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Bryce Canyon National Park
Utah
August 10-15, 2021
Trip Leader: Mohammed Al-Mirimi
Trip Report: Chuck Parsons
Photo Editor: Nicole Z.
group
17 Arizona Trailblazers gather at Rainbow Point. [photo by Mohammed]
front: John, Yanis, Vanessa, Jan, Mohammed, Michele, Michael
middle:  June, Ramona, Rudy, Nicole, Tom
back: Chuck, Chris E., Chris A., Kristy, Karl

Scottish immigrant and early Mormon pioneer, Ebenezer Bryce, once described the canyon that now bears his name as “one hell of a place to lose a cow”, as he stood overlooking a labyrinth of hoodoos, spires, pinnacles, and fins, stretching outward as far as he could see.

We can only imagine a confused and frightened cow becoming hopelessly lost in this endless maze of stony formations and the frustration of its owner trying to locate it. Starting in 1875, Bryce and his family lived and ranched in the nearby Paria River Valley for several years, before eventually relocating to Bryce, Arizona.

Outside of nearby Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park is unique in all the world in its concentration of these colorful hoodoos, essentially vast cathedrals and amphitheaters of stone, whose subtle hues and colors change by the hour and even by the minute with the movement of the sun and the clouds. Situated along the southeastern rim of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, Bryce Canyon forms the upper step in a long and immense sequence of geological steps, or distinct sedimentary rock layers, called the Grand Staircase, descending for over 100 miles southward from Bryce Canyon to Zion National Park to the Vermilion Cliffs to the Paria and Kaibab Plateaus and, finally, all the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, dropping over 7,000 feet in elevation along the way. A geologist’s paradise and a wonderland of rock and stone, stretching endlessly beyond the far horizon.

Wednesday morning, August 11, marks our first full day at Bryce Canyon National Park. At the Sunset Campground group campsite, 8,000 feet in elevation and our home in the pines for the next few days, 17 bleary-eyed campers emerge from their tents in the cool darkness of early morning, well before sunrise.

Our goal for this morning is to eat breakfast, fix a quick trail lunch, get all our hiking gear ready for the day, and depart the campsite as close as possible to 6:30 AM. This will be our morning routine for the next three days.

view
View from the Bristlecone Pines Trail. [photo by Chuck]
view
View from Rainbow Point. [photo by John]
arch
Natural Bridge from the Bristlecone Pines Trail. [photo by Chuck]
We start the day off easy with a drive to the southernmost end of Bryce Canyon. At 9,115 feet, Rainbow Point is the highest point in Bryce Canyon and provides a sweeping and expansive view of the entire park all the way back to the far north end. From here, we walk to Yovimpa Point for the best views of the Grand Staircase, a sequence of rock layers stretching for hundreds of square miles, from the Pink Cliffs to the Vermilion Cliffs and all the way south to the Kaibab Plateau and the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
arch
Close-up view of the Natural Bridge. [photo by Chuck]

After Rainbow and Yovimpa Points, we walk a short distance to the Bristlecone Pines Loop Trailhead and assemble for our first group picture of the day. Bristlecone Pines Trail is an elongated one-mile loop trail with roughly 150 feet of elevation change, meandering through a mixed conifer forest of Blue spruce, Douglas fir, white fir, and the iconic bristlecone pine, offering great views overlooking Bryce Canyon along the way.

This hike is only a brief preview of what’s to come over the next several days in Bryce Canyon. Among the oldest trees on Earth, the ancient bristlecone pines in California’s Sierra Nevada Range date back to over 4,000 years. These trees were tiny seedlings when the Egyptians were busy erecting pyramids.

After completing the Bristlecone Pines Loop Trail, we make the 18-mile return drive back to the far north end of the park for the Mossy Cave Trail. Mossy Cave is an easy one-mile round-trip hike, with about 300 feet of elevation gain along its course.

About a hundred yards in, we cross a bridge over a stream, coffee (with heavy cream) colored. Continuing on, at about the quarter-mile point the trail forks. The left fork takes us up to the cave itself, a natural grotto full of lichen and moss in warmer weather and long glistening icicles in the winter. The right fork follows the stream until it comes to a dead end overlooking a small waterfall in Water Canyon. A few of our hikers hike down to the base of the waterfall.

