The next morning, we got up, packed our car, and stopped by to get some breakfast before we drove to Bryce.
The drive to Bryce was an uneventful two hours. There was some light flurries, but the snow was nothing like it had been a few nights before when we had been driving to Zion.
Since we had gotten to Bryce before we could even check into our bed and breakfast, we decided to stop by the park:
It was actually snowing a bit harder when arrived at Bryce, not white-out conditions like driving into Zion, but some moderate flurries. We didn’t really have enough time to start a hike or anything because daylight is precious in winter, and there weren’t many hours of daylight left to commit to a serious hike, but we decided to stop by the Visitor’s Center, which was still open thanks to the State of Utah Government’s generosity, and get our cancellations, passport stickers, postcards, and whatever else it was that we could find [Justin got some sort of hoodoo lego set, for example].
We decided to stand in line to talk to the park ranger and see if they had any suggestions for a hike to do the next day. Prior to the government shutdown, I had really wanted to participate in the ranger-led snowshoe tour of the canyon, but due to the shutdown, ranger programs were canceled, and the visitor center was open with minimal staff. A lot of the park was closed off too due to icy and dangerous road conditions, therefore places like Inspiration Point, and Bryce Points to the south were all closed.
The ranger suggested a few hikes for us. The first was Mossy Cave, which was an easy mile round-trip hike that was on our way to our bed & breakfast and shouldn’t take anymore than an hour. The second was the Queen’s Garden and Navajo Trail loops, which seemed pretty daunting to us. The Navajo trail had a 550 feet elevation gain through some intimidating switchbacks, and Queens Garden had a 320 feet ascent if we chose to hike that. After hearing about that, we weren’t very sure if we could handle it because it seemed very intimidating, and while we’re not in shit shape, I’d say we’re both in average shape, perhaps I’m a little more than in average shape because I run, but running and ascending such distances were two totally different ballparks. We thanked the ranger for his time and decided that we’d check out Mossy Trail en route to the Bed & Breakfast to kill time.
It was snowing decently hard when we got to Mossy Trail:
The parking lot for the trail had was pretty crowded. It was also snowing decently hard by the time we started the hike though the snow wasn’t unbearable.
First let’s define a hoodoo. Hoodoos are tall and thin spires of rocks that protrude from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badlands. They typically consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded rock that protects each column from the elements. They generally form within sedimentary rock and volcanic rock formations. Hoodoo are mainly found in desert in dry and hot areas. Hoodoos have a variable thickness such as a totem pole. Hoodoos also range in size from an average human height to exceeding the height of a ten story building. Hoodoo shapes are affected by erosional patterns of alternating hard and softer rock layers. Minerals deposited within the hoodoos cause them to have different colors throughout their height. Hoodoos typically form in areas where a thick later of a relativity soft rock, such as mudstone, poorly cemented sandstone and are covered by layers of hard rock such as well-cemented sandstone, limestone, or basalt. Rain dissolves limestone grain by grain, which is what rounds the edge of hoodoos and gives them their lumpy and bulging profiles.
The trail starts off along a stream.
This stream is known as Water Canyon and it was made in the 1890s when Mormon pioneers used picks and shovels to carve and irrigation ditch from the East Fork of the Sevier River, through the Paunsaugunt Plateau into this canyon. This little stream makes it unlikely for any more hoodoos to ever form here, and eventually the existing hoodoos along this trail will crumple and this area will become a real canyon, so eventually this area will not look the same it does now.
Once you pass the stream, you hike uphill and the trail goes into two directions, you can either go to a waterfall or go to Mossy Cave. You also find one of the first markings of the Hiking the Hoodoo Challenge:
The trail divides from there with one spur going to Mossy Cave and the other going to a waterfall. The waterfall section was closed during out hike, and waterfall was actually frozen:
But the closure didn’t seem to stop some people, and we saw people ignoring the trail closed sign, and hiking towards that way anyways. Instead we took the spur to Mossy Cave.
The hike to Mossy Cave ascended about 300 feet. It was sort of a steep climb at times, and the trail was covered with ice, so that made it more challenging [again, thank you crampons]. But overall, we found the ascent really easy and didn’t really have any problems ascending it. After the uphill climb, you reach Mossy Cave:
The Cave really isn’t much of a cave. It’s a limestone overhang that is constantly wet by water dripping from the ceiling, but in the winter it formed some pretty legit icicles, as you can see.
This was a really easy hike, I think anyone can handle it, it’s good for families with little children, or even elderly people, it’s just not paved for a wheelchair. The hike maybe took us 45 minutes to an hour and then we headed to our bed and breakfast for the next two nights.
We stayed at Bryce Trails Bed and Breakfast. It was about fifteen minutes from the entrance to Bryce. It has a self-check in system, where you write your name and the number of people in your party, and any food issues you may have. The rooms are themed after different trails at Bryce, we stayed in the Bristol Pine room.
We spent the night eating Ramen noodles, marathoning the Food Network, and debating whether or not we’d attempt the Queens Garden/ Navajo Trail the next day at Bryce.
