Winter wonderland: Among the hoodoos at Bryce Canyon

When we stop to pull off jackets, I take in the snow-draped hoodoos towering above us. What was it like for Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce to wander into this amphitheater for the first time back in the mid-1870s? Did he believe that he had found some version of God’s country? Or did he view the slots and twists created by the hoodoos as obstacles in which his livestock might get lost?  Undaunted, he made Bryce his workplace, and built a logging road into the heart of this place named for him.

Descending into the hoodoos on the Navajo Loop Trail. We brought microspikes in case the trail was icy but didn't need them.

Descending into the hoodoos on the Navajo Loop Trail. We brought microspikes in case the trail was icy but didn’t need them, as ice and snow had mostly melted off the trails.

 

Up on the rim of the Bryce amphitheater, visitors gather to take in the spectacle of the Bryce Amphitheater.  At the major stops on the 18-mile scenic drive that winds towards Bryce Point, buses full of Chinese tourists, visiting during their New Year’s holiday, empty into otherwise empty parking lots.  But here on the floor, where Bryce once logged the pine trees, and less than mile from the rim, we are the only hikers on this warm February morning.

February view from the bottom of Bryce Canon, which isn't really a true canyon but a X. Two weeks earlier, a storm had dropped almost two feet of snow here, but it had mostly melted on the canyon floor. But there was still plenty of snow on the high plateau, and the Park Service offers a snowshoe hike to winter visitors.

February view from the bottom of Bryce Canon, which isn’t really a true canyon but an amphitheater formed by headward erosion (rather than erosion from a stream or river) . Two weeks earlier, a storm had dropped almost two feet of snow here. Snow still blanketed the top of the 9,000-foot plateau.  The Park Service offers a snowshoe hike to winter visitors.

 

The National Park Service worries a lot about visitors numbers. This being America, more is always better, especially because some bureaucrats in the Park Service believe that more visitation translates into political support that yields the increased appropriations needed to support more visitors.

National park visitation statistics are a complex beast. At some parks, declining visitor numbers cause concern while at others, increases in visitation create problems. In Utah’s five national parks, however, attendance is steadily rising, with visitation to Bryce Canyon almost doubling from 2006 to 2015, from about 890,000 in 2006 to 1,745,804 in 2015.

On the Navajo Loop Trail, just below Wall Street, where the hoodoos close in to form narrow passages. The passage through Wall Street was closed due to danger from falling rocks (the winter's warm-cold-warm cycles wreaking havoc), so we had to retrace our steps on the Navajo Loop.

On the Navajo Loop Trail, just below Wall Street, where the hoodoos close in to form narrow passages. The passage through Wall Street was closed due to danger from falling rocks (the winter’s warm-cold-warm cycles wreaking havoc), so we had to retrace our steps on the Navajo Loop.

 

If today was a summer day at Bryce Canyon, a wall of visitors would be crowding the rim, shooting pictures. Here on the Navaho Loop Trail, I would be confronting a small army of day hikers, backpackers, and walkers in flip-flops and sandals

Today, on this winter morning, our family of three wanders among the hoodoos, and wonders.

Winter sunrises in mid-February are a little chilly, but not really not that cold..

Winter sunrises in mid-February are a little chilly, but not really not that cold, with plenty of space to shooting photos.

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Morning view of Thor’s Hammer.

 

 

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More hoodoos and their relatives, eventually to become hoodoos, as erosion wears away the sandstone.

 

 

Sources and resources

For more information on Bryce, see the Bryce Canyon site at the National Park Service.

Bryce Canyon Lodge offers limited winter lodging in one building, while the Ruby’s Inn complex — a world unto itself — has plenty of lodging options, including an indoor swimming pool.

For more on the human history of Bryce Canyon, see the National Park Service’s  Bryce Canyon Historic Resource Study. Bryce Canyon is named for Ebenezer Bryce; he did not “discover” the canyon, but settled in the vicinity in the 1870s. and built his road.

We also visited busy (but not summer-busy) Zion National Park on this trip, and, after Bryce, experienced the wonder of being the only park visitors at Capitol Reef National Park, outside of Torrey, Utah.

 

About Dianne Fallon

Maniacal Traveler Dianne Fallon writes from a house in the woods in southern Maine. Her interests include travel, hiking and the outdoors, and history, and she is quickly becoming an Instagram-aholic, @themaniacialtraveler.
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