Sunday, September 3, 2017

Bryce Canyon, Thor's Hammer, and a Rock or Something: A National Park Odyssey Day 34

Park number 16 on Day number 34
The squeak of the door to our cabin in Bryce Canyon National Park pulled me from sleep.  Our late night drive from Tuacahn meant that we hadn’t arrived at our 16th park until 3:00 am, and I was surprised that anyone in our room was moving.  I looked at my phone.  10:30.  Josh, fully dressed and looking eager to start the day, stood at the end of the bed holding two Junior Ranger books and a stack of park maps and brochures.  “There’s a ranger program at the rim at 11:00, and the kids have to do one for their badges.  It’s practically right outside our door.  Let’s go do that.  And I checked out the shuttle system already.”

I stared at him blearily, wondering where he found this extra store of energy.  The kids and I reluctantly dragged ourselves out of bed and threw on the same clothes from the night before.  We walked out of the cabin and got our first real look at the park since it had been pitch dark when we arrived the night before.  Our cabin was spitting distance from the rim, and we walked along the short rocky pathway to the paved rim trail. 
Exterior (with kids) of our Western Cabin at Bryce Canyon Lodge

The interior was rustic but spacious with nice furnishings.

Navajo prints gave an authentic feel.

Had we not visited Cedar Breaks National Monument the day before, I’m certain I would have gasped in awe.  The rusty hues of the rock formations in the canyon were like Cedar Breaks on steroids, and we stopped briefly to admire the view.  A short walk away, we could see a crowd gathering around a man in a ranger uniform.  We arrived at the amphitheater just as he was beginning his talk, and we found a spot to stand in the shade since we hadn’t had time to slather ourselves in sunscreen.
Geology isn't boring with this guy!

The ranger regaled us with geologic stories of frozen water expanding, melting, and refreezing, eon after eon, contributing to the formation of the hoodoos, fins, arches, and windows that stood in the canyon in front of us.  He talked to us in terms we could understand about chemical compositions of the rocks and how those chemicals create the multitudes of colors present in the various layers.  His enthusiasm made the subject matter interesting and kept us all engaged.  He even pointed out the ways that the canyon continues to change by showing us where the old rim trail used to be before parts of it crumbled away and it was replaced with the paved trail we were standing on.  Afterwards, he signed the kids’ booklets to prove they’d been to a ranger-led program, and we checked one thing off of our to-do list.
These neatly aligned stones are all that remains of the trail that USED to be the rim trail.  Erosion has continued to change the canyon, and now the trail is several feet farther back.

The next requirement for our would-be Junior Rangers was for each of them to pick up ten pieces of trash, so they worked on that as we walked along the rim and back to our cabin.  We were getting hungry, and pizza seemed to be a good choice.  We hadn’t had any recently, and Valhalla Pizza was located across the parking lot from the park lodge.  We shared a salad and a pizza while the kids worked on their booklets, and while it wasn’t anything special, it hit the spot.
Junior Rangers picking up trash

From there, we got in our car and drove to the Bristlecone Loop which starts at Rainbow Point overlook.  While we had seen a grove of the ancient evergreens at Great Basin, we were hoping for another chance to walk amongst such awe-inspiring trees at Bryce.  But as we walked along the trail, we soon realized that this grove was a pale imitation of the Great Basin experience.  In fact, the few trees we saw were barely clinging to life.  Actually, we only found about three!  Hardly a grove.  As we walked the wind picked up and the sky changed, indicating that a storm was brewing.  At an altitude of 9,100 feet, the air was already cool, and the thunder and lightning in the distance made us eager to return to the safety of our car.  We headed back to the car and decided to check out an overlook or two on our way back to the cabin if the weather cooperated.  It did, and the natural bridge overlook and the window overlook both afforded views of interesting formations and the canyon beyond. 
Watching the storm roll in from Bristlecone Trail

The Natural Bridge Overlook

The Window Overlook

And then, as we passed a green meadow carpeted with prairie grasses, we saw several little heads pop up out of holes in the ground.  A coterie of Utah prairie dogs had made their home within view of the road, and we pulled over to watch them scurry about.  They were adorable and reminded us of our visit to the prairie dog town area of Badlands National Park several years ago.

Up to this point, we had only observed the canyon with its rock formations and colorful layers of rock from the rim, but for our evening hike, we hiked down the Queen’s Garden Trail into the canyon to get a closer view.  The 2.9 mile trail was relatively steep on the way down, but it gave us a whole new perspective.  As our feet crunched on the dusty rocks of the path, we marveled at the way light from the setting sun changed beige to peach to sienna to umber.  The path cut between hoodoos and fins, and the walls surrounding us looked like an over-eager contractor had sprayed a rosy brown version of that stucco stuff that popcorn ceilings are coated in all over the place.
The trail wound through hoodoos and past fins and windows.