This stream, known as the ‘‘Tropic Ditch’, was artificially created over a century ago by Mormon pioneers who needed a reliable irrigation source for the nearby towns of Tropic and Cannonville. Working with little more than shovels and pick axes, they labored for three long years digging a 15-mile irrigation ditch to divert water from the East Fork of the Sevier River near Tropic Reservoir to irrigate fields around Tropic.

view
Bridge to Mossy Cave. [photo by Nicole]
view
View from Mossy Cave Trail. [photo by Chuck]
hikers
Rudy, Michael, Vanessa, Karl, Kristy, Yanis, and Ramona in front of Mossy Cave. [photo by John]

This ditch has changed the park’s geology along its course, creating more of an erosion-canyon, as opposed to the rest of the park’s canyons, formed by a process of frost-wedging (more on that later).

Arriving back at the Mossy Cave Trailhead, the group splits up, with most hiking the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail (supplemental Report by Chris Everett following). Meanwhile, three of us who got a bit overheated on the last hike go for an easier option and visit the Bryce Canyon Lodge and the Visitor Center. We purchase small gifts for friends and family back home and then return to the campground for a late lunch, while thinking about preparations for Potluck Dinner 1.

hikers
Trailblazers making their way to the falls. [photo by John]
John
John is on the trail above the falls. [photo by John]
falls
Close-up shot of the waterfall. [photo by Nicole]
falls
Waterfall along Mossy Cave Trail. [photo by Chuck]

About an hour later the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop hikers return from their hike, and by 6:00 PM we start making preparations for tonight’s Potluck Dinner 1.

As usual, we have enough food for at least 30 more hungry campers. One thing is certain about these Arizona Trailblazers’ potluck dinners. Nobody has ever complained about going away hungry. Tonight’s menu selection includes an eclectic assortment of such culinary delights as spicy lentil stew, grilled chicken, turkey meatloaf, vegetarian chili, four-bean salad with cucumbers and mushrooms, grilled steak, grilled salmon, roasted veggies, potato casserole, German style lentil stew, potato and macaroni salad, and several appetizers and dessert items. We certainly have some talented cooks in this hiking club.

Let’s chow down, Trailblazers!

food
Vanessa carefully lays out all the place settings on each table. [photo by Nicole]
food
Yanis heats up his German-style lentil stew. [photo by Nicole]
food
While John grills his steaks to perfection. [photo by Nicole]
food
Chris A., Mohammed, Ramona, and Rudy relax before dinner. [photo by Nicole]
food
John, Chris E., Kristy, and Karl keep a close eye on their preparations. [photo by Nicole]
food
At last—it’s chow time, people! [photo by Nicole]
food
This looks like a happy group of campers. [photo by Nicole]
food
Two more tables full of hungry hikers. [photo by Nicole]

fire
That’s a nice bonfire there, Rudy. Got a fire extinguisher handy? [photo by Nicole]
After dinner, Fire Chief Rudy lights up the fire pit and soon has a toasty campfire going for the evening. Next, Jan finishes organizing everything for her nightly Jeopardy/Trivia Stump-the-Campers style game playing, where multiple winners come up to pick out their prizes, small cannisters of Pringles, outrageously colored bandannas, and camping head lamps being the most common items. Thanks for all the evening games, Jan!

Then we all gather around the campfire and listen to our designated campground entertainers for this trip—that dynamic duo, John and Rudy, singing and burning up their guitars, playing the classics of both country and rock icons, from Hank Williams to Gordon Lightfoot and Janis Joplin to Johnny Cash, before we all eventually retire for the evening. Great job, guys!

Around 2:00 AM in the morning several of us are jolted awake by someone screaming “Get out of here!” What the heck? A bear attack? A crazed nut job emerging from the forest and wielding a machete? The Bryce Canyon Sasquatch? Or, perhaps just someone having a bad dream? We never find out since no one ever comes forward. But, other than an occasional coyote serenade, the rest of the nights are relatively quiet and uneventful.

Thursday morning, August 12, dawns... Wait just a minute here! There has to be at least a little bit of light to actually count as dawn. Right? Heck, it’s still pitch dark out there! Why is my alarm clock going off at 5:15 AM, actually 4:15 AM sun time since we’re now on MDST here in Utah. After a restless night, it seems like I had just drifted off to sleep, and now I have to get up and get ready for the day.

Are you kidding me? Who the heck gets up this early anyway, except dairy farmers or commercial fishermen?

