Day 4 - Bryce Canyon

Stopped by a police officer - What a start of the Day!!

The morning is cold, windy, and foggy, which is maybe the way a morning is expected to be in October. Our spirits are high because today we are going to visit Bryce Canyon. After a quick and dirty breakfast, we leave Panguitch and hit the road. Since yesterday the whole route was driven by Krassimir, I suppose today is my turn behind the wheel.

I am a seasoned driver, but I admit I felt strange while driving in the USA. The only notable difference vs Europe is the fact that the speed limits are in miles, not in kilometers, everything else is the same and yet I felt different. 

So we are driving along this ordinary-looking road, crossing a small town and a veeeeery slow driver is crawling in front of our car. He or she is driving at half the speed limit and I am so eager to reach the Canyon. Finally, I decide to overtake the other car, but still unsure I turn to Krassimir, because he has lived in the USA for God’s sake and he should know better:

– Is it OK to overtake him?

– Yes, my man, go on, it is OK, – somehow distractedly he answers,

I don’t need to speed up above the limit, as the other driver is very slow, but indeed I cross a solid yellow line, which separates the middle lanes from the outer lanes and looks like this.

 

 

We don’t have such road markings in Europe and I am not sure what they mean. Since the middle lane is totally free and empty and there is no one in the opposite lane, I assume that it is perfectly safe and legal to overtake the way I did.

And just as in a Hollywood movie, right after I finish the maneuver a police car materializes out of nowhere with the lights on, looming ominously in my rearview mirror and starts to give me short siren signals to pull over. 

– Fuck, man, I thought it is OK to overtake the other car – I start to panic.

– Don’t worry, just pull over, right here.

I cautiously pull over on the road shoulder while my heart is pounding. In the past, I have been pulled over by police patrols many times in my home country for trivial document checks and even several times for speeding, but never like this, with the sirens on. It IS a memorable first driving experience in the USA.

Officer Joseph Neighbour approaches our vehicle from the passenger side (also cautiously) and I can imagine his right hand resting on the pistol grip. He is quite young, but with a steel feeling in his stare, directed at me.

– Do you know why I have stopped you?

– No, sir, did I speed up?

– No, you made an illegal overtake.

So we start to apologise, to explain that we are just some stupid tourists from Europe who are not familiar with the local rules, etc, etc. The next question from officer Neighbour is:

– Did you smoke in the car (weed)?

– No, sir, we both don’t smoke and this is a rental car, possibly the previous guy smoked inside.

Indeed the car reeks of something strange, which we initially imagined was some nasty tobacco breed, but now even we, the non-smokers, start to realise that the car most probably stinks of cannabis. 

Anyway, after a short conversation and check of my driving licence, the law enforcement guy lets us free with a written warning and verbal recommendation to drive more responsibly. And that’s it – no fine, no night in jail for my poor soul. Of course I am relieved and happy, with another interesting travel story under my belt, but I was really worried that it could have ended with: “Sir, please step out of the vehicle, slowly put your hands behind your head and kneel…” or whatever they instruct you before they cuff you.

We continue on our way, really carefully and the jokes are totally on me for the rest of the road, as you can see from the “Behind the scenes” video.

I am totally unprepared for the vastness of Bryce Canyon. Planning your route over Google Maps is one thing, but looking over the rim of the Sunset Point to the vast ocean of enormous stone pyramids is quite a different story! Rows upon rows of tall stone structures stretched to the horizon, where beyond the waves of morning mist loome the dark shadows of distant mountains. 

Everything here in the USA is so vast, that it is surreal and your mind starts to bend the view in order not to feel too overwhelmed with distance and space, much like the effects from a tilt and shift lens, which cuts a portion of the view. You just start to ignore the vastness and focus on part of the view. And that was the case (at least for me) everywhere we went – Grand Canyon, Glen Canyon, Canyonland, Death Valley.

Short Geology Lesson - Bryce Canyon Hoodoos

The stone forms of Bryce Canyon are extremely interesting from a geological point of view. The most distinctive feature, the hoodoos, are pillars of sandstone and other fine-grained sedimentary rocks created by the processes of uneven weathering (chemical and physical processes that break up rocks) and erosion (removal of sediment and rock due to weathering).

