“Wait, did you quit your job to go to the Grand Canyon?”
I was on a tour bus somewhere in rural North Carolina. Next to me was Steve, the inspiring executive director of a conservation organization in northwestern Illinois. We were in North Carolina for the annual Land Conservation Conference. We’d been on a rainy field trip most of the day and now were on our way back to Raleigh. I had been telling Steve about our upcoming Grand Canyon trip, less than a week after the conference. In thinking through the timeline, Steve realized that I would not be in Chicago for my former employer’s very important event, which he was going to attend. It was the sort of function that a staff member would not dream of missing.
“I won’t necessarily say that I quit my job to go to the Grand Canyon, Steve,” I replied with a grin. “But if you want to spread that rumor, I won’t stop you.”
It was already after one in the afternoon on Monday, September 12 by the time we returned from Bryce Canyon National Park’s southern viewpoints to the Bryce Amphitheater area. Our plan had been to wrap up our time at Bryce Canyon in the morning before continuing down the Grand Staircase to Zion National Park with a stop at Cedar Breaks National Monument.
But we just weren’t yet ready to tear ourselves away from Bryce Canyon. At least not without one last hike beneath the rim and into the Queen’s Garden Complex of hoodoos. It was a short trail, only 0.8 miles with a vertical drop of about 320 feet.
On Monday, September 12 we woke to a beautiful, sun-drenched morning in Sunset Campground at Bryce Canyon National Park. After logging more than fourteen miles of hiking the day before, the sun was well up by the time we emerged from our little tent. Today we planned to say goodbye to Bryce Canyon National Park and hello to Zion National Park, with a stop at Cedar Breaks National Monument in between. But before we bid a fond farewell to Bryce Canyon, we still had some beautiful things to see.
After resting in camp following our long day of hiking on Sunday, September 11, Sean and I decided to have one more look at huge beauty before darkness settled across the Paunsaugunt Plateau. So we pulled our boots back on and once again crossed from Sunset Campground to the mixed-use trail on the other side of the park road. This time we turned right and headed south and uphill toward Inspiration Point.
At just about 11am on Sunday, September 11, tantalized by our sunrise hike down and up Navajo Trail and sated with our breakfast, we set out on our day’s hike. One of the joys of camping in a National Park is the accessibility of the trails and vistas. “Let’s go see something beautiful” is what I traditionally say to Sean, particularly when we set out on foot from our campsite.
Ahead of us was a hike along the Rim Trail, then the Fairyland Loop, one of the famous hikes of the National Parks. Although the loop proper was only eight miles, the total mileage we’d end up logging was ten and a half.
As we shouldered our packs and headed out, a Mule Deer doe and two fawns ambled through the campground having their late morning meal.
Bryce Canyon, named for Mormon Scotsman Ebenezer Bryce, an early homesteader near the Paria River beneath the pink cliffs of Bryce Amphitheater, was declared a National Monument in 1923 by President Warren Harding. Five years later, after the requisite private properties were purchased and state properties were transferred, Bryce Canyon was upgraded to National Park status. The Park protects the southeastern rim of the Paunsaugunt Plateau and the spectacular towers of pink rock, called hoodoos, that descend from the plateau’s rim into the basin below. For all its fame, the Park is diminutive, only thirty-five thousand acres, and it is surrounded by portions of Dixie National Forest, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and private land.
We woke before dawn on Sunday, September 11, in the hopes that we would be able to see the sunrise from the rim of Bryce Canyon. Looking up, we saw some clouds, but we decided to walk the short distance to the rim anyway to see what we could see.
Aquarius Plateau and Sinking Ship (foreground) from Bryce Canyon National Park
On Friday, September 9, 2016 Sean and I began our trip down the Grand Staircase with an evening flight to Phoenix. More often than not, this was our modus operandi, to fly out after work, stay overnight near the airport, and begin the trip proper on the ground in the morning wherever we were. That Friday, I was more than ready to be gone. It had been a very long week at work, culminating in issues with a new vendor. (I’d ultimately be proven right in my assessment of their shoddy service.) But either way, it would be good to do some hiking in a place I’d wanted to visit since childhood.
In 2016, the Centennial Year of the National Park Service (although National Parks had existed for decades prior), Sean and I embarked on a mini-journey to calibrate our Park trips so that by the end of the year, we’d both have visited the same National Parks. That meant that we had to travel to Yosemite, Shenandoah, Dry Tortugas, and Grand Canyon. Along the way, we picked up other Parks near those four so that by the end of the year, we’d visited eight National Parks and thirteen National Park units.
After Yosemite and Channel Islands in May and Shenandoah in June (and Muir Woods, Golden Gate, and Point Reyes in August), we planned to visit the Grand Canyon in September. We knew that we’d want to pick up at least one more Park on a visit to the Grand Canyon. Very early in our planning, we considered a relatively short trip to the South Rim and Petrified Forest National Park, which is near the top of Sean’s list of Parks to visit. But we decided that an extended long weekend was giving both those Parks short shrift.