We woke up the next morning to breakfast:
Breakfast day one was an egg scramble with eggs, hash browns, red pepper, onions, and cheese, served with a yogurt fruit parfait, which was delicious and now I want to make some of my own. There was homemade granola and homemade banana muffins, also coffee, tea, and juice. Crystal, the proprietor, went out of her way to accommodate my nut allergy and made sure my granola was nut-free and the muffins were nut-free.
After breakfast, we headed back to Bryce. The temperature was in the single digits, but with windchill, it was in the negative digits. We decided we were going to hike the trail. [And we were walking to the trail, my crampons got caught on my boots again, and I slipped in the icy parking lot, landing on my knee again, though my crampons were absolutely fine the entire hike, which was good]
Downward into the amphitheater we went.
Bryce Canyon National Park was designated as a National Monument in 1923 by Warren Harding. Congress declared it a National Park in 1928. Despite its name, Bryce Canyon is NOT a canyon, but a collection of gigantic natural amphitheaters along the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Bryce Canyon is smaller than Zion, and sits at a much higher elevation than Zion. The rim at Bryce varies from 8000 to 9000 feet above sea level. The park covers 35,835 acres and receives less visitors than both Zion and the Grand Canyon. In 2017, Bryce received 2.6 million visitors. The winter temperatures average about 9 degrees and the summer temperatures average at 83 degrees, but temperatures at both extremes can happen.
More than 400 native plant species live in the park. There are three life-zones throughout the park that are based on elevation. The lowest areas of the park are dominated by dwarf forests, Ponderosa Pine forests cover the mid-elevations, and the harshest areas have limber pine and ancient Bristlecone Pine Trees that are more than 1600 years old. There is diverse animal life throughout the park including foxes, badgers, porcupine, elk, black bears, bobcats, and deer. About 170 species of birds visit the park each year, eleven species of reptiles and four species of amphibians are found throughout the park.
Activities in the park include sight-seeing along the scenic drive [though that was closed while we were there due to the government shutdown] and hiking. There are also a lot of cross-country skiing trails throughout the park in winter. Bryce is also known for its star-gazing, stargazers can see 7500 stars with the naked eye. There’s even a Astronomy festival that’s held in Bryce, every year, in June.
Anyways, the descent down via Queens Garden wasn’t really that bad. It was a little slippery because of the snow and ice and it was pretty cold that day, but the descent is gradual. But just remember what hikes down, must hike up, and the ascents on both sides can be pretty steep. The trail descends 320 feet and travels past many hoodoos. It eventually ends at a hoodoo that supposedly looks like Queen Victoria, but I didn’t see it.
The second “hike the hoodoos” sign was found here as well:
We started the trail pretty early, and while we saw people, we didn’t really feel like the trail was overwhelmed with people as we were hiking it, but by the time we got to the other side of the trail, the trail was very heavily populated, and keep in mind that some people start from the Queens garden side, while other people start from the Navajo Loop side, so you have people hiking in both directions, and at times, the trail can be pretty narrow, though not Angel’s Landing narrow.
From the end of the trail, you can either go back up via Queen’s Landing, or you can take the Navajo Trail like we did, which makes the total hike about 3 miles. The trail between Queens Garden and Navajo loop is actually more forest than hoodoo, and we passed a lot of trees and it was pretty flat. Someone even built a snowman along the trail.
You find the third “hiking the hoodoos” sign right before you start your ascent back up to the top:
The ascent back to the top was hard. You climb up very steep switchbacks, and when they’re covered in snow and ice, it’s extra challenging:
The air is thinner at Bryce because it sits at such a high elevation, so it’s completely normal to feel like you’re out of breath. Just take it slowly, and take your time. I’d hike up one switchback, catch my breath, take a sip of water, and then continue onto the next one. It’s not a race, and it’s not easy either. You’re ascending over 500 feet [550 to be exact], and MAKE SURE YOU BRING WATER, it doesn’t matter if it’s negative temperatures out, you’ll want that water.
Wall Street is the more scenic way out of the amphitheater, but in winter months [even sometimes through May], Wall Street is closed due to dangerous conditions, so you hike the two bridges trail out instead. Wall Street is the only slot canyon in Bryce.
As you ascend from Two Bridges, you finally get to glance at Thor’s Hammer, which is probably the most well-known hoodoo at Bryce.
The view of the other hoodoos is also beautiful.
Finally you reach the top of the trail:
From Sunset Point [the end of the Navajo Loop Trail], you hike a very flat and paved trail to go back to Sunrise Point, which is where your car should be parked, or you can park at Sunset and walk to Sunrise to start the hike, but either way, if you plan to hike the entire trail, which I HIGHLY recommend you do, you’ll still have to walk a half mile trail back to where you initially parked your car or from where you initially parked your car to start a trail.
I’m not going to lie, the trail was a challenge, but when I took that final step and finished the hike, I was really proud of myself. I took my time, I didn’t rush, and it was probably some of the most unique and beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen.
After we got back to our car, we went to the visitor center, so we could get our hike the hoodoo challenge reward [and no lying, they really do make you show evidence that you hiked the hoodoos]
That sticker is now happily placed on my laptop.
After we got our prizes, we went back to the bed & breakfast, and just relaxed. We read up on Capitol Reef, which was our destination for tomorrow, watched more food network, fooled around on the internet and eventually went to bed.
Bryce was my favorite park because I challenged myself to do something that I didn’t think I could do, and I dominated that challenge.