On the Road Summer 2021 Days 34-36 Bryce Canyon

Days 34-36 Bryce Canyon

In the year 1220 AD the Paiute Indians lived in the panoramic cliffs and pine woodlands surrounding Bryce Canyon. They lived in harmony with nature. As such they acquired certain skills. They were able to shape shift into condors, mountains lions, dragons. They could create fairy castles with a simple sleight of hand.

As sometimes happens, a group of them became enamored of their own powers, much like the residents of Slytherin Hall…and they formed an evil cult. This cult became known as the Legend People.


Now the Legend People were very selfish. They ate all of the manzanita blossoms in the Spring before they could become pollinated and bear the little apple fruit, a vital source of food for many of the creatures living there.  In the summer the Legend People who were very much aware of their appearances made beautiful clothes, dresses and loin cloths from the deer hides.


Two kinds of deer roam the forests and forage in the grasslands there: the mule deer, a deer with big ears and the pronghorn with the striped shoulders. Now the pronghorn aren’t really deer. Nor are they antelope as some will insist. But they are their own species, remaining from the Ice Age. And they are the second fastest animal on earth after the cheetah. They can run 60 mph and detect motion up to four miles away. They can often be seen browsing at the edge of the forest at dusk.


To augment their colorful costumes, the Legend People chopped off the tails of the darling little Uinta chipmunks and dyed them in the glorious pigments of the canyon.


Now most people don’t realize but even today, it requires 600 gallons of water to make and dye a single t-shirt, so the impact on the canyon was quite dramatic. In the summer the monsoons bring water: torrential rainstorms that blow in and wreak havoc with lightning strikes and boulders tumbling with the forces, but apart from trees, even scrubby juniper blackened from lightning strikes, soon after there is little evidence that a storm has passed through. After only an hour the canyon is dry.


The Legend People were absorbed admiring their beautiful clothes and didn’t really care how their actions might affect the rest of life on earth.


In the Fall, the Legend People ate all of the pine nuts before they could be eaten or disseminated. Bruce Canyon is home to an unassuming little bird, the Clark’s Nutcracker a grey bird with black and white wings and central tail feathers. The Clark’s Nutcracker gathers 100,000 pine nuts and buries them in different locations. The following Spring it goes back to these places and retrieves the seeds to feed its newborn. But even the industrious Clark’s nutcracker couldn’t beat the Legend People to the seeds.


Then the Legend People began selling off our national monuments to private interests…Forgive me, I have slipped into the present. Time warps are strong in the Canyon.


Any hoodoo, the other Creatures were starving and thirsty. They went to the Legend People time and again, saying, “Look. We just have this one home. We must share her resources We must live sustainably.”

But the Legend People didn’t even seem to hear. They were intent on living the good life now and that trumped all other considerations.


And so finally in desperation the creatures went to Coyote.


Now Coyote is a wise and powerful god. His methods are subtle. He works through shifting consciousness. He is still with those who have not outright rejected him even today. You can recognize him by the way that he teaches a lesson. Let’s say for example you have a day where you have a certain deadline you absolutely must meet.


You wake up and you have no internet, which you need. You get in the card to drive to Starbucks for internet and your car won’t start. When you finally get a jump, you are caught in a traffic jam. Your best friend calls you; he is having a meltdown. Your kids need money. And on and on. You are becoming increasingly frustrated. You are definitely not going to make your deadline. Along the way you treat your loved ones with less respect than they are due, creating a further cascade of problems.


Then in the evening when your angst is finally beginning to unravel, you realize that in the bigger picture that your deadline was not that important. The bigger picture is starkly visible in Bryce Canyon. You can look into the canyon and see back one hundred million years. You can look up into the starry skies and…why the keynote speaker from NASA at Bryce’s recent astronomy festival told the audience that NASA is rolling off a new telescope to follow the Hubble: the James Webb. It can see back in time fifteen billion years.  How big is this picture?


