Day 6 (April 3, 2018 – Bryce Canyon, Utah): “Spring Chill”
It was about 5:30am when I woke up and did some blogging that I didn’t get around to doing last night. I really didn’t feel that there was that much of a sense of urgency on the day since we were aiming to just do Bryce Canyon then spend the night there.
But with the toothpaste snafu that occurred when we left Hanksville, we thought that the organic grocer in Escalante wouldn’t be open until 9am so we took our sweet old time getting ready and having a self-cooked breakfast.
As I was loading up the car, the first thing I noticed was that it was freezing cold outside. Contrasting the cloudy skies and windy conditions from yesterday, today was cloudless with deep blue skies. So that was probably a big reason why today was a very chilly day.
During my back-and-forth visits from the trunk of the car to our adjacent room, I kept noticing a blue pick-up truck with the words “Sheriff” on its door that kept going back and forth on the UT12. Clearly with the 30mph speed limit in town, the cop was looking to ticket motorists.
Having gotten a traffic ticket once in this stretch of road between Henrieville and Escalante (back in Memorial Day Weekend 2003), I knew I had to be very cautious myself to avoid history repeating itself.
It wouldn’t be until about 8:30am when the car was all loaded up and we were ready to go. It was still bitingly cold at 39F according to the thermometer in the car.
We first went to the organic grocery just down the street on the UT12, and contrary to what we thought, this place had been open since 7am! So I guess we dilly dallied for no reason.
It took Julie some time to pick up the replacement toothpaste because she ended up buying some more organic groceries including some frozen meat that could be used to make chicken taco later tonight since we had a kitchen at Bryce.
Eventually at 9am, we finally left Escalante and were bound for Mossy Cave.
I had low expectations for this excursion since the last time we were at Mossy Cave in the Spring (mid-April 2003 to be exact), the waterfall wasn’t flowing. However, I did recall that there was an icicle inside the alcove-like “cave” itself and given how cold it was, I expected to see it on this visit.
Meanwhile, the drive was fairly straightforward and smooth going. After having been exposed to the attractive sandstone cliffs at Capitol Reef and then Grand Staircase, this stretch didn’t seem as dramatic. I had also fancied making a detour to Kodachrome Basin as well as Grosvenor Arch on this morning, but Julie suggested that I kept the eye on the prize and just focus on Bryce Canyon.
Still, seeing that the town of Tropic seemed to be a bit more expanded than the town we remembered several years ago, this further indicated to us about how much things have changed over the years.
By about 9:45am, we arrived at the trailhead for Mossy Cave. And true to form at all the National Parks this week, the parking lot was quite full. We wound up following the lead of a guy who parked before us parallel, where the markings were more for trailered vehicles or oversized RVs. In either case, we managed to score one of the last couple of parking spaces and promptly donned our jackets as it was still bitingly cold here.
Clearly, the Mossy Cave Trail wasn’t as obscure as it used to be, where we were used to being one of the few people who’d be on this trail.
That said, the contrast between the hoodoos and the deep blue skies made for nice photos. Perhaps even more surprising about our visit was that there was water in the Tropic Ditch!
So I knew that the waterfall would be flowing today.
After crossing the bridge, we then went up a switchback before keeping left to go up to the Mossy Cave itself. We saw that the waterfall was still in partial shadow so we figured that we mind as well check out the “cave” first, then get back to the waterfall.
When we got up to the familiar alcove that was the Mossy Cave, we saw that there was fencing that prevented people from getting into the Mossy Cave itself. There was still an icicle there (albeit smaller than when we were last here some 15 years ago), but I think they had to fence off the cave in order to prevent any further erosion, which was clearly evident.
Once we got our fill of the Mossy Cave, we then proceeded towards the waterfall. The trail that skirted the rim with less obstructed views of the falls were closed (again probably due to erosion), but the views of the falls were still satisfactory.
