Just when you think you’ve seen the wildest geology that 4.3 billion years of rock formation could produce, you visit another National Park in Utah.
Bryce was unassuming enough upon arrival. Thick forests of pine reminded us of our home turf in Colorado. The little town that precedes the park looked like it might have been at home in Reno (cute and kitschy with bling and zing, but on a scale shy of what would make it in Vegas). Passing a shuttle stop, we began to get the picture that Bryce really sees the crowds. We stopped at the Visitor Center, pulling through a giant roundabout past a moving solar array that looked like it had been featured in the movie Contact. Fancy. Inside, we took a moment to enjoy the gift shop and look again at the same “Utah Rocks” puzzle we’d been considering after seeing it at Arches, then at Capital Reef (and, if we passed it up here, would likely see it at Zion; Canyonlands, too). Lest this leave my readers with a skewed view, though, let me say that the National Parks have great gift shops with creative, useful items I have not seen elsewhere, and most of the goodies for sale here were unique to Bryce; in fact, shoppers take note: other than the pie store at Gifford House in Capital Reef, the gift shops around Bryce would turn out to be the best so far.
We bought the puzzle, then turned to the rangers. The weather had been bitterly cold the last few days, so Bryce was unusually quiet for the season. There were vacancies at the two campgrounds, and that evening at the lodge would be a night sky talk followed by telescope viewing. Options for dogs? There was an 8 mile paved multi-use trail that was open to dogs and bikes. Great; we’d stay.
Back in the truck and up the hill, past the lovely chatty camp host and the free gear exchange, we found a microcosm of the park thus far: a quirky, unassuming forested campsite on the side of a steep hill. Out came the camp chairs, up went the kitchen door, and very shortly we were munching cheese and crackers and Colin’s mom’s chutney as an appetizer. How about a little jaunt before dinner? We leashed Katie and headed up the slippery slope to check out what might be on the other side…
… and our jaws dropped as we found ourselves face to face with our first hoodoo. Stunned for a moment, we just stood there looking out past this sentinel to the valley of hoodoos stretching out before us to the setting sun. Wow.
Thank goodness for photos, because how would I describe a hoodoo? I guess what came to mind was flying buttress. The hoodoos are monoliths of stone rising upward to the heavens and held to the mountainside by friable, slippery curves of rotten rock. No need for a sign to note you shouldn’t climb out to the hoodoos: I imagine the canyon floor is littered with bold teenagers and drunken yahoos who tried it, and the rest of us can see for ourselves it wouldn’t be smart.
That night we drove up to the lodge and listened as the enthusiastic park ranger ran puppy tracks through astrophysics 101. In 45 minutes he covered Messier objects, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, Tycho Brahe’s nose, Hubble’s Deep Field, Doppler effect, how the seasons work (including a reference to the Harvard graduate students in A Private Universe), and a Youtube rendition of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Shortly thereafter, we were out in the parking lot, casting eyes upward through a telescope the size of Lady Liberty’s torch (the serious amateur’s classic, with 90% of the cost sunk into high-quality lenses and mirrors, and the remainder of the scope made from a cardboard tube made for pouring cement pillars). We saw the moon, M13 globular cluster (those old dudes in Hercules), and the natural satellites of Jupiter. I told some star stories (I couldn’t help myself – once an educator, always an educator), then we thanked the ranger and his astronomy volunteer, and headed the short distance back to our campsite to snooze away a starlit night amongst the trees and hoodoos.
The next day we left the trailer at out campsite and drove around the park, taking in the views. In the afternoon, we pulled out the bicycles, put booties on the dog, attached her bike bed, and took to the trails. What a ride! The winding path brought us up to stunning overlooks, past the various rustic lodges (with a stop for ice cream, of course), through the woods, and – Katie still running at our side – up to 8,500 feet where we could look out at the surreal valley filled shoulder to shoulder with the red-orange steeples in stone. Feeling we had drunk our fill of Bryce, we popped Katie in her bike bed and zoomed our way down hill to the little red trailer again.