Actually, we Trailblazers also need to get up this early to minimize our sun and heat exposure on the trail. Despite being at 8,000 feet or higher in elevation, there’s not a whole lot of shade on most of these Bryce Canyon hiking trails, and by 10:00 AM it can start getting pretty warm out there hiking in the full sun with no breeze. And not much later than that we start sweating bullets, and some hikers can actually be overcome by heat exhaustion. The heat factor in hiking is definitely nothing to fool around with.

sun
Beautiful sunrise picture taken from the Sunrise Point. [photo by Nicole]
“I can hear the sunrise, gentle stirrings as she wakes, eyes fluttering open after the long cold night.
I can hear the sunrise, an explosion of color full of passion and fury and promise.
I can hear the sunrise, boiling in the clouds and shimmering off the waves, announcing the new day.”
by Michael Traveler
hikers
Chuck and Mohammed admire the sunrise. [photo by Nicole]
view
Smoke and haze seem to enhance the stony splendor of Bryce Canyon this morning. [photo by Nicole]
hikers
Trailblazers are still gathering for the morning’s hike. [photo by Nicole]
view
View from the Fairyland Loop Trail. [photo by Nicole]
view
Hoodoos in the making. [photo by Nicole]

On a clear day in Bryce Canyon National Park you can supposedly see for 100 miles. But that’s certainly not the case this morning, since everything seems to be shrouded in both natural haze and smoke from several large wildfires burning to the west in northern California.

However, as seen in some of these early morning pictures, the smoke and haze almost seem to add a somewhat mystical quality to the scene, almost like the misty scenes in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina.

The two hikes scheduled for today are the Tower Bridge Trail and part of the Bryce Canyon Rim Trail between Sunrise and Sunset points, said to be one of the most scenic stretches of trail anywhere within Bryce Canyon National Park.

So, appropriately enough, we find ourselves gathering at Sunrise Point, along with numerous other hikers, to witness the rising sun’s first rays softly spreading out over the thousands of stony formations across Bryce Canyon and ever-so-slowly beginning to paint the canyon’s hoodoos, fins, spires, and arches in a kaleidoscopic fusion of soft pastel colors, from pink to burning gold, as they light up the sky on the eastern horizon. A truly magical moment that we will all savor for a long time.

Vanessa
Vanessa carefully makes her way down the Fairyland Trail. [photo by Nicole]
wall
The Chinese Wall. [photo by Nicole]
view
Erosion at work in Bryce Canyon. [photo by Nicole]
tree
Dramatic, even in death. [photo by Nicole]
grapes
Blueberries? No, actually Oregon Grapes. [Nicole]
hikers
Trailblazers take a break at the trail junction. [photo by Nicole]

With the sunrise show over, we’ll begin hiking from Sunrise Point on the Fairyland Loop Trail for about 1.5 miles before reaching a short spur trail out to a dramatic stone structure called the Tower Bridge, while descending nearly 800 feet along the way. We begin descending fairly quickly on the Fairyland Trail, as it weaves its way among numerous hoodoos, spires, and fins, then past a few arches and windows located high up off the trail, with a large and imposing stone wall in the distance, known as the Chinese Wall.

view
Early morning scene along the Fairyland Trail. [photo by Chuck]
view
A stony fortress looming over the Fairyland Trail. [photo by Chuck]

The Southern Paiutes, who lived in the Bryce Canyon area for many centuries, believed that the colorful, wildly-shaped hoodoos were actually “Legend People”, who were very bad, even evil, people in their former lives and, as a way of retribution, were forever turned into stone by the trickster god, Coyote.

Apparently there were a lot of very bad people back in the day when Coyote was busy turning them into stone, since there are literally tens of thousands of hoodoos within the many amphitheaters of Bryce Canyon. Geologically speaking, Bryce Canyon isn’t actually a canyon at all, but rather a series of large amphitheaters.

hikers
H’mmm, I wonder what these hikers are gazing at? [photo by Nicole]
June
June admires the scenery. [photo by Nicole]
Vanessa
Vanessa takes a shade break. [photo by Nicole]
Karl
While Karl is checking out this Ponderosa trunk. [photo by Nicole]
view
View of the Chinese Wall through a natural window. [photo by Mohammed]
hikers
This squirrel is keeping close tabs on
Rudy and Chris. [photo by Mohammed]
Tom
Cactus Tom takes a quick breather.
[photo by Mohammed]
tree
This pine tree just returned from its morning walk. [photo by Nicole]
view
Beautiful scene from below the rim. [photo by Nicole]

All of the hoodoos in Bryce Canyon are carved into the vast Claron Formation, created from an ancient lake bed going back 55 million years in time. Limestone, siltstone, mudstone, and dolomite make up the four different rock types that form the Claron Formation, and each rock type erodes at different rates, depending on the hardness of the rock. The rock's resistance to erosion is what causes the undulating shapes of the hoodoos. Overall weathering, water-related erosion, and frost-wedging are the key players at work here in Bryce Canyon National Park, frost-wedging being the most critical due to the higher elevations of Bryce Canyon. During cold winter nights water that has seeped into thousands of cracks in the rock during the day freezes. As it freezes, it expands and over time splits the rock. Although you may have thought geology was a difficult subject to tackle, congratulations for just completing Bryce Canyon Geology 101!

