Wednesday, August 12, 2015

1999 Backpacking Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce National Park is named after Ebenezer Bryce, a Mormon carpenter sent to this area by the church to help settle the area in 1875 (as he put it, "It was a hell of a place to lose a cow!") The photo below is the Bryce Amphitheater as seen from Sunset Point, featuring Bryce Canyon's famous "hoodoos" (rock formations) carved from the Clarion Formation by eons of erosion. Views like this can be seen by walking or driving along the 18 mile rim. The backpacking trail, which is called the Under-the-Rim Trail and runs for 22 miles, does not enjoy such views since it lies down in the forest below these formations.

Locals called this area with the strange rock formations "Bryce's Canyon" because he had built a road to the plateau top to cut timber and firewood. The odd formations, technically called spires, fins, pinnacles, and mazes, are better known as "hoodoos," and thousands populate a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters, all the result of erosion of colorful limestones, sandstones, and mudstones.

Ponderosa pine, high elevation meadows, and fir-spruce forests border the rim of the plateau. There are over 50 miles of hiking trails with a range of length and elevation change. The main backpacking trail is the 22 mile Under-the-Rim Trail which has eight backcountry campsites and water available at four locations, and along its nine mile continuation called the Riggs Spring Loop Trail. A permit and $5 fee are required for overnight stays. Several connector trails allow you to access the rim if you choose not to do the entire length. There is now shuttle service, making it easier to do a point-to-point hike, which wasn't true in 1999. Elevation ranges from 6620 feet to 9115 feet above sea level. It averages 18 inches of precipitation annually and over 100 inches of snow. In 1923 it was proclaimed Bryce Canyon National Monument and it became Bryce Canyon National Park in 1928.

The eight mile Riggs Spring Loop Trail is a continuation of the Under-the Rim Trail at its southern end and features splendid scenery such as this, with occasional breaks in the foliage to the left of the trail, giving panoramic views of Dixie National Forest to the east. 

Even more seldom, you get views of rock cliffs above you as in the next photo.

The dense forest occasionally opens to views looking up at the cliff line to the west, and as the trail finally climbs back up to the rim level, you again can savor the majesty of the hoodoos. The final section of this trail has a partially exposed water pipe in the trail, as they pump water from a stream back to the rim for the washroom facilities at Rainbow Point where the trail starts and finishes.

I am occasionally asked if I would suggest a backpack in Bryce or Zion National Park if time only allows for one. I would definitely recommend backpacking in Zion. The Zion West Rim Trail is far more strenuous but has fewer people on it and provides outstanding panoramas of the mountains and peaks and valleys of Zion Canyon. Zion has a hiker shuttle available by reservation. Also, although Bryce's trail provides outstanding forest travel, Bryce's main claim to fame is its hoodoos, which are visible from up on the rim, but not from the bottom of the canyon.

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