What exactly are Hoodoos?
[Bryce Canyon National Park, UT]
It seemed soooooo long ago that I had traveled anywhere far enough away to make me feel like I’d gone somewhere completely new! Yes, I went to Santa Barbara in March, and yes, I visited Yosemite and Napa while my parents were here in May (both firsts), but there was something about driving to all these places that left me feeling like I’d been in my own backyard all year. Nothing better to fix that than an airplane ride and crossing several (ok, just 2) state lines.
We caught a dreadfully early fight from LAX to Las Vegas – the closest big airport to our final destinations in South Western Utah. Yours truly here sniffed out a brand spanking new Ford Fusion at the National Car rental lot – it was so new, it had only 4 miles on it. That’s right, 4. That baby still had plastic covers on the door handles, and it came with every extra feature known to man – XM radio, heated seats and touchscreen menu that seemed to need its own 50-page user guide. It drove so smoothly, I had to point out to Chris that he was about to hit 100 mph (in an 75 zone). He was cruisin’ right along.
Our final destination for today was Bryce Canyon, which is not actually a canyon (one of many misnomers we’d find out about today). Bryce Canyon is the eastern edge of an 18-mile plateau. It’s landmark geological structures, called hoodoos, are the product of thousands of years of rock erosion.
During our 264-mile journey to Bryce Canyon, we seemed to alternate pockets of sunshine with pockets of rain every half hour or so. Big dark ominous clouds with curtains of rain pouring down from them were visible on each side of I-15 as far as the eye could see. We’d see a formation of red rocks clustered ahead, thinking that might be Bryce Canyon, only to pass that and be treated to even more magnificent views of the plateaus beyond. We got off the interstate about 50 miles away from Bryce and eventually got on Highway 12 – one of Utah’s Scenic Byways.
We eventually entered Red Canyon, and we got our first glimpse at the red sandstone we’d seen in all the guidebooks. Eroded in pinnacles, spires, columns, and hoodoos, this makes for unique landscape like no other in the world. We stopped at the Visitor Center for Red Canyon to get an annual pass and a couple of passports. Hadn’t heard of either of these things? Neither had I, until a couple of days ago, but I am glad I did. The annual pass costs only $80 (entries at Zion and Bryce are $25 each), and it gets you into more than 2000 federal recreation areas across the nation. And the passports? Those are just plain cool. You can get a little passport book at most visitor centers, then collect stamps at each national park or state historic site you visit.
After passing through the tunnels that had been carved into the sandstone so that the road will go through, we snaked our way out of Red Canyon and headed to Bryce. It was already late afternoon and we lost an hour by going from Pacific to Mountain time, so we entered Bryce with 3 hours of daylight left. That was just fine, as the only thing we had on our agenda for the day was the Bryce Canyon Scenic Drive.
The 17-mile drive weaves through the park North to South. All the lookouts are on the left-hand side, so you’re best served to go all the way to the end at Rainbow point, then make your way back. Rainbow Point is not only the southern-most point on the drive, but also the one at the highest elevation – close to 10,000 ft. We got our first glimpse at a big cluster of hoodoos, and we were amazed how far into the distance we could see.
On the way back, we stopped by the most scenic overlooks. Of note is the Agua Canyon overlook, where two hoodoos are so precariously balanced that they look like they could fall over at any minute.
The next overlook, Natural Bridge, should be on everyone’s itinerary, even if you have limited time. At this location, you can marvel at a giant arch jutting out just beyond the overlook (the word “bridge” in the name is a misnomer, as the arch was formed by erosion from freezing and thawing water inside the cracks of the limestone, rather than from running water).
Hoping for great sunset views, we stopped by the one overlook that boasts Western exposure – Paria point. Unfortunately, the skies were mostly cloudy by then, but we could still see sun rays sneaking out from underneath the clouds; that, combined with a giant rain visible in the distance to our left, made for a nice view, albeit not the full-blown sunset we were hoping for.
From here, we used the last few remaining minutes of daylight to visit Bryce Point and its densely populated amphitheater of hoodoos, named the Silent City (actually, the entire place is so eerily quiet, I am not sure why this specific spot would bear that name!). The SIlent City is one the of the most magnificent views in the park and we hope it will reward us with even more splendor tomorrow, when this East-facing amphitheater should be basking in the morning glow of the rising sun. Bryce Point will also be the starting point for our hike through the hoodoos tomorrow! I can’t wait!