Sprinter Tour Park #9: Kids With the Crayons – Bryce Canyon National Park

Colors, colors, and more colors. We’ve seen way too many photos of the Bryce Canyon amphitheater hoodoos. So we figured we knew what to expect – no surprises this time!

Well, surprise, surprise, surprise. Again.
Even getting to Bryce served up a big surprise. So many people recommended taking US 12, the back way from Capitol Reef, that we returned there to begin the drive to Bryce. From Capitol Reef (Torey, UT) to Great Basin, back to Capitol Reef (Torey), then on to Bryce. Glad we did. Here’s what we would have missed.

1. A real live mini-cattle drive, complete with young ‘uns in the saddle – aged 10, maybe. Had to wait a good 10 minutes for a senior cowboy to lead the Airstream Interstate through the herd.
2. Kiva Koffee House – serving up a great cup of java with warm out-of-the-oven blueberry coffee cake. With wonderful canyon views to eat and sip by.
3. Terrific slickrock and canyon scenery.
4. Mossy Cave – the secret hike of Bryce Canyon
5. The only reason we took the Mossy Cave hike, with the river running below a golden-glow array of cliffs and hoodoos, was the sign along US 12. We did not realize it ‘s a part of Bryce Canyon. One of our best hikes on the Tour so far, and a great intro to Bryce.

Pushing on from there, we arrived in Bryce proper close to sunset. It only made sense to take the scenic drive to multiple overlooks, working our way to the amphitheater viewpoint during the magic moments of fading sunlight. The views there are indeed terrific. Like the Grand Canyon, though, photos just can’t do it justice – you have to see it to fully appreciate it.

We got some decent snaps, but what kept tugging at us was an area just outside the entrance to the park, called Fairyland. Like Mossy Cave, it’s not visited all that often. So we headed there as the sun disappeared. We caught twilight, just the right time for our first peek. It was obvious that Crayola had set loose a bunch of kids to color the place. Hoodoos, cliffs, rocks of all colors. It is rainbow-plus, and that was just the part we could see in the fast-fading light. That settled it. Jan authoritatively said, “This is the one we’ll hike in.” Rob agreed.

Surprise! It would be an 8-mile hike through a Disneyland-like wonderland. Our longest trek yet. We expected to be wowed by the range and depth of the colors. And we were. The elevation changes were unexpected. The canyons are pretty deep, and then the trail adds in the up-and-down roller coaster stuff. And we did not expect the snow flurries, either. A heavily overcast sky and mighty cool temps meant layered clothing. Glad we had kept the winter fleece jackets handy. (Thank you, Airstream.) Figuring the day had to get warmer, we quickly descended into Fairyland, so appropriately named. We made the final ascent, so to speak, out of a place we dubbed “Canyon of Orange”. When we arrived near the rim trail back to our point of origination, we still had 2.5 miles to hike.

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Jan was spent, so we made a deal. She would head on to Sunrise overlook, about .2 miles away, and I would push on to where the Sprinter Interstate was parked. I told her, “give me an hour, and I’ll pick you up at Sunrise.”

Promises made, we parted ways.

I upheld my part, arriving at the RV in less than an hour, having endured another series of ups and downs along the rim. Even took a couple more photos along the way. Knowing Jan would be surprised by my earlier than expected arrival, I fired up the 3 liter diesel and tore down the connecting road to get Jan. Only she was not there. No one had seen her.

I retraced about 300 yards of the hiking path in both directions. No Jan.

Stopped at the Lodge, where we were staying that night. No Jan.

Walked the lobby, the grounds, the souvenier shop. No Jan.

Drove back to Fairyland parking lot. Drive back to Sunrise. No Jan.

Okay, enough of this. Went to the visitor center and pleaded for help. Ranger Police called. (I never knew there were Ranger Police, but there are!!) They asked plenty of questions, took notes, then asked if I had driven to Sunset Point, the next overlook after Sunrise. No way, I said. Jan was spent. She would not have walked that far.

With assurances that all would end well, I drove back to Sunrise again, and the Rangers took off who-knows-where. Meanwhile, I’m thinking she either went over the edge, or she was accosted by some guy on that short stretch of path. Jan, meanwhile, is sitting on a bench wondering where I am. Did I fall off a cliff from the rim trail? Was I accosted by some bad guys? Did the bears get me? A mountain lion?

As she’s sitting there, the Rangers make the half-mile drive to Sunset Point and pull up in front of her. “Are you Jan? Is your husband lost?” they ask. “Because we know where he is.”

As I’m retracing the path from Sunrise to the parking area once again, here come the Ranger Police.  Some blond gal is in the back seat, where they keep their shotguns and ammo. It’s Jan! She had walked on to Sunset, thinking that that was a) where the bathrooms were, and b) where we had agreed to meet. Not a very well marked path, it turns out. She never saw the sign to Sunrise Point.

Lesson learned: never separate on a hike. Always look one stop further as well as one stop back when searching for someone. Do that before enlisting the Ranger Police.

And never panic. The mind can be a powerful fear machine if you let it.

The Rangers wished us well, and told us we were on their dream trip. They said any Ranger who works in the Parks wishes they could do the Sprinter Tour. With the well-wishing echoing in our ears, we climb into the Interstate – totally spent and ready for a sound sleep in the cool night of Bryce Canyon.

It’s all part of the adventure.

Join Rob and Jan on the 2010 Sprinter Tour as they tour 50 of America’s National Parks here.

You can also join the adventure and interact with Rob and Jan in real time both on Facebook and on Twitter

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