the hike from the Colorado out of the Canyon is the highlight of their trip so far, which, after having the most unbelievable experience in Zion is pretty exciting for me to look forward to.
We part ways as I join the Peekaboo loop, which takes me the long way around a series of giant rock columns. The canyon seems to disappear and as a result I lose my navigational compass and sense of bearing. I take a few ‘off road’ detours and try to climb some of the narrow slots, summiting some of the smaller Hoodos to gain an aerial perspective and mostly for some fun. After I finish messing about on the Hoodos I rejoin the trails where a group is being led back into the canyon on horseback. The horses look completely beat and as well as being pretty cruel I think its incredibly lazy to be led on an animal into the canyon. This is wilderness at its best and exploring it should be part of the fun and challenge-surely?
An hour later and the Peekaboo trail completes its loop around the giant rock slabs and leads me to a vantage point across the ‘Wall of Windows’ – one of the most incredible, surreal views of the stacked Hoodos lined up like soldiers against the Cliff walls.
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Bryce Point, Rim Trail and Hammer of Thor
Climbing higher I join the Bryce Point Trail, where I am now roughly 270° around my full rotation of the canyon. Again I am offered up new vantage points and angles of the stone pylons. Bryce Point offers up the most uninterrupted view across the canyon and is at a similar level and geographical location to the popular Inspiration Point- a vantage point high on the canyon lip. From here you can see the bend in the valley as the hoodos each try to claim their stake, fighting each other for foot-holdings along the cliff gradient. It’s not too dissimilar to the way plants compete against each other for light, with the tallest, most nimble plants those that succeed. Yet, there is no intent or need for this competition as they are not living organisms- instead the Hoodos have been morphed from stages of thawing and cracking from ice and water, creating the speckled, needle surface.
Finally, I join the Rim trail, which completes my full rotation and scouring of every trail along the canyon. The Rim trail climbs back towards the lip of the canyon and leads me to the infamous ‘Hammer of Thor’- a lone Hoodo with an incredible, illogical and unbalanced rock formation with the heaviest rock forming a solid hammer head and the thinnest, weakest section providing the shaft. It stands as an iconic member of the Bryce family, but in truth the whole canyon is just as mesmerizing and makes just as little sense as this lone landmark.
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After 8 hours of hiking I head back down the switchbacks into the canyon to ‘Wall Street’- the second aptly name Wall Street I have visited in the last 2 days (previous Wall street in the Narrows, Zion). Again, it forms the base where two canyon heads come face to face, almost meeting, but just about being kept narrowly apart.
I stoop into the valley just as the sun is fading- so an ideal time for me to capture this landmark. Unfortunately however, the canyon is technically still under Winter Conditions. Falling rocks and rock movement is common within winter periods as the ice and thaw erodes at the stone, ergo there is a barrier in place preventing me from standing within the street itself. I can however take some photos from a distance and observe the narrow slots and natural arch formations in the neighbouring areas.
With my intensive exploration of the canyon satisfied I head back up and out of the canyon which by now had an effect on my labouring legs.
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I complete my full and intensive day’s work from high above the canyon, sat back, beer in hand at Sunset Point.
The lookout provides the perfect platform to appreciate the canyon light up for the brief moments as the sun lowers, before finally fading into an eerie darkness as the sun’s light moves Westward.
Bryce is a phenomenal and surprisingly quiet, off-beat canyon- at least compared to the tourist hubs of Yosemite and Zion. It feels as though this is a more personal gem to America that hasn’t been totally endorsed by the generic tourist. Again, its a far-reach from anything else I have visited and reveals yet another interesting complex and variety of the nature of rock.