Looking up at the Scooby-Doo formation at the top of the cliffs opposite the Tropic Ditch from us was a little on the disappointing side as something clearly was different about it. It didn’t look like the Scooby-Doo that I remembered.
Upon closer inspection, I saw that the nose of the formation must have fallen off. That also meant that the mouth of Scooby Doo was gone, too. So now, it was just a tiny arch alongside a couple of other tiny natural arches.
I guess things changing was to be expected, especially if it has been 12 years since our last visit here.
The kids then continued hiking further upstream along the Tropic Ditch as they saw that there was ice or snow covering the stream above some minor 5ft or shorter waterfalls. So the kids were having fun chucking pebbles into the stream just below the the bottommost waterfall.
We then headed back the way we came while checking out the waterfall one last time (with the shadows mostly gone now) before getting back to the parking lot at 11:05am.
At 11:15am, we pulled into the Best Western Grand Hotel as we were hoping to be able to at least drop off our perishables in the refrigerator before spending the better part of the day touring Bryce Canyon. But after being turned away, we had to rely on the cold outside temperatures and our ice cooler to at least keep the ice cream from melting in syrup and other goods from spoiling.
So by 11:25am, we found ourselves in a long queue to get into Bryce Canyon. I had a bad feeling that it was going to be difficult to do some autotouring before settling in on a spot to do a hike from Sunset Point.
Once we got through the entrance station, we then drove all the way south to the Natural Bridge; getting there at 11:50am. Lighting wise, it was still probably a couple hours too early as the sun was somewhat behind the arch, but this was merely a short photo stop.
At 12:05pm, we then drove back north towards the Bryce Canyon Lodge so Julie could have her lunch.
When we got to the Bryce Canyon Lodge vicinity, we saw just how packed it was and how little parking was available. Even parking all the way out to Sunrise Point was hard to get. So at that instant, we decided to keep driving back towards the entrance and think out of the box to have lunch outside of the park itself.
While everyone else was crowding the park to have their lunch and compete for parking spaces, we were immediately seated at the Ruby’s Dining Room inside the lodge at 12:30pm.
The lunch was mostly a buffet affair, but I did get an expensive (albeit ordinary rib-eye steak) and the kids got some expensive cheese pizzas. So in the end, I wound up paying about $116 for lunch. That said, we probably would have paid more and even waited longer at the Bryce Canyon Lodge.
At 1:45pm, we were back in the car. The temperatures were now in the 50’s so it wasn’t quite as bitingly cold as before. Again, I was concerned about the cooler contents.
Anyways, we then drove back into the park, where the queue was nowhere near as long as it was earlier this morning. So already our decision to eat outside the park paid off.
By 2pm, we got to Inspiration Point, where parking in the official lot was full. However, we managed to score a spot on the road shoulder parking in the wrong direction. Then, we all promptly walked up to the lookouts, where we were peering right into the Silent City under better lighting than all prior visits where we’d be here first thing in the morning.
So we spent some time checking out the lowest view, then walked up the slippery gravel slope up to the middle lookout before finally making it up to the uppermost viewpoint. While the views were nice for the adults, the kids didn’t seem too terribly impressed.
Again, I suspected that being within the canyon or amphitheater was a far more interactive and impressive experience than exclusively checking out the overlooks (just like at the Grand Canyon). So I figured that it was a good thing we’d be headed to Sunset Point after this stop so we could finally get to experience Bryce Canyon from within by foot.
On the way back down to the parking lot, the kids were running down the hill. Unfortunately, none of them were listening to us imploring them not to run. And then Tahia ended up eating it on the way down and was crying.
At 2:45pm, we were back at the car. It seemed like there were now even more vehicles looking for parking spaces at Inspiration Point. That was bad news in terms of us trying to find parking at Sunset Point.
Sure enough, when we headed back to Sunset Point, rangers blocked the road saying that there were too many cars there. So we kept on driving, then made a long loop before returning to Sunset Point turnoff where the ranger was now gone. Finally at 3pm, we ultimately scored a couple of parking spaces just as quite a few people were leaving.
