Hoodoos, Hammers and Hemlocks

Rocks are records of events that took place at the time they formed. They are books. They have a different vocabulary, a different alphabet, but you learn how to read them.” -John McPhee

After visiting Zion, Bryce Canyon was next on my list.  I’d only seen pictures and heard accounts of other people’s experiences, but I was just about as fired up as I was for Zion.

Bryce Canyon is a little further away from base camp than Zion was, but only about 60 miles.  Considering how close these parks are, they are worlds apart in landscape.  That’s why I love Utah.

To get to Bryce Canyon National Park, you must pass through Red Canyon.  Red Canyon is this short little stint of road that has two cool little archways that you drive through.  Cool enough to stop and take a picture, but nothing to write home about.  (sorry for the over exposure, I’ll fix it when I get home)

As one of the first people in the park (surprise, surprise) I swing in to the visitors center to check out the latest information.  After the little Narrows fiasco, I’m fully prepared for them to tell me that Thor’s Hammer has fallen over and smashed in to a billion pieces.  (I’ll get to Thor’s Hammer later, just know for now it’s a main attraction here.)  The park is like any other, with camping, and trails and it even looks unusually normal – that is, until you hike back through the trees to the amphitheater.  I took my first steps out from the trees and found myself on the top of an outer rim trail that encircled what is known as the Queen’s Garden.  My jaw dropped as I thought for an instant I was looking at Mars.

Hoodoos, which are the totem-like sandstone rock formations stand perfectly balanced throughout the park.  Some in clusters with others, some as singular units.  Looking at some I wonder how they don’t just topple over.

The first thing on my mind is, how to I get closer to these things.  I find myself a path that leads down in to the canyon, through something the park service refers to as “Wall Street”.  As I round the corner I can see why.  After following a series of switchbacks (that seems to be a recurring phrase this trip) I being to descend down into a dark, tiny slot canyon.  (pictured below)

I feel like a little kid again when I see an hobbit-sized hole in the wall that you must step through to continue forward. I gladly do my best Bilbo Baggins impression and waddle right on through.

I descend into Wall Street, which has nothing to do with money, but the fact that you’re surrounded by towering canyon walls.  It’s dark and I remember reading that light only hits the bottom of this canyon at noon.  Voices of those around me are echoing off the canyon walls.  Naturally they’re all in German, because, yes, they have invaded this park too.

Pressing forward, I see a beam of light shining down on two lonely trees.  I think to myself how amazing it is that deep in this canyon, where almost no light gets in, that two trees have defied the odds and found a way to break free and flourish.  Life finds a way.

I continue on down the path and marvel at the rest of the wonders in the park.  Such a strange place.  So very different from anything I’ve ever seen.  I wander around in awe of everything I’m seeing, snapping pictures like it was my job.

The park is relatively small compared to Zion and I wrap up in just about a half day. There’s one final stop to make on the way out and that’s a visit to Thor’s Hammer.  Why do they call it Thor’s Hammer you ask?  Well, because it looks like Thor’s Hammer sticking out of a rock…

With a newly found half-day to fill, I decide to start my off-road exploring a bit early by hitting a nearby trail. My guidebook was dead on accurate with its description but as I climbed my way to the top I found that the trail was blocked by some serious downed timber.  There was supposed to be an outstanding view at the top.  Fallen trees were in the road at several spots but many had been cut through.  This last one, in combination with the snow on the ground was a little too much for me to handle today.

Although I did not make it to the top of the trail this day, tomorrow I have a full day planned to track down some ghost towns and views of Lake Powell.

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