Saturday, January 3, 2015

Road Trip Part III -- Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

After leaving Dixie National Forest, we drove for a few scenic hours to Bryce Canyon National Park.  Bryce has long been on my list of parks I wanted to visit.  In fact, I once had a dentist whose first name was Kanyon.  He told me his parents named him that because he was conceived in Bryce back in their "hippie days."  I loved that story and it sort of added to the allure.  Bryce Canyon certainly didn't disappoint.

Despite the fact we didn't have reservations, we managed to score a terrific campsite right inside the park.

One of the first things we did, was participate in a ranger led hike along the Rim trail to learn about the park's geology, particularly the formation of hoodoos.  Hoodoos are rock spires located all over the park and are formed as a result of erosion.  It turns out, Bryce is cold most of the year and in fact, has 180-200 days of frost.  These spires are formed when water seeps into the rock and freezes.  Naturally, it expands which causes erosion.  The wind also helps speed things along. 

We enjoyed climbing all over the hoodoos.

Connor caught this baby horny toad, which I was tempted to keep.  It was absolutely adorable!

We took several hikes in Bryce, but by far, the coolest thing we did was a 13 mile night hike lit only by the full moon.  We intentionally picked a trail that sees few visitors and we lucked into having the place all to ourselves. 

We began the hike a little before sunset and never once had to turn on our headlamps.  The trail was magical.  We had so much fun taking in this adventure together.

Several times we stopped to rest and saw shooting stars!  Even better, when we reached the Rim Trail at the end, there were two astronomers who had excellent quality telescopes set up.  We were able to view the rings around Saturn--VERY COOL and the moon, which was so bright, it almost hurt to look at.

The next day, we headed to Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, which consists of 1.9 million acres of preserved desert wilderness.  There are no paved roads in this park, very little water, services are almost non-existent and four wheel drive vehicles are highly recommended.  Puh-shah--Scarlett, my minivan felt up to the task, so off we went.  She's not one to let bumpy, rutted dirt roads or stream crossings stop her!

Now I have to be honest and say that Kristi and I had to sell the kids on this hike.  After all, they were up a good portion of the previous night hiking 13 miles.  So I told them that is was going to be a spectacular, relatively short, flat, 3 mile hike through a narrow slot canyon.  (I bet you know where this story is going...)

Smiles at the start
And that's what it started off to be.  When we began the hike, it was new and fresh...beautiful and fun, with lots of scrambling.  However, I failed to take two things into account.  A slot canyon with no water has a ton of sand, which makes hiking more strenuous than usual.

The second and more significant issue was we missed the not very well marked exit and continued hiking for miles...and miles before we realized that we weren't exactly lost, but we were going to have to do a lot of backtracking.  Oh, and we were about out of water, nobody knew where we were, and it was going to be dark in an hour or two.  It was one of those lessons in what NOT to do when out hiking. 

Kaity was very happy to hear the news that we had to turn around and walk several miles back to the exit and then another 3 miles to the car--NOT.

Thankfully, Kristi, Kaity and my kids were total troopers.  We eventually found the exit and lucked out seeing a Ford Explorer driving past us.  I chased after it, flagged it down and begged the photographer inside to drive me to my van.  He generously obliged and by the time we exited the park, it was pitch dark and 9:00 at night.  The next big challenge was finding someplace to eat in the middle of nowhere.  Let's just say when we finally found a diner at almost 10:00 pm, the waitress asked Mikaela if she wanted french fries, mashed potatoes or a baked potato with her meal, and she replied, YES!  We all still laugh at that.  In fact, we still laugh about the hike.  I always tell my kids, it's the misadventures you'll remember and laugh about all your lives.  Sometimes, you just need a good mishap to turn the mundane into extraordinary.

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