Month Day

Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park

This spring Toby and I visit Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park in southwest Utah. Both these parks offer unparallel natural beauty with distinct geologic formations. Bryce Canyon had unique carved "hoodoos" or highly eroded rock columns, which you hiked down into from the rim of the canyon, Zion is a narrow canyon with massively tall rock walls you can hike up into. We also visited the unique red rock features of Valley of Fire State Park in the Nevada desert. We started with the furthest park and worked our way back to Vegas.

Day 1 - Friday, April 16 - Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Day one of our vacation to the upper plateau of Southwest Utah... early on Friday morning we depart from San Jose airport on Southwest Airlines to Las Vegas, Nevada. From Vegas, we rented our Dodge and hit Interstate 15 north east through the desert toward Utah. The skies were partly cloudy in Nevada but looked dark in the distance where we were heading. The vast desert was finally broken when we reached the border casino town of Mesquite where we stopped for an early lunch at McDonald's. We continued northeast through the deep canyons of Arizona into the upper plateau of Utah and drove by the cities of St. George and Cedar City. We then drove across the snow covered Tushar Mountains on Highway 20 to Bear Valley Junction and Highway 89 where we proceded south to Highway 12. It was a short drive east on 12 through the Dixie National Forest before we entered Bryce Canyon. The altitude is around 8,100 feet at Bryce Canyon, so we drove up in altitude over 4,000 feet from Las Vegas.

By this time it was early mid-afternoon it was cloudy and overcast but with signs of clearing. After a short stop at the visitor center we checked in early at The Lodge in Bryce Canyon. This National Historic Landmark opened in the 1920's and offered basic rustic charm, we stayed in the Sunset building, second floor in room 222. After we unpacked we wanted to see views of the canyon. We were surprised by the amount of snow on the ground and we had to trek over the snow toward the canyon rim. Despite all the snow the temperature that afternoon was in the low 60s. The sun eventually appeared which really made the canyon colors burst in red and gold. We walked along the Rim Trail from Sunset Point to Sunrise Point before heading to dinner. The Lodge has a nice sit down restaurant which offered great service and meals. After dinner we headed back to the rim to view the sunset over the canyon.

  • Toby takes the wheel from Mesquite Nevada all the way to Bryce.

  • Snow covered hills along the windy Highway 20 in Utah.

  • Hoodoos found in Dixie National Forest just outside Bryce Canyon.

  • We make it to Bryce Canyon.

  • Room 222 at the Sunset Building at the Bryce Lodge.

  • Toby on the very edge of the Rim Trail above Bryce Canyon.

  • Alan at Sunrise Point.

  • Toby at Sunrise Point.

  • Alan out along the Rim Trail between Sunset and Sunset Point.

  • The sun comes out to brighten up the snow covered canyon.

  • Out along the Rim Trail.

  • The sun warmed up the air quickly.

  • FWEE, the first on many jumping photo ops!

  • A window was carved out of a 'wall' for views down into the 'hoodoos'

  • At Sunrise Point.

  • 'Thor's Hammer' rock formation in the center of the picture.

  • Snow covered many areas of Bryce Canyon.

  • Dinner at the historic Bryce Canyon Lodge.

  • Sunset after dinner.

  • The slow erosion process exposes the roots of this young tree.

  • The lobby and the grand fireplace at the Bryce Lodge.

  • A family of deer appear on our way back to our room.

  • These mule deers were unafraid of human presence.

Sunset in Bryce Canyon as seen from one of the many viewpoints along the Rim Trail. (image opens in separate window, double click image in new window to view full size)

Day 2 - Saturday, April 17 - Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Early on Saturday morning we wake up before sunrise and brave the below freezing temperatures to hike out on the Rim Trail to watch the sunrise. This popular past time in Bryce allows viewers some spectacular lighting of the canyon and the hoodoo features. After a few good shots my hands started to freeze so we quickly retreated back to the warmth of our cabin. Once the sun rose the temperature rose as well. After breakfast in the lodge we jumped into the car and first stop at Bryce Point at the far end of the ridge, there were sweeping views of the main canyon area from this vista. We then drove all the way south on the road into Bryce Canyon. While driving south we also rose in elevation, the end of the road was nearly 9,100 feet in altitude. The snowcovered landscape was picturesque with the clear blue skies above. We parked at the end of the road at Rainbow Point and Yovimpa Point. We first stopped at Rainbow point which had a commanding view back down along the ridge and all the hoodoo formations. Yovimpa Point was the highest point along the tall ridge and faced south over the vast southern Utah plateau. From they say on a clear day you can see all the way into Arizona. Back in the car we drive back north stopping at various view point along the ridge, our first stop was Ponderosa Canyon. Here there was a steep ravine with eroded sandstone hoodoo features on both sides. Our next stop, Agua Canyon, had an interesting tall pinnacle with miniature trees growing on top. Natural Bridge viewpoint had a fantastic arch feature right next to the road. This is one of the images often used in Bryce tourist materials. Ournext stop along the road was at Farview and Piracy Point both afforded great views out over the eastern plateau and views along the ridge. Our last stop was the most breathtaking, it was at Inspiration Point. There was a short snowy and steep trail to the viewpoint which has sweeping views of the main section of Bryce Canyon, all the way from Sunrise Point to Bryce Point. At this point we ran into two women from New Jersey who took our photo, we would see them again and again throughout our vacation!