She also told us that someone rented the Hubble Telescope for three days focusing it on an ostensibly black space between stars and with time-lapse photography over three days, 5,000 galaxies came into sight. So, what aren't we seeing?


There is definitely a bigger picture where the delivery of a report is not significant.


So, as I was saying, it is Coyote behind the scenes egging on a change of your perspective, so you see the bigger picture instead. When the creatures approached Coyote, he thought about it a minute and then came up with the perfect idea how to deal with the Legend People.


He invited them all to the canyon for a big banquet, spreading the word: You can eat all you want and dance your moccasins off all night.

They are stoked and they all show up. Some in their shape-shifted forms. Some in their beautiful finery and frippery with sego lily earrings. 


And some of the Legend People showed up wearing only body paint.


Coyote meets them at the rim of the canyon and with hands folded in prayer in front of his heart says, “Welcome Brothers and Sisters. We give deep thanks for each other and for this Earth. To show our respect we are going to learn to live in harmony with the Earth.”


With this he lifted his right arm - some say that he held a throbbing gold wand - and he cast a powerful spell that froze the Legend People. Right where they were standing.


And that is what the hoodoos are. You can see them there in Silent City, on Wall Street and all about the canyon. The hoodoos are the Legend People meditating on becoming one with the Earth as they dissolve into it.

Window to Wall Street

The Paiute Indians referred to the hoodoos as evil creatures with red painted faces. The Paiutes weren't stupid. They did not hang out in the canyon. At all. A young brave wouldn't even go in on a dare.  Nothing short of a mountain lion hot on his heels could persuade any half-way intelligent Paiute to go into the canyon. Indeed, the surly faces of some of the hoodoos are a subject deserving consternation.


Now the hoodoos themselves are well known for changing colors. And for their deep saturation of color. Visitors flock to the canyon at sunrise and sunset to se what they can see  as the rays of the rising or dying sun move across the canyon and the hoodoos light up, sometimes glowing the hollow gold of false idols, sometimes catching the quartz and shimmering the dazzling white of stars. At other times the soft peach or coral of the sky might suddenly ignite the hoodoos into a fiery red.


Clouds passing across the sky during daylight hours play their own tricks, changing the expressions on the faces so that it can appear that a hoodoo has just moved her lips or eyes.


 Nighttime presents no fewer transformations. The silhouettes against the infinitely starry sky gain stature and nobility. Wordless conversations fill the night.


It is not just the hoodoos and their variable expressions that intimidated the Paiutes. You must remember that Coyote froze the entire lifescape of the hoodoos. A visit to Bryce reveals trails into a land of fairy castle and caves that seem like all the world to still be occupied. It is as though they are lived in, heavily used in a dimension just beyond perception, but tangible enough that the sensitive know to be wary.


Can you solve the sphinx's riddle and gain entry to this kingdom?

The boulders, the shifting mounds of crystalline sand, the twisted blackened trees, they all seem to have an almost audible consciousness. And there are the shapeshifting animals. One moment a geological formation, the next moment, a vulture flapping large wings and taking flight, blocking out the sun. A small dragon moves from its mother's side and becomes a lizard. A fallen tree branch slithers into a rock crevice.

A white wraith sneaks up the hill - front left

Once one begins truly looking at the trees, yet another realm of reality opens. Surviving in the canyon is a lesson in resilience and tenacity. Winds are fierce here: whipping hailstones like artillery fire ricocheting through the canyon; bitter winter winds cut skin and churn snowfall into vortices. Merciless blizzards of vortices, their wind screaming through the ages. 

Winters are brutal and long. I took the following photo Memorial Day weekend.

Even the warm, wet winds of a sudden summer storm blow with a fierceness. The sky is blue, and the radar is clear. A deep rumble echoes across the sky and a moment later, the dark clouds of a monsoon have domed the canyon.