There is certainly no shortage of beautiful scenery on the Fairyland Trail, and cameras and cell phones are busy taking countless pictures along the trail. At one point I remark to June that the scenery here, especially below the rim, although completely different, reminds me somewhat of Glacier National Park because one can point a camera here, just as in Glacier, in almost any direction and get a good picture.

But this was way back in 1984, when there were no cell phones and no digital cameras in existence (imagine that!). Only film cameras. And you had to wait, sometimes for days, until your film was processed and returned before you could see your pictures for the first time.

rock
Tower Bridge looms high above the trail. [photo by Nicole]
rock
This massive wall stands guard over an army of hoodoos. [photo by Nicole]
Yanis
Careful there, Yanis! [photo by Mohammed]
baby
Baby horned lizard. [photo by Mohammed]
hikers
Trailblazers are busy capturing the moment. [photo by Nicole]
tree
Bark beetle tracks completely encircle this tree trunk. There’s no doubt about what killed this tree. [Chuck]

After almost 1.5 miles of hiking the hoodoos and taking pictures, we finally come to a short spur trail, marked “Tower Bridge”, and are soon standing beneath a mammoth and imposing stone structure high above the trail, with a large window at one end and two towers with a short connecting bridge between them at the opposite end. After taking lots of pictures here, we turn back and retrace our steps back to the spur trail junction. Here, the group splits up, with half of us going back the same way we came, and the rest opting for a longer route, hiking more of the Fairyland Trail beyond the spur trail, before also heading back to the trailhead.

After we all return to the trailhead, some hikers head back to the campground, while others go to the Visitor Center or Bryce General Store, and the rest of us decide to tackle part of the Rim Trail. The Rim Trail offers hikers the opportunity to see the Bryce Amphitheater and several others from above. The full Rim Trail extends a total of 5.5 miles from Fairyland Point to Bryce Point and has several steep elevation changes along the way.

hikers
Chris, Tom, Chuck, and Vanessa on the Rim Trail. [photo by Nicole]
June
June on the Rim Trail. [photo by Nicole]
Michael
Michael on the Rim Trail. [photo by Nicole]
hikers
Hikers take in the endless views. [photo by Chuck]
view
View from the Fairyland Trail. [photo by Chuck]
view
View from the Rim Trail. [photo by Chuck]
view
Another view from the Rim Trail. [photo by Chuck]

Today we’ll hike the easy and scenic one-mile stretch between Sunrise and Sunset points, before driving out to Inspiration Point to see if we can get truly inspired and then, finally, out to the southeastern terminus of the Rim Trail at Bryce Point.

“A weird, lovely, fantastic object out of nature like Delicate Arch has the curious ability to remind us—like rock and sunlight and wind and wilderness—that out there is a different world, older and greater and deeper by far than ours, a world which surrounds and sustains the little world of men as sea and sky surround and sustain a ship. The shock of the real. For a little while we are again able to see, as the child sees, a world of marvels. For a few moments we discover that nothing can be taken for granted, for if this ring of stone is marvelous then all which shaped it is marvelous, and our journey here on earth, able to see and touch and hear in the midst of tangible and mysterious things-in-themselves, is the most strange and daring of all adventures.”
Edward Abbey

We all arrive back at the campground by 4:00 PM and relax for a while, before starting preparations for Potluck Dinner 2. We have a few new items on the menu tonight, and although we try our best to finish everything, we still end up with enough leftovers for an unprecedented Potluck Dinner 3 for tomorrow night.