By this time it was around lunch time and the bright sun warmed up the air to the upper 60's, we headed back to the cabin and put on our hiking shorts. It was time for our big hike down into the hoodoos. Prior to this hike we've only been looking down into the canyon at these interesting 'hoodoo' features, it was now time go down into these striking formations. We left directly from our cabin and headed out the Rim Trail and hiked north to Sunrise Point, from there was the trailhead to Queen's Garden Trail. This trail gently descended over 300 feet down into the tall hoodoo features. A series of switchbacks lead through cutouts in the 'walls' to a beautiful area dense in colorful hoodoos. These features stood over 100 feet tall. From here we continued on the Navajo Loop trail which descended another 200 feet along the base ridge of the hoodoos, it was an easy hike until it was time to ascend almost 600 feet back up to the ridge. The deep narrow ridges in the hoodoos created cool conditions where snow often covered the trail. Here a series of tight switchbacks lead back up toward the ridge. I'm glad we walked UP this area, it would be hard to hike down a muddy slippery trail covered in snow next to a steep drop. Even with hiking up I wasn't enjoying this area. But near the top the trail dried out and we were by the famed 'Thor's Hammer' rock formation. From here it was only a few dry paved switchbacks back up the ridge.

We enjoyed this hike and the weather was pleasant, we then rested in the cabin before dinner. We had a nice meal at the Lodge with our talkative waiter Bobby. We had an interesting cheese potsticker appetizer, we both had fish (trout and salmon) and ended the meal with a nice cheesecake. They didn't serve wine but they did have beer!

  • Freezing morning before sunrise along the canyon.

  • Toby braving the cold temps waiting for the sun to rise.

  • The morning glow looking down at the hoodoos.

  • Hikers traverse down along Navajo trail in the early morning.

  • Toby at Bryce Point.

  • FWEE, Alan at Bryce Point.

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  • At Bryce Point

  • On the ridge behind Toby is Sunset and Sunrise Points.

  • A view of the eastern portion of the canyon.

  • An interesting dead tree along the path.

  • Alan at Rainbow Point with a view back along the ridge the hoodoos.

  • Yavimpa Point facing south over southern Utah.

  • The hoodoo features at Agua Canyon viewpoint.

  • The pinnacle at Agua Canyon, look at the trees growing on top.

  • Toby at Natural Arch viewpoint.

  • Farview Point looking out toward Piracy Point.

  • View from Inspiration point. The New Jersey women on Toby's right.

  • At Inspiration Point.

  • Toby at Inspiration Point.

  • The photo taken by the New Jersey women while at Inspiration Point.

  • Detail of the intricate hoodoos in the canyon.

  • The beginning of our hike down into the hoodoos on the Queen's Garden trail.

  • Toby on the snowlined Queen's Garden trail.

  • Now eye level with the hoodoo features.

  • Toby hiking down into the hoodoos. We're nearing the Queen's Garden area.

  • Alan at the Queen's Garden.

  • Toby with the Queen's Garden formation behind him.

  • The Rim Trail is up along the ridge in the background.

  • Multicolored hoodoo features were everywhere.

  • Along the trail tourist created forest of rock cairns.

  • The trail went through numerous walls along our journey.

  • The deep canyons along the Navajo trail.

  • Toby along the Navajo trail.

  • Tall Douglas Fir trees grow deep in these narrow canyons.

  • Under the skinny Sentinel Rock with Thors Hammer at the very far left.

  • Toby with Thors Hammer behind his right side.

  • Alan and Thors Hammer.

  • Our balcony at room 222 in the Sunset building.

  • Dinner at the Lodge. Yes, Alan drinks beer occassionally.

