Along the rim trail, with the sky a blue as rich as any I’d seen, clouds shrouding the mountains in the distance, the hoodoo-filled orange canyon falling away a foot in front of me, I knew I’d made the right call.
I woke up that morning in Kanab, Utah not knowing what to do with my day. I had at least two items on the agenda: Zion National Park (30 miles west), and getting to Vegas before too late. The question was whether to try to squeeze in a quick visit to Bryce Canyon National Park 90 miles north. I first pulled out shorts and a t-shirt, then saw the flurries out the window. Bryce Canyon, at 8,000 feet, would not be sunny and warm like Vegas later that night.
The road to Bryce was scenic. Mountain ranges framed the highway with small towns and ranches in between. About 60 miles north of Kanab, snow started to blanket the ground as flurries fell on my windows.
I pulled into a gas station outside the park where snow covered the pumps, there was ice on the road under the car. It was 33 degrees outside on May 1.
I got out of the car at the first overlook at the park, wondering what this 2 hour detour to frigid heights was worth.
The path led to the walkway, emptiness visible beyond. I walked up to the edge, finding a canyon falling away, a yellowish orange sandy floor with pine trees sticking up. Snowcapped mountains stood in the distance with menacing clouds hugging them. I walked further up to a viewpoint which hovered over the canyon, revealing an army of rocks sticking up like jagged fingers from the floor. They’d been cut away in chunks, sculpted almost, seeming like a natural version of the terra-cotta warriors of Xi’an, China. Boulders stood impossibly atop some of these rods of rock, staring back at the viewers questioning their existence. Hoodoos, these were called.
I walked up the rim and back down, finding new angles and outrageous rock formations. Snow lined the scene delicately, the wind blew forcefully.
The night before, I sat on a rock on the eastern end of the South Rim of the Grand Canyon and watched the sun set.
It was there along the rim trail at Bryce Canyon that I began to understand how exceptional this trip had become, especially over the past day. Leaving behind friends, family, a very good job, giving up my comfortable life in Austin, the long, lonely drives and plan-less nights on the road, the anonymous existence, eating often-miserable food, the unfamiliarity of every bed, every bathroom, it all faded for moments like this one.
There are times in life when it strikes you that there, then, things could not get more beautiful. The insanity of the rocks in front of me, the brilliance of the sky, the fiery red orange yellows of the landscape frosted with the soft touch of snow. This is why we travel.
A hike into the canyon followed, extending my breathlessness. I went down the trail, wandering among the hoodoos. A vigorously steep climb back to the top back and forth up the cliff wall left me with spectacular views and heart-stopping looks back down the canyon (I don’t do well with heights – this hike was an epic accomplishment for me).
Tired but glowing, I left for Zion. The drive into the park from the east began as a nice drive through a narrow valley framed by sandstone cliffs. The further into the park I got, the taller they became and the steeper the walls were. The road switched back and forth, hugging the walls, making hairpin turns. Pullovers allowed admiration but pictures failed to do justice to the sight. A tunnel led to the main Zion Canyon which was only accessible by a shuttle bus. I took it up to the end of the road and hiked a little longer along the Virgin River. A stream of a waterfall fell from the cliff 200 feet above.
The highway to Las Vegas was more up-and-down than I expected. It rounded a bend and revealed a broad swath of lights. A few tall brightly lit buildings dotted the center.
View the pictures here.