Ever since we moved to Utah, Bryce Canyon has been high on our list to visit. It has special significance with me as it is probably my family’s favorite national park. In fact, my brother Ben’s middle name is Bryce, after the canyon! Thus, I convinced Tara of its awesomeness, and she immediately agreed that we needed to go there.
It took longer than it should have, but we finally managed to make a trip over Presidents’ Day weekend. We did NOT camp, it was a “wimpout” as we used to call it in the Boy Scouts. We stayed in a hotel literally less than a mile from the park. Situated at 8000 feet, Bryce Canyon is a popular cross-country ski and snowshoe location during the winter. In fact, the weekend we were there was their annual “Winterfest” complete with photography clinics, guided snowshoe and ski tours, and a cross-country ski race.
We got in around 10 on Friday night, slightly concerned at the lack of snow on the ground. We had been looking forward to exploring snow-covered red rock, not mud covered. We need not have been concerned. 18” fell that night and we awoke the next morning to near whiteout conditions. Driving anywhere in our small Dodge Stratus was out of the question. Fortunately, there were trailheads right across the highway from the hotel, so we stuck to those for the morning. We needed the snowshoes just to get to the trailhead! Snowshoeing through the fluffy powder amidst the evergreens while the snow quietly fell was simply amazing. There were a number of people out cross-country skiing, most of whom were clearly inexperienced and renting their equipment from the hotel. One guy was basically just walking in his skis. He’d have been better off in snowshoes.
Tara with Queen Victoria’s Castle in the background
That afternoon, the snow lightened up enough that we drove into the park and snowshoed down into the canyon. With the snow continuing to fall, the visibility a quarter mile at best. It was surreal. Distant rock formations almost seemed imaginary while the closer ones allowed much more attention to detail with the rest of the view blocked out. Down into the canyon we went, undulating through the hoodoos towering above us, their tops disappearing into the snow and fog. The trail ended at a formation called Queen Victoria’s Castle. We stopped to take it all in, and I found a boulder to jump off of.
We arose early Sunday morning, initially hoping to go skiing at Brianhead, but discovered that the highways to the resort were still pretty sketchy, so we opted to snowshoe instead. This proved to be an outstanding decision. The sun emerged for most of the morning and the conditions were absolutely perfect. We made slow going—every several hundred feet I saw something that I had to take a picture of. I was rocking my new polarizing filter. I love what it does for shots in midday sun that would be completely washed out otherwise. I have noticed however, that when using the filter at my lens’s widest setting (17mm), vignetting occurs. If anybody knows why that is, and how to avoid it, please fill me in.
We did a ton of exploring that day, even venturing off trail a few times. Snowshoeing through fresh powder is really hard work, but the feeling is incredible. Something about the way new, untouched snow blankets the landscape is so inviting.
We found a perfect place along the trail to stop for lunch under a rock overhang. There was a nice dry log to sit on—an uncommon find in the snow. So we sat down and pulled out our sandwiches, but no sooner had we done so that a jay came from nowhere and perched itself on a branch 20 ft. away. Tara and I have had plenty of experience with jays, and we know that, when food is involved, they can be the most obnoxious of creatures. Prepared to ignore the bird, we started on our lunch, but within minutes, the pest flew in and landed on the log within feet of Tara. She was having none of that. In an effort to protect my bride, I clapped and yelled, managing to send the creature retreating back to its initial perch in the tree. He was clearly not happy, however, and persisted in glaring down at us making angry cries.
In all our encounters with jays, we had never seen one actually act mad when it was not given food. We began to suspect that we had inadvertently sat down dangerously close to the bird’s nest in the rocks and he was behaving this way to defend his home, not take our food. We were thus inclined to pack up our partially consumed lunches and find a new place to eat. A quarter mile up the trail, and the pest nowhere in sight, we found a new log to sit on, albeit not nearly as nice as the first. We again sat down and pulled out our sandwiches, and again, unbelievably, the second the food was out, we could see the jay flying up the canyon towards us. He again perched obnoxiously close to us, but this time I kept him at bay with snow balls. It only took a couple warnings to keep him out of our hair and we were able to finish our meal in peace.
That afternoon, we were pretty tanked from all the snowshoeing, but wanted to make full use of our time there, so we rented skis from the hotel and set out on the groomed ski trails. This too was a good time, and the snow covered trees with the bright blue sky above was simply stunning. We capped off our epic day with a trip to the hot tub. There was a bit more teenage angst in there than we’d have liked, but it was still wonderful.
Monday we checked out of the hotel and headed it to Brianhead. This was a new resort to check of our list, and it was a good day to be out. There was still plenty of powder to be had. It was an awesome day of skiing/boarding and a great way to finish off the trip.
Utah National Parks we have now been to:
- Capitol Reef
- Kolob Canyon (lesser known portion of Zion)
- Bryce Canyon
Utah Ski Resorts we have been to:
- Park City