Toby along the Navajo Trail with the famous rock pinnacle called "Thors Hammer" in the center of the picture. (image opens in separate window, double click image in new window to view full size)

Day 3 - Sunday, April 18 - Zion National Park, Utah

We had breakfast at the Bryce Lodge before we packed up and hit the road to Zion National Park. It was only a 1.5 hour drive south to Zion on Highway 89 toward the Mt. Carmel highway. The closer we approached Zion, the geology became interesting in shape and color which was evident in the "Checkerboard Mesas" just before the tunnel. At this junction we parked the car and took the Canyon Lookout trail which meandered up along a narrow gorge toward a spectacular lookout into the canyon. The lookout is actually located right above the "Great Arch" feature on the cliff face below. The road below as seen from this lookout comes out of the historic Mt. Carmel tunnel (once the longest in the world when built in the early 1900's). By this time the temperature was approaching 70 and I wished I was wearing shorts! After this relatively short hike, we proceeded through this mile long tunnel onto the valley floor below. Our first stop was the visitor's center located at the park's main entrance. After a brief visit we headed up to the Zion Lodge. This was another national landmark historic lodge built in the 1920's. At this time of year, regular car traffic is not allowed further up in the valley floor, except for those staying the Zion Lodge, the only accomodations inside the park. A frequent bus service travels up and down the only road the valley shuttling tourists to various sites. We were able to check into our cabin (#508) early. The cabin was very cute and rustic in a western theme with two beds, a fireplace and a small porch.

After we unpacked we jumped on the shuttle and rode it to the end of the road to the "Temple of Sinowava" ( name of a powerful Paiute American Indian) this is last open area of the valley floor and the end of the road. We took the "Riverside" walk, an easy paved trail which follows the Virgin River up to the beginning of The Narrows. The Narrows is a area of the valley where the river has cut a steep slot canyon with cliff walls hundreds of feet tall and down to a few yards wide in places. During the drier months hikers often tread through the low river up the Narrows. But for us, the spring snow melts made the Virgin River too wide fast and deep. Huge signs declared the Narrows closed for hiking. After the Riverside walk we rode the shuttle to the "Weeping Wall" a short hike to a large alcove with a small waterfall. There was water seeping out of the walls creating a 'hanging garden' along the cliff face. The water coming out of the walls is over 1,000 years old, it takes that long from the snow melt to permeate the sandstone cliffs. After this short hike we head back to the cabin to rest before we have a nice dinner at the Zion Lodge. While at dinner we ran into the two New Jersey women from Bryce who were just checking into the Lodge!

  • At the eastern entrance to the park.

  • Checkerboard Mesa along the Mt. Carmel highway.

  • At the start of the Canyon Overlook trail, notice the red road.

  • At the end of the Canyon Overlook trail.

  • Toby by the unfenced section of the overlook.

  • I really wished I wore shorts at this time.

  • At the Canyon Overlook.

  • Toby at the Canyon Overlook.

  • Spring brought many blooming wildflowers throughout the park.

  • We enter the historic Mt. Carmel Tunnel en route to the canyon floor.

  • Looking back up to the Canyon Overlook. The Great Arch underneath.

  • The historic cabins at Zion Lodge.

  • Our nicely appointed Western cabin at the Zion Lodge.

  • We explore the main building at the Zion Lodge.

  • The beautiful waterfall at Temple of Sinawava.

  • The Virgin River along the Riverside Walk.

  • Look back up at the waterfall.

  • Toby along the Riverside Walk, deep within the canyon walls.

  • The end of the trail leads up to the famed "Narrows".

  • Up above the raging Virgin River on the Riverside walk.

  • Posing once again for the waterfall.

  • I couldn't stop taking pictures of the waterfall.

  • Alan at the Weeping Wall behind a small waterfall.

  • Toby at the Weeping Wall waterfall.

  • Alan at the Weeping Wall waterfall.

  • Back relaxing in the cabin. We have internet here.. whoo hoo.

  • Having a drink at the Red Rock Grill at the Lodge (yes, full bar!)

View of the Zion Canyon as seen from the end of the Canyon Lookout trail. The road you see comes out of the Mt. Carmel tunnel on the left. Note: This lookout is directly above the 'Great Arch' feature. (image opens in separate window, double image in new window to view full size)

