Archive for June, 2010

A Very Long Sunrise at Bryce

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

First, let me be quite direct. I love Bryce Canyon. The fact that I was shockingly, stunningly stupid here is not Bryce’s fault. Not at all. I’ll explain how dumb I was in a moment, but first a few words about Bryce and southern Utah.

Bryce is a fairly short (two hours or so), beautiful drive from Zion, but you might as well be going from one planet to another. You look up at the beautiful sandstone geology of Zion, and you look down on the spectacular limestone geology of Bryce. Bryce isn’t as great a hiking park as Zion, but its tall drip-sandcastle-like structures are quite remarkable. And the hike from the canyon rim down into the base of the canyon is must-do while visiting Bryce National Park.

I’ve been to Bryce before, and wanted to bring the rest of my family here. And while I saw most everything I hoped to see at Bryce on my prior visit, I missed a highly-recommended activity — getting up just before sunrise and watching the sun come up over Bryce Canyon. We were staying at the Lodge in the middle of the park, which was a short walk to Sunrise and Sunset Points, got good advice that it’s actually better this time of year to watch the sun rise from Sunset Point, and I was determined to take in this experience.

I wanted to make sure I didn’t sleep too late, so I set my alarm for 5:15 am, figuring that might be a bit early for my sunrise watch. But when my alarm went off, it was pitch black out. So I fumbled around, re-set it for 5:30 a.m., and went back to sleep. At 5:30 a.m. it was still pitch black, so I repeated my 15 minute re-set. 5:45 a.m., still totally dark. 6:00 a.m., ditto. 6:15 a.m., pitch black, as it was at 6:30 a.m. At this point I’m beginning to feel like I’m in an old Twilight Zone episode. And my very patient wife is beginning to feel I’m not being totally considerate this morning.

6:45 a.m., still dark, 7:00 a.m. as well. I’m slowly beginning to think something is wrong, but keeping adjusting my alarm by fifteen minutes, and finally, at 7:45 a.m., two things happen. First, it’s finally starting to look like early dawn outside, and I swing into action. Second, it slowly dawns on me what the heck has been going on. Cleverly, I never changed my blackberry (which serves as my alarm) from Eastern Daylight Time. So my first alarm was going off at 3:15 a.m. Utah time, and — surprise, surprise — it’s pretty dark at Bryce that time of morning.

I wish I could say that, after the rocky start to the morning, that sunrise over Bryce was a glorious and inspiring experience. But a gigantic tourist bus dumped a big noisy group, and kept the engine on for the entire hour I was there. Even without these distractions, the sunrise magic I had hoped for just wasn’t there, and my advice to others visiting Bryce would be to sleep in.

While our family really likes hiking and geology, our passion is around wildlife. Our kids particularly love chasing down herps (reptiles and amphibians). When we come to a new place, we never know quite what to expect. Utah has been fabulous with respect to geology, but not all that exciting for wildlife. We’ve had a few good bird sightings (a Dipper and Mountain Bluebird), some non-descript mammals, and a few good herps, but nothing all that dramatic.

We stayed at the lodge inside the park, and had a great experience there. The rooms are quite basic, but the location is great, and the food in the lodge was pretty good. Given the alternatives in the neighboring area, which are all mediocre at best, my advice is to book something at the lodge, but book early, because the rooms get booked pretty far ahead of time.

Majestic Zion

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

We started a nine-day hiking trip in Southern Utah at Zion National Park. It’s a spectacular park, with stunning geology. We spent three days here, and loved every minute of it.

To get here, we flew from Boston, through Chicago, to my least favorite city, Las Vegas, Nevada. We survived Las Vegas, largely because we spent just a few hours there before heading east to Zion. But we did go to a couple of the hotels, and drove down the strip, just so our kids could see it.

We’re here in early June, which is a great time to explore the parks of Southern Utah. A few weeks earlier might have been ideal, but the temperature, while hot (high 80′s to low 90′s), is great, there’s no humidity, and only an occasional rain shower. Many of the wild flowers are out in bloom, and it’s not terribly crowded.

One of the great things about Zion is that it offers many hiking options, from short and flat to downright scary. I was here years ago and did Angels Landing, which is a strenuous hike to the top of the mountain at the left. It’s not just a real challenge to make the climb up, but it has many places where there is a narrow (3-4 feet) hiking path, a chain on a vertical wall on one side, and a drop of 1000 feet or more on the other. Needless to say, if you don’t like hikes, this isn’t for you.

We didn’t take on Angels Landing, but had a great climb up to Hidden Canyon. On the left is a picture of our two children making the passage along one of Zion’s famous narrow passages with very steep drops. I don’t know how many people fall each year, but while you’re on the hike, the answer seems likes it has to be a very big number.

One of the great things about Zion is the geology of the park. The rock structures are made of sandstone, and show the most beautiful patterns. On some rock structures, you can see ripples that resemble what you’d see on a lake on a windy afternoon, only these are etched in rock that’s millions of years old.

We stayed at the Zion Mountain Lodge here, which was a so-so experience. It’s on the east side of the park, and we’d recommend staying either in the park at the Zion Lodge, or on the west side in a town called Springdale (small, but charming). Where we stayed was nice physically, but the service stunk. When we checked in, the owner told Elizabeth that the air conditioning in our unit was out. When she asked when they’d have it operational, he responded, “Who knows? If you don’t like it, just leave.” So much for customer service.