Of all the National Parks we’ve been to so far, Bryce Canyon has had the biggest impact on me in terms of expectations vs. reality. I was familiar with photos of the red cliffs and unique rock formations, but honestly after being so impressed with Grand Canyon and Zion Canyon – all part of the same geological wonder, the Grand Staircase – I didn’t expect to be blown away by Bryce. And it’s not even a canyon! (More on that below.)
Ruby’s Inn is the closest accommodation to the entrance of Bryce Canyon National Park. The Inn originated as Ruben “Ruby” Syrett’s ranch in 1916 and is still family-owned and operated. It’s now a Best Western Plus and has several outbuildings in addition to a general store, restaurants, and Old West entertainment. Ruby’s huge campground was still closed for the season, but we were able to stay at one of their first-come-first-serve, electric-only (no water or sewer hookups) RV spots on the hotel grounds. We were happy to be able to have electricity for our heaters, since the temperature got down below freezing at night.
The weather was certainly a memorable part of our four day stay. We had it all: rain, sleet, snow, thunderstorms, rainbows, and bright blue skies. This limited our explorations a bit, but it was worth it to see Bryce Canyon decked out with freshly fallen snow, and we managed to get in a wonderful hike one sunny day. Being from Southern California we don’t really have outerwear that falls between hoodies and winter coats. It was cold when we started out, but we ended up looking like novices carrying our ski jackets for the last half of the 3-mile hike. Maybe we should invest in high tech lightweight gear. Or just wait for summer.
A big part of the impact of Bryce Canyon is that it is hidden from view. When we first entered the Park we were surrounded by a pleasant but monotonous landscape of pine forest and meadows. I had a keen sense of anticipation as we walked up to Sunset Point for the first time and then, suddenly, the vista opened up and we were looking out at an expanse of glowing orange cliffs covered in fantastical rock spires, called Hoodoos. I actually had tears in my eyes at that first glance.
It was also apparent that Bryce Canyon is not, in fact, a canyon. The Park Rangers will helpfully point this out. The absence of another side, as is so dramatically present at Grand Canyon and Zion, is also a big tip off. Bryce is actually a series of natural amphitheaters, carved into the Paunsaugunt Plateau. You can see for miles beyond the plateau to distant mesas and mountains (weather permitting).
The Park has a fun “Hike the Hoodoos!” program, a scavenger hunt and incentive for visitors to get some exercise and explore deeper into the Park by collecting pencil rubbings from benchmarks and hiking at least 3 miles. It helped keep the kids motivated during the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop trail hike, but even without the promise of an extra badge the amazing and varying landscape made the 3-mile hike go by with less complaints, or requests for snack breaks, than usual.
Southern Utah has such an abundance of natural wonders, and we’ve barely scratched the surface. I’ll have more to write about our time in the great town of Kanab, and we’re hoping to get up to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks in the next week. We do need to keep pushing on east, but will definitely be returning to Utah someday to explore more.