Day 4 - Monday, April 18 - Zion National Park, Utah

Monday was our full day in the park, we woke up early and had breakfast at the Zion Lodge. We then packed up our backpacks for our big hike up to Angel's Landing. The day was bright with broken clouds with temps in the low 70s, perfect for hiking. We took the shuttle from the lodge up one stop to the Grotto where the trailhead was located. We crossed the bridge over the Virgin River and hiked along the well marked and paved trail. The trail slowly ascended the slopes of the rocks but then became progressively steeper as the trail was carved directly into the rock face. The paved trail flattend out in "Refrigerator Canyon" a mostly shaded section before approaching the famous "Walter's Wiggles" a series of 21 tight switchbacks that take hikers high up to Scout's Lookout. By this time you're already over 1,000 feet above the valley floor. I was sweating up a storm and we rested a while in this relatively flat area. The views from Scout's Lookout were impressive especially looking out toward the Weeping Wall a thousand feet below the cliff. From this point the hike became much more challenging as the trail followed a very narrow ridge with over 1,000 foot sheer cliffs on either side. Your footing had to be precise and a single thick chain railing was provided to grab onto for dear life. Then there are sections where there are NO chains and your hugging the rock to the next chain. Of course there were a lot of hikers going to and from Angel's Landing so you had to jocky for position as hikers past one another. There was another flat area to rest before noticing that the trail continued further another 500 feet up a steep section of the narrow ridge. By this time our vertigo was setting in. My sweaty palms and lack of sure footing got the best of me. We both didn't want to 'freeze' on this hike especially climbing down the narrow ridge, going up is one thing, hiking down is a completely different story. At this point we decided to turn around. Oh well, I was very bummed I didn't make it all the way.

Once down from our Angel's Landing hike we went straight to the Zion Lodge and had ourselves some ice cream! We sat on the rocking chairs watching tourist play on the lawn as we enjoyed our cones and rested our feet. We then gathered ourselves and got a second wind and decided to take the nearby Emerald Pools hike located just across from the lodge. The Emerald Pools hike is a series of three pools with waterfalls cascading from one pool to the other. The trail on the lower pool led you behind the waterfall, very interesting. We then headed up the more difficult trail up to the Upper pool, where a breathtaking tall waterfall spilled over the cliff face into the pool of water. From there we headed to the middle pool where you're above the first pool's waterfall. This large flat area afforded great views of the Zion canyon. We then crossed the water on stepping stones where the trail proceeded down the slopes back to the lodge.

What a day, we were exhausted from these two hikes. We treated ourselves to a nice dinner at the lodge and I tried their specialty drink the "Desert Daisy".

  • The beginning of our Angel's Landing hike.

  • The trail leading toward the Angel's Landing rock formation.

  • Toby along the trail.

  • Are we going to make it to the top???

  • The trail quickly ascends but is nicely paved.

  • This section of the trail was blasted out of the rock wall.

Taking a break along the nearly 1,500 foot ascent to Angel's Landing. The morning sun illuminates the canyon floor below. (image opens in separate window, double click image in new window to view full size)

  • The trail flattens out at Refrigerator Canyon a narrow section of the trail.

  • Walters Wiggle a series of 21 steep switchbacks.

  • Near the top at Scouts Lookout.

  • Toby at Scouts Lookout by the rail and a 1,000 foot sheer drop.

  • Am I holding on the railing for stability... yes!

  • Angel's Landing in the background.

A view down from Scouts Lookout about 1,000 feet above the Virgin River. The Big Bend shuttle stop in the foreground. Weeping Rock is in the background in the small side canyon. (image opens in separate window, double click image in new window to view full size)

  • At the second landing, with the narrow ridge in the background.

  • A better view of the narrow ridge up to Angel's Landing.

  • The beginning of the chain section of the hike.

  • Toby about to ascend up from Scout's Lookout.

  • Heading down along Walters Wiggle.

  • The narrow portion in the Refrigerator Canyon trail section.

  • The canyon views open up before our steep descent.

  • Wonderful afternoon views of the canyon.

  • Toby long the trail.

  • FWEE... a choice flat spot... finally!

  • Getting closer to the bottom of the trail.

  • A lizard soaks up some sun by some striking wildflowers.

  • Back on the valley floor, crossing the Virgin River.

  • Ice cream time at the lodge.

  • On our second hike of the day, up the Emerald Pools.

  • At the waterfalls at the lower pool.

  • The trail leads behind the waterfalls.

  • Toby behind the waterfall.

Looking north along Zion Canyon and the Virgin River. A shuttle bus carries tourist on the only road in and out of the park. Angel's Landing looms 1,500 feet above the valley floor. (image opens in separate window, double click image in new window to view full size)

  • View of the waterfalls from the middle pool down to the lower pool.

  • There were photo opportunities everywhere.

  • View back to the valley on our ascent up along the trail.

  • Our final destination... Upper Emerald Pool.

  • A narrow ribbon of water falls from the cliffs above.

  • Alan at Upper Pool waterfalls.

  • Toby at Upper Pools waterfall.