That night we boondocked, happy to stay for free (tax dollars at work) and bring down the average nightly cost again after last night’s $30 campsite fee at Bryce (well worth it, but still our most expensive night to date). On Route 89 toward Kanab, we pulled off along an unpaved BLM road near Alton, and settled for the night on a flat field rimmed by a creek, a mountain, some rustic cattle pens, and a bulldozer. Much of BLM is designated as multi-use. Clearly we had stumbled upon – and added to – that situation here. It was Sunday evening, and in the morning we figured we’d either muse and wonder over mid morning tea at just how long the heavy equipment had sat idle, or find ourselves awakened at contractor’s dawn with the pawing of earth by giant metal claws. Either would be fine. As it turned out, when we awoke the bulldozer sat silent but an old dishwasher-white pickup truck was parked at a working angle by the cattle pens. We saw no one but a woman in the distance walking her dog; multi-users went about their business as citizens of separate, superimposed universes, each doing their own thing.
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, had been on our list since the beginning. We first learned about them on the National Geographic series Dogtown. With extensive facilities at their 3,700 acres in the dry deserts of Utah, their budget, renown, and philosophies allow them to break amazing ground in the realm of animal rescue and rehabilitation (including, for those familiar with that case, the poor pitties rescued from NFL star Michael Vick’s awful dog fighting ring). As a dog trainer and animal shelter volunteer, I am always curious to learn about what animal rescues do, and how they do it. I was excited at this chance to see this famous sanctuary first hand.
Best Friends is well set up to welcome the visitors who come to volunteer for a half-day or two weeks, stay (after booking months earlier) at the RV park where they can “host” an animal for the evening to help with socialization (and perhaps even adopt), stop for a vegetarian lunchtime meal, or, like us, visit just briefly to tour the facility.
We arrived just in time to join a tour. Because we had Katie, and leaving her unattended in the hot truck would be unacceptable to both us and Best Friends, they allowed us to do a follow-along. They gave us a CD for the truck so we could get the “guided tour” and then we took turns joining the live group inside the facilities where we stopped – the puppy kindergarten for early socialization skills, the cat home for special needs kitties, past the pigs and horses and birds and bunnies and dog of varying ages and sizes. Best Friends also has cemetery grounds for all the animals that have died there, and for the pets of staff and volunteers who wish this particular end for their special animal friend. The cemetaries are very touching spaces, with wind chimes throughout, a small gravestone for each animal, and remembering ceremonies a few times a year. Inspired by Jewish funerary custom, there is a tradition at Best Friends of putting small stones on the gravestones of animals who are visited and remembered. Our tour guide told us about the volunteer artist who comes by twice a year to note which animals’ graves are new, or have fewer stones. In the following 6 months, she carefully crafts individualized stones for these critters, and places them at her next visit. Families might be away a decade before they return to visit a grave, and are so touched by this kind gesture, knowing their pet has been in someone else’s thoughts as well. Truly this is a place run with heart.
Any anyway, they have, hands down, the best logo anywhere. How could I resist a t-shirt with that on it, after all?
Zion National Park
Our time in canyon country would end with a drive through Zion. High, stark mountains, strange patchwork geology, natural bridges, and a long, long, long tunnel through the mountainside characterized Zion, but our very favorite moment was right inside the entrance.There was a commotion to the side of the road, so we stopped behind the other cars. An entire herd of desert bighorn sheep – some 20 or more – was nonchalantly grazing roadside in two’s and three’s. We even spotted a mama with her baby. So very, very cool.
That night we stayed on the edge of BLM in, once again, a loosely joined small, dispersed community of boondockers, off a paved road which ended at the back entrance (wired shut with concertina – they’re not messing around…) of a public works dam. Long live canyon country.
In the morning we would leave the canyonlands behind, Mojave Desert bound.