As the trail flattened out, we came to the formation for which it was named, a hoodoo that looked like Queen Victoria regally surveying the canyon.  Beneath the portly monarch was a metal disc affixed to a sign explaining how hikers could make rubbings of this and similar medallions to prove they had hiked at least three miles in the canyon.  They could then show the rubbings to a park ranger to get a special I Hiked the Hoodoos sticker.  Always prepared, Kinley had brought along Crayola Twistables in three colors so that her rubbings wouldn’t be boring.  Knox was less prepared. In fact, Knox only had his Junior Ranger booklet.  Kinley reluctantly let him use one of hers but drew the line at letting him use multiple colors.  Dejected, he made a monochromatic montage while Kinley was sure to remind him that he should just be grateful she let him borrow anything at all.
The Queen Victoria hoodoo is the top third of the hoodoo on the left and shows her gazing to the left wearing a robe with her hands clasped in front of her.

This was one of the medallions that Kinley and Knox used to take rubbings.
Kinley uses the medallion to make a rubbing with HER crayons.

When we weren’t pushing each other’s buttons (due, at least in part, to a lack of sleep the night before) we were slaphappy and silly.  We made goofy jokes that were funny only to us. Things like, “Hey!  Hoodoo dat?”  And “Hoodoo?  YOU Do!!”  What can I say?  It beats screaming at each other.

After our encounter with royalty made of rock, we took the Two Bridges side of the Navajo Loop Trail back up to the rim.  We passed a natural bridge before starting up the steep switchbacks, and halfway up I had flashbacks to my Carlsbad Caverns exit experience (minus the kamikaze swallows and the deluge of their droppings).  After making it up the zigzags, we had a sweeping view of the canyon and its formations including the Hammer of Thor.  While we caught our breath, we set up the perfect picture of Josh holding the mythical weapon, and then we finished off our hike.  We had even completed it in far less time than the NPS brochures had predicted it would take.
Kinley and Knox pose in front of a natural bridge.

The series of switchbacks on the Navajo Loop had us all winded.

Josh holds the Hammer of Thor.
As the sun set, the changing light made the canyon glow with color.

We were ready for dinner, but a look at the lodge restaurant’s menu earlier in the day had been underwhelming.  We decided instead to scrounge odds and ends from the baskets of snacks we’d been hauling around the whole trip.  We had bread and peanut butter (creamy for Kinley and crunchy for Knox), and we’d picked up some packets of honey and jelly from Marriott breakfasts.  We had also brought along one of Knox’s favorite Christmas gifts that he had been saving for such a time as this – a real military MRE or Meal Ready to Eat.  Knox had a friend who inspired him to try the packets of food used by the military, and he had asked for his own MRE for Christmas.  We decided that this was the perfect time to try it out.

We read the instructions to learn how to activate the self-heating element, and we got really tickled at one part of the directions.  Once the chemical reaction that heats the food gets started, you are supposed to take the MRE and “lean against a rock or something.”  Those are the exact words.  I don’t know why this cracked us up so much, but somehow the idea of some US military contractor deciding to use the words “a rock or something” was just hilarious to us.  Why didn’t they write “a rock or other stable surface”?  Or even just “a hard surface”?  It’s like the writer couldn’t think of anything specific that would work besides a rock but knew that surely there must be other options besides rocks that would work for MRE leaning.  Again, what can I say?  Giddily laughing at military meal instructions beats screaming at each other.

And in case you’re wondering, Knox loved the MRE.  He found it to be far more food than he could eat in one sitting, so the extra items like protein bars and dried fruits ending up being saved for another time.  But he really liked the pasta with sauce that came in his packet, and we all thought that the way it heated up on its own was really cool.  Our peanut butter sandwiches paled in comparison.

After dinner, we put the kids to bed and then Josh and I went to the lodge to try to access the internet.  It wasn’t strong enough to reach our cabin, and we had heard it wasn’t even very good in the lodge.  The lobby was completely empty except for two employees, so we didn’t have to compete with other guests for bandwidth.  We were able to connect easily so I worked on a blog post while Josh got some work done.  Considering how little sleep we had gotten the night before, we should have called it a night far earlier than we did.  But, as I’ve lamented before, finding reliable internet is a headache in the national parks so when you find it, you use it.  At 2:00 AM, we both finally decided we were exhausted, so we closed up our laptops and headed out into the inky night toward our snug little cabin.  After all, Day 35 had already begun.

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