A late start again today because the day ahead was not that demanding in respect of travel and we were visiting the Bryce Canyon National Park, which wasn’t too far away. After breakfast we joined the coach and we pulled out of Kanab and headed due north.
For a few miles we followed Kanab Creek before we branched off and the road followed the East Fork Virgin River, which was in a narrow lush green valley that was in total contrast to the arid wilderness on either side of it. We were climbing too and as we passed through the communities of Orderville and Glendale we ascended about two thousand metres until the we joined the Sevier River and the landscape changed from the unexpected green back to the desert that we had become accustomed to with creeks and gorges and wide open uninterrupted views. We turned off the main highway and took a much smaller road that snaked across the high desert in a most indirect way on account of the obstacles it had to transverse and eventually we arrived at the somewhat remote Bryce Canyon National Park.
In the modern era the canyon area was first settled by Mormon pioneers in the 1850s looking for lumber and it was named after Ebenezer Bryce, who homesteaded in the area in 1875. Word of its scenic splendour began to spread and people started to visit early in the 1900s and the area around Bryce Canyon became a National Monument in 1924 and was designated as a National Park in 1928.
Bryce Canyon is a a rather small and compact national park by comparison with the others we had visited and this gave it a certain charm that the others didn’t have, this was on a European rather than a North American scale and that made it feel more manageable somehow. It is only one hundred and forty square five kilometres and would therefore fit into Dartmoor nearly seven times and the Grand Canyon National Park is about thirty five times larger. Despite its name, Bryce is not actually a canyon at all, but rather a giant natural amphitheater created by centuries of harsh erosion along the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau.
There are a great many of these amphitheathres of course but what makes Bryce distinctive is its geological structures, called hoodoos, formed from wind, water, and ice erosion of the river and lakebed sedimentary rocks. The erosional force of frost wedging and the dissolving power of rainwater have shaped the colourful limestone rock into bizarre and mysterious shapes including slot canyons, windows, fins, and spires and has whimsically arranged the rock sculptures to create a wondrous landscape of natural mazes.
I hadn’t really expected this at all and I quickly formed the view that this was probably the most amazing and scenic National Park that we had visited so far and looking out over the canyon the red, orange and white hues of the vertical rock formations tinted with other subtle variations of colour provided spectacular views that have to be seen to be believed.
From the visitor centre we walked along the Canyon Rim Trail and came across one marvellous spectacle after another. I couldn’t possibly describe them adequately here but the names give clues to their magnificent splendour, Fairyland Canyon, Rainbow Point, The Pink Cliffs, Sinking Ship and The Tropic Valley. We certainly didn’t have time to walk all of the eighteen mile trail but what we saw was enough to make me put it on my ‘to come back to someday‘ list and I sincerely hope that I will.
Also at the Park were herds of Pronghorn Antelope, beasts that once roamed the plains of North America in numbers second only to Bison before the settlers set about shooting them all. It is an elegant animal and what is most interesting is that they are the fastest land mammal on the North American continent and after the cheetah the second fastest mammalian runner in the whole of the world and can easily reach speeds of eighty kilometres an hour.
After a quick lunch at the visitor centre there was a good afternoon of entertainment ahead on a horseback trek into another part of the canyon. The coach dropped us off at the corral and one by one we were all allocated a suitable equine partner to match our own personalities for our transport, Mum got a wild palomino pony to match her hair, I had a handsome bay and Richard, being a bit of a joker, got a mule! Dad stayed behind to watch.
We saddled up and made the necessary adjustments to the stirrups and then we set off in convoy following two cowboy guides appropriately dressed in authentic western style. I really wished that I had bought that Stetson now!
They led us along a trail on a two hour ride that went along the Peek-a-boo Loop Trail which at one point took us perilously close to the edge of the canyon with a sheer drop below, but the horses were sure footed and it was thankfully perfectly safe. Into the canyon we passed Sunrise and Sunset points and on the way back the cowboys demonstrated their horse riding skills in a series of little well rehearsed and choreographed shows.
We left Bryce Canyon and returned the way that we had come but it was down hill now and the journey back to Kanab was a little quicker. There was time for shopping again of course and Richard and I declined the opportunity in favour of the hot tub and the cold beer.
There was more cowboy excitement planned for this evening and after we had relaxed and changed we all assembled at the motel reception and walked the few hundred metres down the main street to a replica wild-west town and film set where we were to enjoy a cowboy show. The only problem was that we were just a bit too late, the tourist season had ended and the cowboys had taken off their boots and hung up their stetsons for the winter. This didn’t seem to be a problem to our tour guide however and he quickly rounded up a posse of the younger members of the party and then whisked us away for make up and wardrobe and after a quick rehearsal we became the cowboy entertainment for the evening and staged a gun fight, an Indian war and a bank robbery to entertain our fellow travellers.
It was all good fun and after it was over we went back to town and went our separate ways for dining and drinking arrangements. Kanab wasn’t an especially exciting town but we had certainly enjoyed our two nights here in the old Wild West.