Bryce Canyon, Utah.
I knew my road trip would be broken up into distinct parts: the drive with my stuff from Virginia to Oregon, the drive WITHOUT my stuff from Oregon to California to see so many friends and family. The drive out of California into the dessert for my solo adventure…and onto Bryce Canyon. But it was about Bryce really. Its always been about Bryce. Those damned antique postcards I saw as a kid…they stuck in my brain all these years later.
I spent the first night in Bryce’s North Campground (scooting in just under the wire to get one of the last spaces). Bryce is accessible by roughly 18 miles of road, with access to all the trailheads and scenic pullouts from this main road. The North Campground is at mile marker 1. I was told by the very friendly ranger that the only place in the park that allowed dispersed camping (i.e. on your own) was down at the other end of the canyon…at mile marker 18. With the speed limit at mostly 25 along that road (and trust me…you’ll be glad it is), it took me a few minutes to get to the Yovimpa Pass trailhead and park my car. I had already purchased an overnight parking pass and dispersed camping permit ($5) so I was ready to hit the trail the minute I parked.
I picked Yovimpa not only for the access to the solo in-the-park camping experience I wanted but also because it was the only camping area almost directly adjacent to the rim of the Canyon. It was also the start of a trail that led into the canyon itself. I had promised a dear friend back in Virginia a sunrise photograph from the rim and I figured this was the best place to do it. Oh you can get something at mile marker 1 I suppose…that’s where all the big “amphitheater” photos get taken…by you and about 3000 other people there all clicking away. There’s nothing wrong with that mind you, I was just interested in a different experience.
It was an easy hike, even with a full pack, down that initial trail from the trail-head to the Yovimpa camping area…mostly a gentle rolling down hill along the rim with breathtaking (and somewhat death defying) views of the entire canyon. There is even a place where the view is so vast you can see the northern edge of the Grand Canyon…some 90 miles away. With no one around, I quickly set up my tent, dumped some of my weight and caught the trail into the canyon.
The ranger had warned me earlier that weather conditions can change quickly and that there were high wind warnings and a possibility of snow at some higher elevations. I bore this mind as I spent the next 4 hours, in shirt sleeve weather, hiking, photographing and listening to the wind through the rocks and trees. It was getting late in the afternoon, and that’s when the clouds started to roll in and the temperature noticeably dropped. It occured to me that getting stuck out here, away from my tent and campsite, as night fell and snow started to come down, may not be the most ideal way to spend the evening. I was able to complete the trail loop (about 6 miles) back to my tent just as the sun went down and the snow started to really fall…and stick.
I cooked a quick meal in my tent with my single burner and hunkered down to ride out the night. Kudos to my sleeping bag by the way. I know what you next question is going to be… “weren’t you cold?” and the answer is no…I slept comfortably warm all through the night. There were indeed high winds, but I was sheltered by trees and a tent that cut all but the very worst of it. The next morning I awoke to dead silence and a strange quality of light in my tent. I gingerly reached my hand up and tapped the inside edge of my tent roof. I was a greeted by cheerful “sssSHHHLLLoooooOOOp!” sound as a chunk of built up snow slid gracefully down the side of my tent, allowing unaffected morning light through the fabric. I poked my head out to a perfect winter wonderland…the air perfectly still with just the tiniest shimmer of ice crystals hovering in the dawn light. I poked my hand down into the snow and sank in up to my knuckles.
If I was going to keep my promise, I knew I only had a few minutes to grab my camera and make my way to the Canyon rim. I learned later it got down to 26 degrees during the night, but without the wind and the sun just breaking, I was comfortable enough in just my jeans and a long sleeve overshirt. I nearly ran to the rim and set myself in in a spot I had scouted the day before (loooooong back yesterday when it was sunny and 70). There was still significant cloud cover and the lower canyon was still shrouded in mist but the sky was a quickly moving patchwork of clouds and deep blue. I wasn’t sure if I’d get it…or how long I’d be able to stand there without getting chilled waiting. But as it happened, my wait wasn’t more than a few seconds. The clouds suddenly parted enough to let, for just a moment, a sliver of pure golden sunlight into the canyon. I shot 3 exposures before it was gone again…just as quickly. Sometimes…thats how it is. Sometimes…that’s enough.
Promise fulfilled and the cold starting to catch up with me…I broke camp (which if you haven’t done in the snow before…? Suuuuuucks) and hit the trail again back to where my car was parked. Remember that whole “… mostly a gentle rolling down hill along the rim with breathtaking bla bla blaaaa…” part? Yeah…the thing is…with a full pack again (30-40lbs), several inches of snow on the ground and an air temp of below freezing, all that gently rolling shit went out the door and it took me almost 2 hours to go almost 2 miles..almost all of it very much NOT downhill. It was one of the hardest physical things I’ve ever done actually, and by the time I got to my car I didn’t give two shits about shirking my pack and laying down on the cold wet surface of the parking lot and just staring up at an impossibly blue sky for a few minutes while my breathing came back to normal and my legs stopped shaking. I couldn’t see myself…but Im pretty sure the smile plastered on my dirty face was from ear to ear.
And I thought again of those goddamned postcards….
I came back to Oregon directly after that. After being on the road for almost a month, I need some time to rest, recharge and restock before heading out again to meet up with my Love in Kansas. Further adventures and shenanigans to come, this time shared…and I can’t wait.