Where are all the cars? We’ve driven hundreds of miles since leaving Las Vegas eight days ago. Yet despite the fact that summer is the busiest time of year for the national parks we’ve visited, the lack of traffic on the roads is astounding. Actually, my use of the word “traffic” here is entirely misleading. Because there is NO traffic, at least not in the “Cross-Bronx-Expressway-is-a-parking-lot-with-bumper-to-bumper-traffic-again-They-should-just-bomb-this-road-into-oblivion” way. We arrived in Moab today and it has the first traffic lights we’ve seen since Las Vegas on July 6. I am not lying.
Enough talk about man-made vehicles. Time to return to nature.
After spending a couple of days at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon was our next stop. The colors and topography of Zion are gorgeous and the Grand Canyon is mind-blowing with its endless expanse. But Bryce Canyon stole my heart. As we hiked through the amphitheater (more on that below), I felt like I was Gulliver trying to find my way out of a gigantic drip sandcastle.
Our main hike at Bryce was the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop trail, a three-mile circuit into the bowels of the amphitheater to see the famous hoodoos up close. We chose this hike not just because it’s a great highlight tour. Completing it would allow Sophie to receive an extra junior ranger award. And given how motivated Sophie is to collect as many junior badges as possible during this trip, I thought that she’d complain less than usual about her intense dislike of hiking.
Stupid mommy. Five minutes in – after barely descending 50 feet below the rim – Sophie had that look on her face. The one that expresses a variety of emotions simultaneously, all of which she had eventually vocalized by the one-hour mark (the hike took us about 2.5 hours to complete). To wit (with imagined annotations straight from my addled brain): “I’m hot!” [Wait until Moab, my dear!] “My ankles hurt!” [You’re only eight years old. Shut up.] “I’m thirsty!” [That’s why you’re carrying water.] “I hate hiking!” [One day you’ll thank us for this trip, you little wench!] “I’m hungry!” [That’s why you’re carrying snacks.] “My heart is beating too fast!” [That’s called exercise.] And on and on and on.
Another 45 minutes passed. It was stop and go. My mom and Chloe were well ahead of my husband, Sophie and me by that point. If snails live in Bryce Canyon, they were well ahead of us, too. The good news is that because Sophie stopped so frequently to heave great sighs of unhappiness, I had the opportunity to admire the incredible scenery and take lots of photos. During break #1,000, we finally had a little heart-to-heart. I promised her I would stay by her side for the rest of the hike as long as she stopped moaning and groaning. She agreed to the bribe. Little did she know that the worst part was to come.
The worst part is called Wall Street. Need I say more? As soon as you think about the math, you realize that if you descend 600 feet into the canyon, you need to climb 600 feet to get out. But Sophie and I had a deal. And she’s nothing if not a little kid who usually keeps her promises.
We began our ascent and frankly, it wasn’t horrendous. Yes, it was steep, with lots of switchbacks. But a good portion of the climb was in the shade. Sophie stopped frequently for water. But not a negative word from her mouth did I hear. Chloe remained ahead of us and finished the hike well before we did. We caught up to my mom, who felt a bit dizzy, mostly from the altitude. But she persevered, because her bladder was in desperate need of relief.
Later that day, we took a short drive to see the only water source in the canyon. Sophie, of course, was not happy with us when she learned that she’d have to get out of the car. But when she saw the stream just a couple hundred feet from said car…it was love at first sight. Guess what her favorite part of our Bryce Canyon visit was?
Despite her intensely traumatic experience of the previous day, I was able to convince Sophie to take a walk to the rim to see the sunset last night. Freed from having to wear a backpack and hiking shoes, she joyfully accompanied me to see the canyon in all its dusky glory. Let’s just say that she found nothing to complain about on our little stroll, because how can you complain about this:
ANOTHER WILDLIFE INTERLUDE
I think we hit a minor jackpot at Bryce when we came across a few pronghorns in the meadow as we took a scenic drive in the park. Pronghorns are often mistakenly referred to as antelopes even though they’re closer to the goat family. They’re the second-fastest animal on earth, after the cheetah. We stopped in the middle of the road so I could take this shot which, now that I think about it, caused a three-car traffic jam.
And for your viewing pleasure, here’s another photo of a mule deer, just because its pose behind the brush reminds me of various princess-themed Disney movies (you know, the scenes where the princesses commune with the animals and fantasize about Prince Charming).
CEDAR BREAKS NATIONAL MONUMENT
We took a break from Bryce yesterday to drive to Cedar Breaks, which was in the midst of its annual wildflower festival. Although the flowers weren’t as plentiful as they’ve been in the past (how can anyone not believe global warming is a real thing?), we enjoyed a picnic lunch and a lovely walk through the meadows. Cedar Breaks is one of those places that’s easily overlooked thanks to its proximity to Zion and Bryce, but it boasts some equally amazing views and, at an altitude of 10,000 feet, is a welcome respite from the much warmer temperatures of its more popular neighbors.
As I mentioned earlier, we arrived in Moab this afternoon. It’s as hot as Hades here, but with scenery this beautiful, I could be in hell and wouldn’t particularly care. More on our Moab leg in my next post.