After gearing up with a couple big full re-usable water bottles, we then promptly walked towards the Navajo Loop. The plan was to do the 1.3-mile loop while also adding the Queen’s Garden (which might add another mile each way). But as we descended the steep trail to a junction, we saw that the path on the right was closed.
That trail looked eroded and it would have gone where the trees would grow between the tight spaces of the hoodoos towering above the trail. At first, I thought the closed trail was Wall Street, but after taking the other trail, which took in Thor’s Hammer, it then went down a steep series of switchbacks that was actually the true Wall Street section itself.
With the afternoon glow of the hoodoos, we were getting nice shades of orange even without direct sunlight. But with the number of switchbacks on the steep descent, we weren’t looking forward to going back up this trail.
After getting through the really cool Wall Street section, the trail then descended further towards a junction that would have hooked up with the closed part of the trail as well as connecting with the Peek-a-boo Trail that we did 15 years ago.
So we headed towards the Queen’s Garden, which seemed like a longer (albeit flat) walk than I had recalled. Julie and Tahia were already complaining that we needed to get back to the apartment since it was getting late in the afternoon, but I just kept pressing forward.
Along the way, we saw a small deer grazing in the shadows before the trail started climbing towards the Queen’s Garden section. Eventually, we got to the dead-end at the Queen’s Garden spur where there was a sign and that familiar formation that looked like a doppelganger of the Queen Victoria herself.
After taking a break while getting a kick out of the formation that even the kids saw the obvious resemblance, Julie then suggested that we had a change of plans. So instead of hiking all the way back to Sunset Point via Wall Street and its brutally long and steep switchbacks, we should hike up to Sunrise Point then perhaps take the shuttle back to Sunset Point.
I don’t think we had ever hiked this section of the trail in all the times we had been to Bryce Canyon, so I thought it was a good idea.
After having our fill of the Queen’s Garden, we then continued through a small man-made arch then continued going uphill towards Sunrise Point as planned. It was quite a treat to pass through another small tunnel (also a man-made arch) as well as being flanked by some impressive hoodoo formations as we were making the steep ascent.
The trail was still pretty crowded on the return hike as there was a large group of Indian Tourists who happened to be hiking alongside our group at about the same pace (they also made frequent stops allowing us to pass them after passing us). It was annoying because some thoughtless members of that group were taking shortcuts on the switchbacks causing further erosion to the already erosion-prone terrain.
Towards the upper end of the trail, we were getting pretty impressive views down into the hoodoos as well as some hidden arches. There were still a few switchbacks to negotiate on the ascent, but they didn’t seem to be as severe as that of Wall Street.
Eventually, we made it up to the top, where a sign indicated that it was another 1/2-mile to return to Sunset Point. So instead of taking the shuttle bus back (which I hadn’t recalled ever seeing one of those shuttles run), we just hiked the remaining distance to get back to our cars.
By 5:30pm, we regained our cars and then promptly drove back to the Best Western Grand Hotel where Julie picked up the apartment keys and we could finally get settled. We still had to drive a short distance behind the property where there was a standalone building that housed our suite which was actually for handicapped people. By 5:50pm, we finally parked the car and started unloading.
Still, the kids were excited about being able to stay in the same room so they could play together. Meanwhile, we could all have dinner once again as we sought to finish off the food we had bought or brought over from Escalante.
The rest of the evening was spent keeping warm and having dinner together as a family. We knew outside was going to be freezing cold since we were still at around 8,000ft in elevation. The vacation rental here was missing all sorts of kitchen tools like no skillet or frying pan, no colander or strainer, no paper towels, etc. In fact, much of the cupboards were empty – literally!
Anyways, tomorrow, we had Springdale to look forward to. But I definitely wasn’t looking forward to the road construction-induced traffic jams nor the Spring Break crowds at Zion National Park. Regardless, we’ll just have to take things as they come…