Bryce Canyon offers unique experience

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    By Garrett Pace

    Bryce Canyon National Park is considered the redheaded stepchild of Zion National Park. Though nearby, Bryce is small and inaccessible, on the arid heights of the Paunsaugunt Plateau twenty miles East of Panguitch. Fewer people visit. Perhaps they believe that one is the same as the other. They are wrong; Bryce is totally different.

    Bryce is a dreamscape full of hoodoos. Hoodoos are spires formed by erosion on a cliff face where wide layers of soft, rotted rock sit underneath a slender, harder upper layer. Water, wind and ice quickly eat away the entire lower layer, but only where they can reach them. Anywhere the hard over layer remains, everything below it is protected, especially when separated from the ice and runoff of the solid plateau. The weak under layers are held in place by a small, hard “capstone” above. Some hoodoos surpass fifty feet.

    The work of the elements on these delicate features is accelerated. Intricate formations are devoured by erosion as soon as the capstone falls, and the landscape changes in a matter of decades. Many formations our forebears named are gone. Camels and warriors have lost their heads. So has, sadly, “Homer Simpson.”

    Still, no matter how weak or flawed the underlying rock may be, it will stay solid and upright so long as it can support a few slender feet of capstone. I expect hoodoos will someday be used alongside anchors, foundations, and keystones in general conference addresses as an analogy for stability.

    Bryce has a road that goes along the canyon rim and affords a view of the hoodoos from above. But you have to spend some time on one of the many trails going over, around, and through these massive rock gardens. You can see how impressive they look from below, marvel at the twisted flora growing among them, and experience the vague worry that, though the monuments have stood for millennia, they may choose to fall the very moment you stand beneath them. I have had satisfying enjoyment on the Queens Garden, Navajo Loop, and Fairyland Loop trails.

    Accessing Bryce is not a trivial matter. There are no convenient roads connecting I-15 to Highway 89 that runs near the park. Highways 143, 14, and 13 are slow mountain roads. Taking Highway 89 South from I-70 is similarly protracted. My favorite routes: the relatively speedy Highway 20 (I-15 exit 95) or Highway 9 through Zion Canyon. The 9 takes forever, but what do you care, you get to drive through Zion Canyon!

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