John
John gets in some early practice. [photo by Nicole]
hikers
Rudy practices a few numbers before the evening gets rolling. [photo by Nicole]
hikers
Rudy and Ken in deep discussion somewhere on the Rim Trail. [photo by Ramona]
hikers
Rudy repairs a loose baffle on Ken’s vehicle. [photo by Ramona]
hikers
Trailblazers gather around the evening campfire. [photo by Nicole]
galaxy
The Milky Way Galaxy dominates the center of this picture. [photo by Nicole]

So it appears that I was a little too conservative in my estimate yesterday when I thought we probably had enough food to feed 30 additional people. Instead, we actually had enough food to feed at least 50 additional people. Or 30 more people and 10 ravenous large dogs. After dinner we’re entertained once again with classic country and rock hits by those two talented troubadours, Rudy and John, before retiring for the evening. Morning, after all, comes pretty darned early around here.

And now for a change of pace from looking at rocks all day. All 8 of the following flower pictures are from Mohammed.

white mixed
white blue
yellow yellow
purple purple

Early Friday morning, August 13, still as dark as the inside of a West Virginia coal mine during a power outage, and our third full day at Bryce Canyon. All 17 of us have hiked together for the most part during the last two days, but today we’ll split up into two groups of hikers.

Option 1, for the most aggressive and strongest hikers, involves hiking the Fairyland Loop Trail, an 8 mile loop with +/-1,600 feet of elevation gain over the course of the trail. This hike starts from the rim and goes all the way down to the canyon floor and through the picturesque Fairyland Amphitheater. Chris Everett’s trip report on this hike can be found at the end of the main trip report.

Option 2 involves hiking through Willis Creek slot canyon, followed by the Panorama Trail and Grosvenor Arch in nearby Kodachrome Basin State Park. Jan will be our guide for the day, since she has hiked both of these areas recently.

sign
Read the last line and be extra careful. [photo by Nicole]
hikers
We descend into Willis Creek and the canyon. [photo by Nicole]
John
John stands next to a small waterfall.
[photo by John]
hikers
We start the descent into Willis Canyon.
[photo by John]
hikers
We’re getting deeper into the canyon.
[photo by Chuck]
hikers
The canyon starts to get really narrow.
[photo by June]
hikers
Long-time friends, June and Michele.
[photo by June]
hikers
See? It’s that-a-way, I think.
[photo by June]
hikers
Hikers are bunching up in this section.
[photo by Chuck]
picture
Kristy leads the charge thru this part of the canyon.
[photo by Nicole]

Upon arriving in the Willis Creek parking area, we’re greeted by a large information sign talking about the creek and slot canyons. The last line reads “You Could Die Out Here.” Everyone entering this creek bed should consider this a serious warning to the wise, especially during summer monsoon season.

view
The colors in this canyon can change by the minute.
[photo by John]
hikers
We continue exploring deeper into Willis Canyon.
[photo by Nicole]
Jan
Jan is providing some information on the canyon.
[photo by John]
view
Willis Canyon is opening into another world.
[photo by Nicole]
poop
It looks like some cattle have been hiking in this canyon recently.
[photo by Chuck]
rock
A collection of rocks about 12 feet above the canyon floor. Clear evidence of a massive flash flood at some point. [photo by Chuck]
hikers
There must be something really interesting up there. [photo by Nicole]

Unseen heavy rainfall 100 miles or more upstream can unleash tens of millions of gallons of water and quickly turn a tranquil creek bed like this, with only a trickle of flowing water, into a raging torrent of muddy, debris-filled water. When all that water hits the narrow, confined slot canyon part of a creek like this, it can rise very quickly to 15 feet deep or more, depending on the amount of rainfall upstream.

One of these pictures shows a pile of rocks deposited into a niche carved into the canyon wall that’s at least 12 feet above the canyon floor. Flash flood waters deposited that at some point. Whenever hiking in a slot canyon, always get the latest weather forecast for the immediate and surrounding area and keep a close eye on weather conditions. At the first sign of a thunderstorm, any rainfall or rising waters, exit the canyon as quickly as possible. Literally, run for your life. Because You Could Die Out Here.

moth
This unfortunate moth is a victim of the creek. [photo by John]
view
The canyon keeps getting narrower.
[photo by Nicole]
view
And more colorful with the changing light.
[photo by Nicole]
view
Just use your imagination on this one. [photo by Nicole]

After hiking and exploring for roughly 1.5 miles into the canyon, we come to a large open area that Jan tells us is the turnaround point for most people. We could continue hiking farther, since the total hike is about 4.5 miles round-trip, but we need to get to Kodachrome Basin State Park before it gets too much later in the day. But this has been quite an amazing experience and is definitely worthy of a repeat visit in the future.

