The location: Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon National Park boasts the world’s largest concentration of hoodoos—odd columns of rock. Each year, more than 2 million visitors come to marvel at the bizarre and beautiful orange pillars. With elevations reaching over 9,000 feet, this is not your typical Utah desert. The canyon is located on the northern edge of the Grand Staircase and just 80 minutes from Zion National Park’s east entrance.
The story: hiking on another planet
Otherwordly—it’s truly the best word to describe the sights in Bryce Canyon. It’s one of those sneaky national parks, where the surrounding area doesn’t really prepare you for what you see. Sure you pass a few red rocks and lesser hoodoos as you drive to the park entrance, but mostly there are pine trees. When you finally get a clear look into the expansive canyon, you’re confronted with an overwhelming amount of orange, as if an army of rock soldiers has assembled in front of you.
We visited Bryce twice during our month in the Grand Circle. We spent a weekday hiking in Bryce Amphitheater, the most popular section of the park. Then we dared to come back over Memorial Weekend, wisely skipping the packed main attraction and heading for the less visited viewpoints along the drive-stop-look route all the way to Rainbow Point.
The popular spot: Bryce Amphitheater
Guests approach the focal point of the national park from the top, looking from the rim down into the epic Bryce Amphitheater. The most remarkable thing to me was the regularity of the hoodoos. They’re lined up in neat rows like soldiers in formation. We took the Queen’s Garden Trail, an easy there-and-back path down into the canyon and among the hoodoos. Being from Colorado Springs, home of Garden of the Gods, we’re no strangers to unique red rocks. That said, the formations in Bryce Canyon are on another level.
The “bigness” of Bryce Canyon also made photography challenging. It took some effort to find clear focal points in such a wide, grand scene. If you’re taking photos of Bryce Canyon from the rim, bring a telephoto lens to capture points in and across the amphitheater. You’ll want your wide angle lens as well. A lightweight jacket is must if you’re driving up to the higher altitude viewing points.
The surprise spot: Mossy Cave Trail
Mossy Cave Trail isn’t in the main part of the park. You actually drive past the turn to the main gate to get to the trailhead. We chose this trail because we’d heard the cave was a great photo spot and we guessed, correctly, that it would be less crowded around Memorial Day. Unfortunately, there were no icicles in Mossy Cave when we visited in mid-May, though they’ve been seen as late as July! The hike was hardly wasted though.
We discovered Tropic Ditch, a man made irrigation route, and its photogenic waterfall. The rushing water against the red-orange rock was quite a sight. We climbed up to and around the top of the falls as well as down below the 20-foot drop, giving us more unique angles than one usually has of a waterfall. If you have more than one day in Bryce Canyon, this easy 0.8-mile hike is a great choice. Bring a wide angle lens with a neutral density filter to capture the movement of the water.
The gear: Canon
These photos of Bryce Canyon National Park were taken with a Canon EOS 5D Mark II, with either a Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L telephoto lens or Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L wide lens, both with a polarizing filter or neutral density filter.
All images are copyright of Josh Schaulis and may not be reproduced or used in any way without written permission.