Highway 12, Dodging Storms and Bryce

At the end of our second day in Utah it felt like we had been there a week.  We experienced an amazing ride on Highway 12 from Capital Reef, through Escalante, passed our Coyote Gulch entrance (boohoo) and on to Bryce NP.  Highway 12 is said to be one of the most scenic drives in the country.  I agree.  It was amazing.  Over Boulder mountain, a long extinct volcano giving amazing views from ?? feet plus huge groves of blinding white aspen trees.

Then it winds through the Grand Staircase of endless gulches, canyons, cross-bedded sandstone and amazing views every 1/4 mile.  It was a drive that everyone should take.  We stopped briefly in the small town of Escalante visiting a few of the small outdoor outfitter shops there serving the canyoneering croud then headed off to Bryce in a hurry.  A hurry because we were running out of time.

We still had no idea where we would be sleeping for the next two nights.  We were committed to hiking into the back country and camping away from everyone for 2 nights but the weather was crazy.  Big thunderheads were building up in the hot sun all across the horizon and we decided that the Bryce canyon might be a good place to hide.  We got to the visitor center at 5 PM and I rushed up to the ranger desk, topo map clutched in hand, saying “I need a back country permit”.  The ranger saying “where do you want to go”?  I reply “no idea so give me a recommendation”.

The ranger was great.  Showing me where they allowed back country camping in the park, where water could be found (a bit of a non-issue of course with all the rain) and what sort of elevation changes were there.  I picked a camp site that was remote, but that I felt Nina and I had a chance of making before sunset.  When finished, the ranger asked me to look at the weather board on the far wall and make sure everything was OK.  The weather board showed rain and lightning bolts everyday for the next 5-days and it was raining outside.  Perfect!  Lets go!

We drove the trailhead, prepared our packs in somewhat of a frantic hurry (which later resulted in us eating with no utensils at all for the next two days) and hit the trail.  It was raining a bit when we left, but the storms spared us.  We spent the next two days with thunderheads skirting the canyon rim every 4 hours. Thunder, cracks of lightning and downpours were hitting the entire area – except the lower remote part of the canyon where we were camping.  We saw only a couple of people on the trail briefly during our time down there – a far cry from the throngs up on the canyon rim.

After hiking out, we spent a restful night in a small hotel and I took time to photograph the stunning geology from the canyon rim at sunset and sunrise. Turns out sunrise is the best time for good shooting since the sun sets behind the canyon rim.  And, shooting the sunrise is best shot from ‘sunset vista’, not ‘sunrise vista’.  Go  figure.

It’s hard to take a unique shot of a scene that has been photographed so much, but regardless it was still awe inspiring to look over that landscape and try and take a few unique shots.   Hiking around the area for three days at 7-8,500 feet was great exercise – especially with a full pack including camera gear.

All the Highway 12 and Bryce Canyon pics are here.

-Andy

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