For ~200 days of the year, the region experiences both above and below freezing temperatures, allowing ice and rain to create the hoodoos. Water seeps into spaces between and within rock. When the temperature lowers, the water within the rock freezes and expands. ice wedging, because as water freezes it expands. This expansion, known as ice wedging, starts to break apart rocks, first into walls, then windows, then a fully formed hoodoo as water continues to melt and then refreeze and reenter the cracks. 

 

From a plateau, eventually the rocks break down into walls, windows, and then as individual hoodoos.

Brian Roanhorse/NPS

But enough of geology lessons. Let’s jump on the trails.

We park the car near Sunset Point, from where one can take amazing photos even at sunrise or an hour after sunrise, as is our case. After a short walk along the Rim trail, just enough to start to feel the place and to take some panoramic shots of the hoodoos,  beautifully illuminated by reflected sunlight, which turns them into enormous candies, we embark on the Navajo Loop Trail.

The descent is rather steep and when you enter among the hoodoos you suddenly start to realise how enormous they are and suddenly the mind changes perspective. There are no longer vast panoramas and vistas – you are now in the middle of a gigantic stone labyrinth. Somewhere down there are even places, where the sun doesn’t shine at all or only for a limited number of hours per day.

And then we exit the gigantic colonnade and the full blast of the October sun is upon us. There are some pine trees among the columns, huge trees, almost as high as the hoodoos, struggling for sunshine in the shadow of their stone neighbors. The path meanders among the hills and the sandy soil sustains a thin conifer forest. 

From my preliminary planning, I know that somewhere here we need to take another trail – the Peek-A-Boo Loop trail, which will take us to Bryce Point, up on the Rim, from where we can get back to the car following the Rim trail. It is a long 4-5 hour hike, but we have the time and desire to do it.

After 10-15 minutes of walking through the bushes, we finally see the other trail and continue – this time uphill. The forest thickens, but not enough to supply too much shade and the temperatures are rising by the hour.

I am already too hot, so I put my jacket in Krassimir’s backpack (I have left mine in the car), together with my bottle of water and the energy bars I have taken with me. Soon enough this will turn out to be a serious mistake but bear a little longer with me to know more.

Short Guide of how to get lost in the Wild

After a long slow ascend with a lot of photo opportunities we exit on a ridge from where you can marvel at the hoodoos in the west, east, and north directions. Some very old-looking trees are nestled right on the ridge and make me think about the legendary Methuselah tree, rumored to be the oldest living tree on Earth with its 4,853-years, growing high in the White Mountains of Inyo County in eastern California.

Here each of us takes his time to take the type of photos he prefers and at one point, when I look around, Krassimir is nowhere to be seen. Since we arrived at the same time, I made the assumption that I remained too long and he started to walk slowly forward, giving me time to catch him. So, I speed up along the trail in an effort to catch up. The trail is winding and there aren’t too many options to see whether he is ahead of me and how far. I walk and walk, but I obviously don’t catch up with him. Then I stop and wait, wait…wait. But he is not coming. 

At this point, it becomes clear that we are lost, at least in terms of locating each other, because we are still on the trail.

Assuming that he will also decide to continue and we will meet at the car, I push forward, taking totally amazing photos along the way.

At one point I see a side trail, which goes northeast and I decide to make a small detour here. After maybe 600-800 m I am right in the middle of the hoodoos – to the east, north, and south I see ridges of hoodoos, painted in checker pattern by the best type of clouds a photograph can imagine. Nature is so generous to us on this particular day. I reach a spot where the only word which comes to my mind is “serenity”. 

Now, here is a thing, Since my jacket remained with Krassimir I cannot stay too long at one place, because the temperature is 10-12 degrees Celsius. My trusted pullover is warm enough for walking, but not for staying too long in contemplation. And the biggest issue – I don’t have water and food with me, so I need to preserve my strength just enough to reach the car. But the pure joy from the view and the photographic paradise around me soon make me forget all these trivialities. 

The trail goes flat for some time then starts to ascend, and quite steep, by the way. With each curve and gaining altitude, I see more and more groups of hoodoos, clustered on the slopes of the hills, which remain below me. There are all types of shapes, different hues, and alternating layers of white and red rock and when on top of that you have the luxury of constantly shifting shadows and lights from the small clouds moving across the sky – this is the perfect day for landscape photography!

Now, going back in time I regret of course that I didn’t have a drone then – the photos from above would have been a priceless addition to the ones from the ground level. Hopefully next time, with permission from National Park authorities for sure. 

