SW Utah National Parks part II: Bryce Canyon (Dec 29 - Jan 4)

With only a bit more than 200 miles from Green River (see Part I) to Bryce Canyon, we had an easy day's drive starting on I-70. Soon we were getting off the freeway, and enjoyed a pleasant drive down Hwy 89 until our turnoff at State Route 12, a Scenic Byway, and nearby Red Canyon, which made a nice lunch stop and introduction to the red rock country and the Dixie National Forest.

Red Canyon on the way to Bryce Canyon National Park

After checking in to our very nice room at the Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel, we drove into Bryce Canyon National Park to explore the Amphitheater and various breathtaking viewpoints along Rte 63, the single road through the park along the rim of Bryce Canyon.

The obligatory National Park entrance photo :-)
Our first view of the Bryce Canyon Amphitheater

When we ran out of daylight we headed back to Ruby's Inn for dinner, the only restaurant open this time of year. Later we discovered a nice little place back up on Rte 12, but they closed after the first of the year. Both places featured delicious homemade pies, apparently a very popular dessert in this area, so when in Rome...

After dinner we returned to the Park to take in the moonrise from Inspiration Point and shoot some photos of the cold moonlight on the canyon.

Night sky shortly after moonrise
Moonlight on the Amphitheater

The next morning we again took in Canyon viewpoints and spotted a small group of Red Crossbills in the pines.

Bryce Canyon near Sunset Point

Our afternoon was spent lingering along the Queen's Garden Trail, absolutely delightful in the drifting snow. As beautiful as the viewpoints from the canyon rim are, it's essential to hike down into the canyon to fully appreciate its beauty. The trail was clearly marked and snow-packed, making for easy hiking, especially while wearing our micro-spikes. It felt downright festive to walk among the strange hoodoos and rock formations!

We enjoyed the hoodoos and other formations along the Queen's Garden Trail

View near the end of our Queen's Garden hike

Thors Hammer near Sunset Point

For years I have wanted to see Bryce Canyon in Winter and was not disappointed. Even the unseasonably cold weather did not hold us back from enjoying all that this unique area has to offer. In fact we had such fun, and found such a bargain in our accommodations, that we extended our stay for a total of 6 nights.

Sometimes the sunlight managed to find a gap in the snow-bearing clouds

New Years Eve day we showshoed along the Bristlecone Loop Trail, located at the southernmost point of the park. Big vistas to the south and Navajo Mountain reminded us of our trip to Page, AZ last year and we wondered whether any California Condors make it this far north.

Big views from Rainbow Point,  at the south end of the rim road

Starting our snowshoe hike on the Bristlecone Loop Trail, near Rainbow Point

View from along the trail

We watched the sun go down for the last time in 2012 at Sunset Point and were treated to an interesting display of lenticular clouds.

Lenticular clouds made the last light from Sunset Point even more interesting

Braving the subzero temperatures and brisk winds, we got up early and set up to photograph the first sunrise of 2013 at Bryce Point with about a dozen other tourists. I shared my hand warming packs with some very grateful folks wearing the most pitiful gloves. Others huddled together in the wind in a manner Mike likened to penguins in the Antarctic.

January 1st, 2013 predawn light on the Amphitheater

Morning light on low clouds hugging the rocks

Morning light on the Amphitheater as viewed from Bryce Point

After warming up at the big fireplace at our lodge, we went back to Sunset Point to hike in the cold but brilliant sunny blue skies. Peek-a-Boo Loop Trail is accessed via the Navajo Loop, a very interesting descent into the fascinating formations and hoodoos in the Canyon's Amphitheater area. Unfortunately one half of the loop was closed due to ice. The hike produced a series of smiles and "oh wow's" at every turn. Unfortunately Wall Street was closed due to ice/rockfall danger, but we did enjoy going back into a narrow canyon on this spur trail.

Dropping down from Sunset Point to hike the Peekaboo Trail

Susan hikes among the rock formations and hoodoos on the floor of the canyon in the Amphitheater

The Wall of Windows in the Amphitheater area of Bryce Canyon

One of many tunnels through solid rock along the trail

Narrow canyon walls near the (closed) Wall Street section off the Navajo Loop

This area is below Inspiration Point, visible on the horizon at left center

Our Photographing the Southwest: Southern Utah guidebook suggested visiting Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park near the Arizona border, so Wednesday morning we took a side trip check it out. Highway 89 is quite the raptor corridor and we were thrilled to see hawks and eagles soaring overhead every time we drove it. Full of tire tracks and patchy snow cover, the dunes didn't strike us as photogenic as the book suggested, but we hung around to watch flocks of Pine Siskins foraging in the bushes.

One of the larger dunes at Coral Pink

Pine Siskin feeding on seedpods at Coral Pink

We'd planned to stay until sunset to photograph the dunes, but now with time on our hands we decided to go on up to Zion for a sneak preview. Wow! The winding road down into the canyon is spectacular.

The dramatic rocks in the eastern canyon of Zion National Park

On the way "home" we stopped at the Thunderbird Restaurant in Mt Carmel Junction, famous for their "Ho-Made" Pies. The short-skirted server came later. The proprietors originally chose the name to save money on their sign!

Thunderbird Restaurant: "Home of the Ho-Made Pies"

Thursday we drove to Kodachrome Basin State Park (which we visited in Nov 2011), but much of the park was closed in Winter. We had the park entirely to ourselves, and took a short hike on the Grand Parade Trail to a box canyon before heading out.

Headed into the Box Canyon off the Grand Parade Trail in Kodachrome Basin

On the north side of Bryce Canyon off of Rte 12, and not very well marked, is a less visited area of the National Park called Mossy Cave. We hiked along the creek, looking up at hoodoos to our west. The trail went up to the a little grotto dripping with icicles, then we backtracked to the waterfall.

The waterfall at Mossy Cave (center left) as viewed from the rocks above

Ice sickles on the Mossy Cave waterfall

The hoodoos proved irresistible to Mike, so I scrambled up after him to get a closer look. Once again we had the area all to ourselves and enjoyed the solitude of our last day in Bryce.

Windows in the rocks and hoodoos above Mossy Cave waterfall

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