  • You can see the pool of water at the base of the waterfall.

  • Looking practically straight up.

  • FWEE... At the Middle Pool level.

  • Posing for a picture from the Middle Pool area.

  • We're above the waterfalls that lead to the Lower Pool.

  • This was a nice open flat area for picture taking.

  • Hiking down from the pools.

  • Great views of the valley in the late afternoon sun.

  • Our last hike here at Zion National Park.

  • Resting by the great lawn outside the Zion Lodge.

  • Dinner time! Alan with a "Desert Daisy" drink, Toby with dessert!

Day 5 - Tuesday, April 20 - Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

After we had breakfast at the Zion Lodge we checked out of our cabin and headed out of the park toward our next destination... Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada for a day visit. The drive took us nearly three hours from Utah, driving through Arizona and eventually to Nevada. We exited I-15 on 169 through the Moapa Valley and entered the park on the backside. The desert terrain was flat until we arrived near the park where numerous red rock formations suddenly jutted out above the desert floor. The temperature risen to around 80 degrees and the winds picked up. Right past the enterance was the parks most notible feature "Elephant Rock", it was a short hike to this formation. Along the road we stopped by the petrified log and the visitor's center. We then drove up to "Mouse Tank" (named for a renegade indian who used this area as a hide out in the 1890's), this narrow trail was full of indian petroglyphs etched into the rock formations. While walking back to our car was past the two New Jersey women again and we pointed out where the best petroglyphs were located. Next it was on to the "Beehives" a unique rock formation in the valley, which some resembled large beehives. Then we stopped by "Arch Rock" and "Atlatl Rock" where important petroglyphs are etched high in the rocks. After this feature we hit the road through the flat desert back toward I-15 toward the big city life of Las Vegas.

  • Driving out of Zion through Utah.

  • I-15 meanders through deep gorges in Arizona.

  • We approach Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.

  • Alan by the eastern entrance to the park.

  • Toby and the Moapa Valley in the background.

  • Elephant Rock.... not hard to figure out how it got it's name.

Red rock formations jutting out onto the desert floor at Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada, just north of Las Vegas. (image opens in separate window, double image in new window to view full size)

  • Alan at Elephant Rock.

  • Toby at Elephant Rock.

  • By the desert area by Elephant Rock.

  • By the petrified log.

  • Blooming cactus by the Visitor's Center.

  • Indian petroglyphs everywhere on Mouse Tank trail.

  • Toby by more indian petroglyphs.

  • Toby in one of the Beehive rock formations.

  • These Beehive rocks had a lot of nooks and crannies to hide in.

  • Hiding in a beehive rock formation.

  • Toby climbs one of these rocks.

  • FWEE... my final jump of the trip.

  • The temps soared up to the mid 80s here in the desert.

  • Arch Rock formation.

  • Holding up a rock... yeah, right!

  • At the historic Atlatl Rock petroglyphs.

  • Toby at Atlatl Rock.

  • The views from Atlatl Rock.

  • The long straight desert road leads back to the highway.

Day 5 - Tuesday, April 20 - Las Vegas, Nevada

After our visit to Valley of Fire we drove back south to Las Vegas where our flight departed later that evening. We had a few hours to spend exploring the new City Center complex along the strip between the Monte Carlo hotel and the Bellagio. We parked in the new Aria hotel and marveled at the fascinating waterfall wall outside the lobby. The water made an interesting sound as it fell over the rough surface. We then walked by the new Crystal's shopping complex with it's high end stores and interest mall displays like water whirlpools and columns of frozen ice. We then walked over to the Bellagio Casino to see the new floral displays at the Conservatory of Flowers. Their Spring display made you feel miniature with huge ants, snails, mushrooms and potting tools. From the Bellagio we walked back to our car and headed off to the airport for our flight out. We forgot to change our clocks when we left Utah that morning and arrived at the airport an hour early... doh!

Our Southwest flight left on time and actually arrived in San Jose slightly early. We had a great trip to these new parks and thankful the weather was good. The experiences were memorable and most of all relaxing and yet breaktaking. Until our next adventure...

  • The interesting waterfall wall outside the Aria's lobby.

  • Toby looking down the Strip.

  • The new Aria hotel in the City Center complex in Las Vegas.

  • Clear displays of water whirlpools in the Crystal's shopping complex.

  • Lit up columns of ice in the Crystal's shopping complex.

  • Toby by a huge ladybug in the Bellagio.

  • Huge ants and insects adorn the Conservatory of Flowers in the Bellagio.

  • Parasols hang from the ceiling of the Bellagio shops.

  • The fountain area of the Bellagio with the new City Center in the background.