hikers
Cameras at 10 paces. Ready. Aim. Fire!
[photo by John]
hikers
We’re heading back out of the canyon.
[photo by Nicole]
view
This is the end of the line. [photo by Nicole]
hikers
Exiting the canyon and back to our vehicles. [photo by Nicole]
view
View looking at part of Kodachrome Basin. [photo by Nicole]
hikers
Hikers starting out on the Panorama Trail. [photo by John]
view
OMG! Is that you, Mr. Potato Head? [photo by John]
view
Expansive view in Kodachrome Basin. [photo by Nicole]
view
The variety of colors in Kodachrome Basin are similar to Bryce Canyon. [photo by Nicole]
rock
Monolith 1. [photo by Chuck]
rock
Monolith 2. [photo by Chuck]
view
A multi-strata mountain of stone. [photo by Nicole]
view
Some interesting strata and color here as well. [photo by John]

The interesting contrast of colors in this area prompted the National Geographic Society, with the permission of the Kodak Film Corporation, to name this area Kodachrome Basin in 1949.

For those who may not recognize the name Kodachrome, or only associate it with the popular Simon & Garfunkel song, for many decades Kodak Kodachrome was the top-selling color slide film of all time, primarily in Kodachrome 25 and Kodachrome 64 formats.

I shot Kodachrome 64 for many years until it, along with most films, gradually became increasingly unavailable due to the growing popularity of digital cameras. For those of you who have only used digital cameras, for well over a century, way back in the Dark Ages, if you owned a camera at all it was likely a film camera. For a number of years digital photography was only a laboratory experiment, and the first working models were about the size of a suitcase. Can you imagine hauling that around on the trail?

rock
Monolith 3.
[photo by Chuck]
rock
This pinnacle looks like it could topple over
in a heavy rainstorm. [photo by Nicole]
basin
Mix of colors in Kodachrome Basin. [photo by Nicole]
rock
Almost looks like the Red Rocks of Sedona, Arizona. [photo by Nicole]
soil
Cryptobiotic soil crust, common to the Colorado Plateau. [photo by Chuck]
arch
The Grand View of Grosvenor Arch. [photo by John]
arch
Tighter view of Grosvenor Arch. [photo by Chuck]
arch
View concentrating on the arch itself, showing the double arch configuration. [photo by John]

But getting back to Kodachrome Basin, the Panorama Trail can be done as either a 3-mile or a 6-mile loop hike. We were initially planning on doing the 3-mile version, but because of our late start the heat factor was just too much for us to handle, so we all turned back early.

Next, we head down the road to Grosvenor Arch, named in honor of the founder and long-time CEO and president of the National Geographic Society, Gilbert Grosvenor. We hike a short path to the arch, take a few pictures, then head back to Bryce Canyon City for a late lunch, and then back to the campground for Potluck Dinner 3 later in the evening.

Meanwhile, just a brief explanation of cryptobiotic soil for anyone who wants to be enlightened:

Covering almost 75% of the total ground surface of the vast 130,000 square-mile Colorado Plateau, cryptobiotic soil crust provides a protected environment of stabile soil cover, nutrients, and vital moisture for the sparse vegetation struggling to exist in this harsh and often hostile environment. Consisting of an interesting mix of cyanobacteria, lichens, algae, fungi, mosses, and liverworts, this strange looking knobby-textured, lumpy and brittle soil crust helps stabilize the fragile soil of the high deserts of the plateau, preventing soil erosion.

Unfortunately, most people don’t recognize this crust, have no idea what it is, or don’t even care and carelessly walk or ride right through it.

This unlikely combination produces billions of microscopic sheaths that send tiny tendrils in all directions throughout the top few millimeters of soil, literally cementing the individual sand grains and soil particles together into one continuous crust. Absolutely critical to moisture retention and plant survival, this lifeless looking crust can expand up to ten times its normal size when swollen with moisture, after only the briefest of desert rain showers.

The biggest problem today is its rapidly expanding rate of destruction in the face of increased human activity throughout the Colorado Plateau. Careless hikers, hunters, mountain bikers, ATV riders, and off-road vehicles can destroy in seconds what nature took centuries to build. In the drier areas, it can take up to 250 years for this cryptobiotic soil crust to repair itself, once destroyed by careless human activity.

A collection of Bryce Canyon wildlife:

hawk
Northern Harrier hawk at our campground. [photo by John]
hawk
Second Northern Harrier hawk at our campground. [photo by John]
deer
A doe and her fawns browse at the campground. [photo by John]
deer
Buck, with antlers still full of velvet. [photo by John]
squirrel
This little guy is certainly getting plenty to eat. [photo by Nicole]

Saturday morning, August 14, and our last full day at Bryce Canyon National Park. And, once again, we have two hiking options for the day.

