Bryce Canyon National Park has taken a while to grow on me. In contrast to parks that I feel offer more options in terms of avenues for exploration, like Zion or Yosemite, Bryce’s alien landscape at first seems immediately accessible and knowable in passing, a been-there-done-that quality that I felt the first few times I went. Where other National Parks offer variety, in landscape and activities, Bryce feels almost one-note at first, impressive, but not a very deep experience.
I think that it’s symptomatic of what I refer to as the Rim Effect, a problem I’ve similarly noted at the Grand Canyon and at Canyonlands’ Island in the Sky district. From the rim of a canyon (or an amphitheater like Bryce), you feel like you can see everything, and in seeing everything, you assume you understand it. I’ve literally seen people walk up to the edge of the Grand Canyon and say “It’s not so grand. It’s an ok canyon.” I’m guilty of this myself.
Where Bryce, the Grand Canyon, even Zion and Yosemite reward those willing to explore is those times when you step down from the heights, and get down amongst the elements that make these places truly spectacular. Amongst the hoodoos of Bryce, you feel lost in a maze of alien spires and trees fighting to grow amongst them. You wander through meandering, up and down trails that are deceptively strenuous, through the heat of the desert past skeletal remains of junipers and pines that couldn’t make it in this decidedly barren labyrinth. You walk past hidden arches and through small tunnels carved in the weathered sandstone, and look out upon seemingly endless layers of hoodoos, finding familiar shapes in unfamiliar stone, noting the one that looks like a queen, or another that looks like a hammer. You explore the way a child explores the woods behind their house, woods they thought they knew for years, yet are consistently surprised when they find some new clearing, some taller tree to climb.
This is the magic of Bryce, the thing I didn’t really appreciate until I let my preconceptions of the Park wash away and appreciated it for the amazing place that it is. I highly recommend taking a few days to get lost amongst the hoodoos yourself. Take every trail, go to every overlook. I assure you, it’s worth it.