Flashes of lightning crack trees apart. Rain pours rapid currents down the canyon walls, disintegrating trails in minutes. Boulders dislodge, tumble and crash. The pebbly sand barely cradling struggling tree roots cascades. Gravity, wind and rain, but the trees are staying. They balance, edging their roots to stay in the dancer’s frame and keep them hanging on to what soil remains, however tenuously. 

Holding on...

The dancers

These tree roots have pulled out of the earth provide a buttress and to block a powerful windstream that would otherwise slam the main trunk and knock over the tree.

Lone survivors as the terrain washes away.

They pull their roots up to shield the wind, to protect a neighbor, to steady their balance. Many of the trees here have been blackened by lightning, some again and again, not just the reaching pines, but even the scrubby junipers. A price of living here. The trees, some of them ancient, seem to embody the quirky spirits that whistle through this canyon. This feistiness permits survival. Perhaps it is the same with the hoodoos. The meek do not endure here. Only the powerful. In some places, only the evil.

It is not just these uncertainties that intimidated the Paiutes from sojourns into the canyon. There exists one other looming uncertainty in the canyon. Time Warps. It is not uncommon for a traveler to walk through a certain passageway and find herself taking the same steps through the same passage in the same direction an hour or two later with no accounting for the interlude. It has happened to me on several occasions.


Take heed. Hiking in Bryce Canyon is every bit as magical as the trails suggest.


I was camping this trip and found a pleasant campsite in the first come first serve campground without much difficulty. Though I did time it to arrive around the time the first campers would be leaving. The National Park lodge was designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood and built with funding from the Union Pacific Railroad in 1925. The architecture is very cool. Make sure that you note the shingles on the roofs of the original buildings and those built to resemble them as they are placed to present an optical illusion that they are wavy. The lodge is stone and log with some pretty impressive beams, as well as two fireplaces, one in the main sanctum of the lodge and the other in its auditorium where interesting Ranger programs are presented regularly, or were, pre-COVID. The lodge offers a few rooms upstairs. I hope to stay in one of the original “deluxe cabins” next time, or if they are not available one of the two nearby motels, whose rooms are also designed in the rustic cowpoke style. If you are making reservations, go through the National Park Service website, which will direct you to the concessionaire operating lodging there.  

There are a number of options outside the park with deceptively similar names but offering nowhere near the experience. The Ruby Syrett family knew a good opportunity when they saw it and began running a tourist stop at the canyon’s edge in 1915. The family has managed to hang on to all of the land surrounding the entrance to the park and even recently successfully incorporated it into a City, Bryce Canyon City. Basically, they have a monopoly as you head into the park. This is not to say that there aren’t other desirable options outside the park but do your homework. The small nearby town of Tropic has some interesting offerings. Bryce does not usually get as crowded as some of the other parks on its circuit, hear Zion, which can be an absolute zoo, but if you do find yourself unable to find accommodations nearby you might consider Kodachrome Basin State Park if you are camping, or Panguitch Lake. Panguitch Lake is close to an hour away, but you could add Cedar Breaks on to your itinerary. Or continue on to Utah Highway 12 east toward Capitol Reef and see if anything is available en route. There is not much commerce for sure, but the road is one of the loveliest I’ve ever driven. I’ve taken it again and again. It is especially magical in early October when the quaking aspen turn gold. There is a storytelling app, Story Road Utah you can listen to along the way if you can get reception. I’d download it in advance though as reception is probably pretty spotty. There’s a sweet little market in Escalante, Escalante Mercantile and Natural Grocery where you can pick up organic produce and gourmet selections, many fresh and homemade for a delightful picnic en route or even at Capitol Reef if you can wait.  If you enjoy fine coffee, keep your eyes open for Kiva Coffeehouse, fourteen miles outside of Escalante on Highway 12.

Bryce Canyon is like a second home to me, and one of my dearest friends is there, so it was as good a place as any to get the call from my brother telling me that it was time to call my elderly mother. And say goodbye.