After a leisurely morning, we departed for our fourth national park: Bryce Canyon. The trip took about two hours, and brought us through a large agricultural area adjacent to the Fish Lake Plateau. All was going well until we came upon an area of Utah State Route 62 where road signs declared an end to state maintenance. The condition of the road deteriorated as it made its way along valleys, canyons and creeks, with vegetation encroaching on both edges of the unmaintained pavement. Although scenic, the route seemed destined to terminate in a gravel road or, worse, a dirt path. Fortunately, It led us to Bryce Canyon City without incident.
Visiting Bryce Canyon City is like visiting a theme park. Formerly known as Ruby’s Inn, the town of fewer than 200 people was incorporated in 2007 on the site where, in 1916, Reuben C. “Ruby” Syrett built a lodge and cabins, when the promotion of Bryce Canyon for tourism was just beginning. Syrett’s business grew along with the park’s popularity, particularly once it was made a National Park in 1928. Ruby’s Inn became an important junction, and its travelers’ services developed into a small community. Syrett donated land to the state for construction of a road that strategically placed Ruby’s Inn right at the entrance to the park.
Today, the town consists entirely of property owned by the third-generation Syrett family, who have become experts at self-promotion and brand management. Our stay at Ruby’s Inn RV Resort was certainly pleasant and convenient to the park, but it also felt as though we were propping up a family business that had long ago mastered the art of taking advantage of weary travelers. For example, a pound of bacon at the Ruby’s Inn General Store will set you back $12. You can purchase a bottle of wine, but it has to be opened onsite and, then, if you want to take it home with you, you have to pay $1 for the cork to be placed back in the bottle (admittedly, that’s a Utah law, but Ruby’s Inn makes a killing on the bottle price).
We made our way into Bryce Canyon at the same time a thunderstorm rolled in, making our tour of the canyon rim both wet and wonderful. Clearly, the forces of weathering and erosion that shaped the canyon over 525 million years were on full display, creating a dynamic, mesmerizing experience. Interestingly, unlike other canyons, flowing water plays a secondary role to melting snow and ice in forming the statuesque rock features. As water seeps into the rock fractures, it re-freezes, expanding and cracking the rock around it in a process known as frost-wedging. Because Bryce Canyon experiences wild temperature swings between freezing nights and warm afternoons for half of the year, it’s not hard to imagine how these formations developed.
One thing that distinguished Bryce Canyon from the other parks in our Utah quintet was its abundant firs, spruces, Ponderosa pines, junipers and aspens. Because the park’s elevation ranges from 9,100 feet at Rainbow Point to 6,600 feet at the canyon bottoms, the 2,500-foot change in elevation creates a range of temperatures and precipitation that supports these magnificent forests and the wildlife that inhabit them. Among the highlights of our visit, we were awestruck by the views from Bryce Point, Swamp Canyon, Farview Point, Natural Bridge (which really isn’t a bridge but an arch), Agua Canyon, Ponderosa Canyon, Yovimpa Point, and, of course, Rainbow Point.
We returned to Cloud 9, exhausted but exhilarated by the scenic grandeur we had experienced. We ended the evening with a crackling campfire under crystal-clear skies that revealed the heavens in all their starlit wonder.
A few lessons we learned along the way are worth sharing:
- Generally speaking, it’s best to steer clear of large groups of Asian tourists with selfie sticks.
- Avoid eating at any establishment within a National Park (even one with an alluring name like “Bryce Canyon Lodge”), unless you enjoy paying $21 for a burger, fries and a beer.
- When visiting Utah, it’s best to have a completely stocked bar (purchasing beer, wine and liquor isn’t impossible, but it’s often extremely difficult).