To absorb the true meaning of Bryce Canyon National Park, I felt that I had to descend into the canyon itself. There’s a quote from Ebenezer Bryce I often see on park literature: “This canyon is a hell of a place to lose a cow in.” And as I trek into the canyon via the Queen’s Garden Trail from Sunrise Point, I can see the truth of that quote. Smack dab in the middle of an area called the Bryce Amphitheater, each turn of the trail delivers a spectacular and other-worldly view. The forces of erosion are tangible here, as stone consisting of layers of siltstones, mudstones, and limestone tower into surreal shapes. The garden is a semi-circle containing many spires colored yellow, brown, orange, pink, and white. At the center of this garden is a grand formation resembling Queen Victoria.
Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon are formed by a two-stage weathering process, that erodes the edges of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. The primary weathering is called frost wedging. Bryce has over 200 freeze-thaw cycles per year. In the winter, snow melts then water seeps into the cracks within the rock and then freezes at night. As the water freezes, it expands by 10% within the stone cracks. This prying action makes the cracks wider.
Another erosion force is rain water. The crystal clear air of Bryce Canyon creates slightly acidic rainwater. It’s a very weak acid, but it’s enough to dissolve limestone (a mix of different calcium carbonate crystals) grain by grain. This rounds the edges of hoodoos into lumpy and protuberant profiles. Hoodoos that contain layers of mudstone and siltstone are more resistant to the chemical weathering. Some hoodoos contain magnesium-rich limestone called dolomite, which dissolves at a much slower rate, and protects the weaker layers limestone underneath.
Moving on, we passed through tunnels and passages carved out of rock. I stretch my neck upward looking for famous features that I’ve seen on postcards and travel magazines. Tourist and hikers crowd certain portions of the trail so I have to wait to get the photograph I want. Regardless, I am in awe.
Past the Tropics junction towards Navajo loop, there’s a path that descends gently alongside a dry wash. We find a cleft in a sandstone outcrop which runs beneath an overhanging cliff. We take a rest beneath the shade listening to drawn out squawks of Steller’s jays and the startling kraaws of Clark’s nutcracker. We then head down a little more steeply through wooded surroundings, where isolated hoodoos stand beside tall and venerable pine trees.
There’s a stretch of trail on nearly-level through a forest which oddly lacks any stone formations, except for the occasional boulder; presumably the heads of hoodoos which tumbled down from uphill. In the safety of the wood, chipmunks are brave and steal scraps from the backpacks of resting hikers.
The Queen’s Garden Trail ends at the most southern tip of the Navajo Loop trail. There’s a sign that warns that Wallstreet section of Navajo loop is closed due to dangerous conditions. So we take the north fork. I see a spur trail marked Two Bridges and allowing my curiosity push me forward: I am rewarded with a short hike, a quick photo, and enough time to catch up to my husband and his long legs. The path turns uphill, straddled by two towering walls on either side, dotted by Douglas firs just as tall as the walls. At the top, the view opens up to reveal a fabulous southern view of the Queen’s Garden.
Breathless, I make it up the killer switchbacks and find myself viewing the Silent City from overhead and another sign saying that Wallstreet closed. Below I see men with hardhats discussing trail repairs. There’s a small alcove where I can get a better view of the Silent City. Up a few final steps and we rest at Sunset Point, where the trees shelter us with blissful shade. For a hike that’s 8,000 feet up and 3 miles long, it was totally worth the incredible views and unforgettable feelings of joy.