Option 1 involves the Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail, a 5.5 mile loop trail with +/-1,500 feet of elevation gain hiking out of the canyon. This hike involves a steep descent into the depths of the panoramic Bryce Canyon Amphitheater, through some of the largest and most impressive hoodoos in the park. Another major highlight is the Wall of Windows, with numerous arches, windows, and large cracks in the upper portions of the wall, framing the blue skies behind. Chris Everett’s trip report on this hike can be found at the end of the main trip report.

Option 2 involves hiking the very scenic and shorter Navajo Loop Trail, a short 1.5 mile loop trail with +/-550 feet of elevation gain and returning to Sunset Point by way of the Wall Street section on the west side of the loop. This trail is the most popular trail in Bryce Canyon and features Thor’s Hammer and Two Bridges, in addition to Wall Street.

view
This Bristlecone Pine seems to be growing out of solid rock. [photo by John]
view
View looking into Bryce Canyon Amphitheater. [photo by John]
view
Second view from upper Navajo Loop Trail. [photo by John]
view
View near the canyon floor. [photo by Chuck]
view
Second view near the canyon floor. [photo by Chuck]

About 6:45 AM and we’re heading out from the campground for our last day of hiking and splitting off to our separate destinations, with the group just about evenly divided once again. The Navajo Loop hikers make the short walk from the campground out to Sunset Point and immediately begin descending on the Navajo Loop Trail to hike the loop clockwise. Before long, we hit a series of short switchbacks that steadily drop us in elevation down to the canyon floor, between narrow walls of colorful limestone, with distant views of the most iconic hoodoo in the park: Thor’s Hammer, followed by Two Bridges.

After finally completing the series of switchbacks, the trail gradually straightens out and makes a more gradual descent down to the canyon floor, with closer views of Thor’s Hammer and the Two Bridges along the way. After reaching the canyon floor, we take a short break and start hiking up the west side of the loop. Before reaching the Wall Street section on the loop’s west side, we find a nice cool and shady location to take a snack and rest break and rehydrate ourselves for the climb back out. With a gentle breeze blowing, this is the coolest stretch of trail we’ve hiked so far on this entire trip.

Chris
Chris E., with Two Bridges to his right.
[photo by Chris E.]
As enticing as it would be to spend an hour or more in this cool and shady nook of the canyon, we gather up our gear and continue hiking up in the shade of the canyon to the Wall Street section of the trail.

Wall Street is actually a narrow slot canyon with only a sliver of blue sky overhead. The cooler and moister conditions in this area are just enough to support a couple of towering Douglas firs, estimated to be about 750 years old. Eventually, we come to a series of steps carved into solid rock and begin the ascent up Wall Street and back to the rim. The upper section of Wall Street includes another series of fairly steep switchbacks (again?) that carry us back to the rim and Sunset Point.

About halfway through the switchbacks, I remark to Rudy that this reminds me somewhat of the long section of switchbacks known as Jacob’s Ladder on the upper stretch of the Bright Angel Trail below the South Rim of the Grand Canyon.

tree
This Douglas fir in Wall Street is reaching for the sky.
[photo by Chuck]
rock
Thor’s Hammer.
[photo by John]
tree
Several Douglas firs stretch for the sky in this picture.
[photo by John]
sign
Caution—falling rocks!
[photo by John]
hikers
Hikers descending the Wall Street Trail. [photo by Chuck]
hikers
While most of these hikers are ascending the trail. [photo by Chuck]

You shouldn’t look upward toward the rim on either of these switchbacks because it’s so disheartening to hike thru several sets of switchbacks, only to look up to the rim again and see that you’re no closer than you were ten minutes earlier. Rudy keeps encouraging me, “It’s only a few more minutes, Chuck” or “You’re almost there, Chuck.” Then I look up once again and see that I’m no closer than I was ten minutes earlier. Nuts! I looked up again! But we all eventually make it back to the rim and regroup at Sunset Point.

group
All together now.
[photo by Mohammed]
view
Along the Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail.
[photo by Mohammed]
group
Aren’t we fine along the Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail. [photo by Mohammed]

The following pictures taken by Chris Everett along the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Loop Trail, the Fairyland Loop Trail, and the Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail.