At one point I meet a large group of horse riders, going down the path. We smile politely and nod to each other, while I give way, squeezing myself  to the edge of the trail. I am starting to feel a bit tired, hungry and most of all thirsty, but I will have to endure, at least until I reunite with Krassimir.

Some Phototgraphy Tips:

  • In the morning after the golden hour and at midday the light is definitely harsh. Despite this if you move from North to South along the Rim or between the hoodoos you have the chance to shoot some very nice reflected light, which turns the rocks into brilliant red and orange gigantic lollipops
  • We had luck that it was intermittently cloudy and were able to shoot at the moments when the sun was behind a cloud. The resulting light pattern, combined with the different shades of brown and white of the rocks, created really nice results
  • Be prepared to wander on the sidetracks, leading away from the main trail – this is where the really nice panoramas are located
  • Shoot in brackets, most of the time the dynamic range is too challenging for your camera to shoot only single exposures
  • Be prepared to take your best shots while going up from the trails to the Rim and then while walking back to your car along the Rim, so save your energy and inspiration for the end of your hike. A long lense 100-200 mm and a tripod will be really useful for that scenario, especially if you wait enough for the golden and blue hour

The view from the Rim in the rays of the afternoon sun is magnificent. It is startling to see how far and wide this stone forest spreads over the landscape. I make my last panoramic shots and head towards the bus stop at Bryce Point, hoping to find Krassimir here. Alas! He is not here. Not sure what to do and with diminishing energy levels, I wander aimlessly for 10 minutes around the bus station. I feel tired, but even my wallet is not with me, so I cannot use the bus to get to our car. Clearly, I will have to walk. 

The Rim hike is beautiful, but I am tired and increasingly anxious about the whereabouts of Krassimir. I force myself to walk faster and after some 50 minutes of strenuous trudging along the Rim, I reach our parking spot. What a disappointment! The car is empty and locked, my pal is not here!

After another 15-20 minutes of waiting by the car, I become restless. Luckily I see a park ranger in his car, parked not far from our vehicle. His name is Aron and I explain to him the situation. Two encounters with law enforcement in one day is a bit too much for me. I can imagine Aron’s reading of the situation – 2 tourists enter the park together and only 1 exit, without the slightest idea where his buddy is. Despite my paranoia, the Park ranger is very understanding and cooperative. He instructs me to stay by the car and drives looking for Krassimir back to Bryce point bus station.

After another tormented 20 minutes they both arrive in Aron’s car. I am relieved and ashamed at the same time – how did we allow to get separated in such a stupid manner. So, here is what has happened: Krassimir went behind some rocks to take some photos, while I was up on the ridge, where we split. When I looked around I didn’t see him and assuming he was walking ahead I hurried to catch up. He, at the same time, came behind the rocks and didn’t see me, where he expected I was. And assuming I might have fallen from the ridge, he started to scout the area. These 10-15 minutes of him staying behind and me rushing ahead obviously was enough to make the distance between us the equivalent of 30 minutes difference. Then again on the Rim, I was rushing for the car and he stayed at the bus station, hoping that I was somewhere behind him and would catch up.  

Aron was amused by our misadventures and shared that last spring he visited Bulgaria with his Grandma and her friends and they quite liked the country. Such a small world, eh!

We make some very late, but most welcome lunch from the canned foods in our trunk and I try to compensate for my dehydration with generous portions of water and solvable Gatorade. 

Back in the car and to Bicknell, where is our next stay. It is a 2-hour drive on UT-62E and UT-24E or 2,5 hours on a more scenic Parker Antimony Road. On the intersection with Antimony Road, we decide to take it, despite the fact that it is almost dark and the scenery will not matter much when a local pickup waves at us and the driver asks where we are headed to. Looking with slight contempt at our rental Hyundai Santa Fe, he shares that maybe it is not so wise to continue along Parker Antimony Road / Dry Wash Road, which at some point morphed into – at this time of the year the road may be closed for vehicles, which are not off road oriented. We thank the guy for the advice, his kid receives a handful of candies from Krassmir and we turn back to UT-62E. 

Along the road, we pass such cheerfully named places as “Antimony” and “Poison Creek”. At last, we arrive after dark at Sunglow Motel and Family Restaurant, where we have some opportunity to chat with 2 Italian guys, who seem to follow the same route as we do, while we wait to be booked by the LGBT couple, who works at the reception. 

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