Utah State Route 63
We drove southward from the Bryce Visitor’s Center and took SR-63 all the way to Rainbow Point. It’s a little over 17 miles, but the drive is fun, full of twists and turns. We’ve already seen much of the Bryce Amphitheater so we were seeking new adventures in the park. We spied mule deer and pronghorn antelope along the roadside as we drove. We even caught a glimpse of the elusive Utah prairie dog on a dusty mound near the Visitor’s Center. There are mountain lions, but they are nocturnal creatures and won’t get a chance to see them during broad daylight.
At the end of Highway 63 and near Rainbow Point, Bristlecone loop is a short but sweet trail that stays entirely above the canyon rim. It traverses through a blissful subalpine forest at an altitude of 9,100 feet, named after the bristlecone pine, a tenacious tree which survives along high windy ridges and prolonged drought. According to park literature, some of the bristlecones along this route are a little over 1,800 years old, this makes me want to see one and even more so. The forest reminds me of the pacific northwest; filled with Blue Spruce, Douglas Fir, and White Fir. The wildlife here is a bit more forthcoming than other portions of the Bryce. At what I first thought was a chipmunk is actually a golden-mantled ground squirrel; they flit about the brush and make an alarm call sounds. The calls of ravens and stellar’s jays awaken memories of Mount Rainier and my hikes along Sunset Trail. I finally get to see my first Clark’s Nutcracker here, while elsewhere in Bryce I’ve only heard their distant screeches. There are dramatic views of vast canyons and vibrant colored cliffs. The most southern tip of the loop opens up to an amazing view of Southern half Pink Cliffs. The there’s a kiosk that says Peregrine falcons frequent this area and make nests in the cliff side, but we see none today. Along the way, I finally deduce that the trees with the twisted branches and bottle-brush appearance are the bristlecone pine, only to be greeted by another kiosk telling me what a bristlecone is and what it looks like.
Yovimpa Point and Rainbow Point
Hitch and I start winding our way back to Rainbow point when we are both startled by a mule deer bounding out of a thick of trees and across the trail before us. We both look at each other and exclaim, “That was awesome!” We move on and take a side spur to Yovimpa Point, and get to see southwest over Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in the far distance. With binoculars, it is one of the best spots to see the “steps” which give the Grand Staircase its name. There is a protruding feature called Molly’s Nipple, which is part of the White Cliffs. Looking down into distant canyons near the horizon, you can just barely make out some red rock underneath the White Cliffs. We head back to Rainbow Point, where we can look north and see much of Bryce Canyon National Park as a whole. The Pink Cliffs snakes along the main rim, encircling many hoodoo-filled amphitheaters.
Back on Utah State Route 63
We get back into the truck and drive northward on SR-63. There are many turnouts on this road offering cool views of Bryce, but not as spectacular as the ones found in the main amphitheater. The exception is the particularly photogenic Natural Bridge, which is one of several natural arches found in Bryce Canyon. Sculpted by wind, water, and frost wedging, this structure is formed out of the reddest rock of the Claron Formation. Framed by rich green Ponderosa pine trees, its a place worth stopping at. We are diligent and stop at all the other viewpoints, but not many of them are as good, and we suffer from “view fatigue”.
As we drive northward and back to town and our Airstream, we spy a few more pronghorn and mule deer from the road, then and take a quick peek to see if any prairie dogs are out in the fields. Nope, maybe next time.