view
It doesn’t look bad from here. [photo by Chris]
picture
A-down we go. [photo by Chris]
horses
The cavalry has arrived! [photo by Chris]
rock
Multiple arches. [photo by Chris]
hikers
Admiring the arch. [photo by Chris]
view
Lots of hoodoos! [photo by Chris]
view
Lots of hoodoos! [photo by Chris]
hikers
Do you think we can get up there? [photo by Chris]
roots
Tree with twisty roots. [photo by Chris]
view
What a view! [photo by Chris]
view
There’s a trail. [photo by Chris]
sun
Shortly before sunset. [photo by Chris]
sun
Sunset. [photo by Chris]

With all the potluck food finally consumed after three nights, we decide to treat ourselves to a nice dinner at Ruby’s Inn on Saturday evening. And no one walks away hungry from here either. Then it’s back to the campground for one last night sitting around the old campfire, listening to John and Rudy entertaining us one last time with their music.

hikers
I think we need a bigger trailer, John. [photo by Nicole]
hikers
I can’t believe we got all this stuff loaded back in. [photo by Nicole]

Sunday morning, August 15, and it’s time to break down camp, pack away all our gear, and hit the road for the long drive back home. It seems like we just arrived yesterday, and here we are packing up to leave already. But that’s always the way with these multi-day car camping trips. I think it would be the same for a full two-week trip. Time seems to run at hyper-speed whenever we’re away from home and our normal routine and having good times with good friends. So many trails and so many places to see and experience, and so little time.

But we still have plenty of hikes lined up and at least three more camping trips set up for the rest of this year, in addition to some kayaking trips. And the possibilities are virtually limitless for next year and the year after and the year after that. So keep watching the Arizona Trailblazer’s website and checking the Events page for the latest hikes, kayaking trips, camping trips and updates. We hope to see each and everyone of you on many future Arizona Trailblazers hikes and camping trips. Happy Trails to all!


Supplemental Report
by Chris Everett

Wednesday, August 11: Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail

On our second day, around noon, we started the Navajo Trail. We started at Sunset Point. We started down the steeper side at Thor’s Hammer. It was a very steep trail with several switchbacks through canyon walls and hoodoos everywhere—it was beautiful. It was our first trail down into the inner rim. About three quarters down the trail we got to the Two Bridges. We all took pictures of the bridges. At the bottom of the trail we had a short break before starting up the Wall Street side of the Navajo Loop. The Wall Street side was also very steep, but a lot more shaded side and the switchbacks were very short but went all the way up. There were a couple of cutouts through the rocks. This took us a couple of hours.

Friday, August 13: Fairyland Loop Trail

Eight fearless hikers started the Fairyland Loop Trail at Sunrise Point. We started hiking on the Rim Trail just before 7:00 AM, and the sun was just starting to rise and shine over the canyons beautiful Walls of Hoodoos and different arches. We finally made it to Fairland Point. We took a couple of group pictures at the Point. We then started down the trail towards Tower Bridge. It was 4 miles down to Tower Bridge which is actually two arches. This trail down had several points in the trail which we needed to go up again, which made it a more difficult hike. One thing I noticed about this hike being such a beautiful hike. There were hardly any other hikers on this trail. We took a couple of breaks on this stretch of the trail. We reached the bottom at Tower Bridge. This is where we took a small snack break. This is also where Fairyland Trail and Tower Bridge Trail meet. After our break we started up the Tower Bridge Trail (1.7 miles). This is a moderate but fairly steep trail, but again with beautiful views of the canyon. We all reach the top and went back to camp.

Saturday, August 14: Queens Garden/Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail

We started the Queens Garden/Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail at Sunrise Point. We started this trail with 7 hikers. The other group started down the Queens Garden Trail with us. The Queens Garden Trail is only 0.7 miles down. We went through 3 cutout arches going down this trail with views of the horse trail. The Queens Garden Trail is very nice. We then hiked the cross-over trail to the Navajo/Wall junction. We hiked the very small cross-over trail to the start of the Peek-A-Boo Loop Trail. We decided to hike this in the clockwise direction. This trail was definitely my favorite trail we hiked in the park. We started this trail going up another hill and this whole trail had several ups and downs which made this trail a little difficult. There was a unique porta potty. It had a 5 pump system. This was also part of the horse trail. Shortly after that we saw two arches. Before going back up we took a small lunch at the Navajo Loop junction. Six of us decided to hike back up the Queens Garden Trail. We all made it up to Sunrise Point.

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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated August 30, 2021