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Trip 5, Park 2: Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon was about a three-hour drive from Zion National Park. Like Zion, it is also a highly popular park, with a shuttle service running during the main season from April to October to help move visitors in the Bryce Amphitheater area, where the greatest concentration of hoodoos is located and the most visited area. Since we visited in March, the shuttles were not operating but we had no difficulty with parking. The downside of visiting in March was that some parts of the park were still covered with snow and some trails were closed, including the road to Fairyland Point. Hiking trails had a lot of people on them already, but did not feel overly crowded. One of the other challenges of visiting in the off season was that many amenities and restaurants near the park were not yet open, resulting in limited options for food or other entertainment. Bryce Canyon City is pretty small already, but is even more limited during the off season.

To start our visit to Bryce Canyon, we drove to the end of the 18-mile scenic drive to Rainbow Point, the highest point in the park at 9,115 feet in elevation, to check out the views. We did the short hike to Yovimpa Point, but did not hike the Bristlecone Loop Trail, as there was deep snow on the trail. We then worked our way back along the scenic drive toward the amphitheater area, stopping at each overlook area and doing short hikes where available, such as the hike from Farview Point to Piracy Point. The scenery throughout was magnificent, overlooking vast areas of the canyon, with mountains in the far distance. The pictures do not adequately capture the vastness of the area and the awe it invoked..."wow" was our most repeated word in the park!

After completing the scenic drive, we went to the Bryce Amphitheater area and hiked the Queen's Garden and Navajo Combination Loop Trail (around 3 miles), walking among the hoodoos and through some arches. This was a great way to see some of the well-known hoodoos, such as Thor's Hammer, Wall Street, and Queen Victoria. At times, the trail was muddy due to snow melt, although we avoided most of the mud by sticking to the edge of the trail or treading carefully. If the trail is wet, expect to get thick, heavy mud on your boots/shoes!

In the early morning, we hiked along the canyon rim from Sunrise Point past Sunset Point to Upper Inspiration Point. The trails were almost empty in the early morning, although more people joined the trails by mid-morning. The colors of the canyon were beautiful in the early morning light.

In the north end of the park off of Highway 12, we hiked the Mossy Cave Trail. This was an easy hike through a streambed area to a shallow cave where icicles form due to dripping water. The cave gets its name from moss growing on the surface of the rock in the cool damp of the cave.

In the evening, we drove back to Yovimpa Point to watch the sunset and then stopped at Bryce Point after the sky had darkened, hoping to see stars, since Bryce Canyon is an International Dark Sky Park. While there were some stars visible, the full moon started to rise, brightening the sky so that the stars were less visible. We decided instead to stop at Sunset Point to see the moon illuminating the hoodoos. With the bright light from the full moon, the photo (above right) looks like it was taken during daytime rather than under the moonlight!

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