After breakfast on Wednesday, September 14, we shouldered our packs and walked through Watchman Campground toward the visitor center and the shuttle bus stop where we would board our transportation into Zion Canyon.
We departed Cedar Breaks National Monument around 3:30pm on Tuesday, September 13 for the hour and a half drive back to Zion National Park. As we traveled south on I-15, an immense thunderstorm system blew east to west across the interstate. Thunder, lightening, winds strong enough to knock over a semi, and torrents of rain caused us to slow to a near standstill. There was even some flash flooding. It was a genuinely frightening driving experience. But finally we passed out of the storm and continued on our way under relatively dry conditions.
On Tuesday, September 13, we left Zion National Park for a day trip back up the Grand Staircase to the Pink Cliffs at Cedar Breaks National Monument on the western edge of the Markagunt Plateau. The Pink Cliffs here are the same geological layers as at Bryce Canyon National Park, but at Cedar Breaks, uplift has caused the rim of the amphitheater above the cliffs to soar 2,400 feet higher to an average elevation of 10,400 feet. That was also some 6,400 feet higher than the elevation of the floor of Zion Canyon where we’d slept the previous night.
Cedar Breaks National Monument was established on August 22, 1933 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It protects just over 6,100 acres of the subalpine edge of the Markagunt Plateau and the spectacular Cedar Breaks amphitheater plunging 2,000 feet below the plateau rim and spanning three miles across. Despite its close proximity to some of the most famous National Parks in the country, Cedar Breaks National Monument is lightly visited, averaging fewer than 500,000 visitors per year.
It was already 4pm on Monday, September 12 by the time we drove out of Bryce Canyon National Park and into the gateway town of Bryce, Utah, where we got hotdogs and kombucha at the massive tchotchke-laden store at Ruby’s Inn. Sitting in the Jeep afterward, we made the appropriate decision that it was too late to go to Cedar Breaks National Monument and that we should continue on to Zion National Park and set up camp. We decided that we could drive out to Cedar Breaks from Zion in the morning.
We drove off the Paunsaugunt Plateau and south on Highway 9 toward Zion’s east entrance. The drive through rolling scrubland took about an hour and a quarter, and we arrived at the east entrance a little after 5:30pm. From the 8,000-feet elevation of the rim of Bryce Canyon, we’d dropped to 5,700 feet at the eastern entrance of Zion. And we would drop another 1,700 feet by the time we reached the canyon floor.
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.
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.