One of our latest weekend trip took us to Bryce Canyon National Park. It has been over ten years since our last visit, but the landscape and the park hasn’t changed.
Although geologically speaking, hoodoos, the rock formations that Bryce Canyon is famous for, don’t last long, one lifetime in human years doesn’t make a difference in their shape.
What Are Hoodoos?
Tall, skinny spires of rock, hoodoos seem like tall totem poles, carved by nature. At Bryce Canyon, they range from 5 to 150 ft tall, and come in all shapes and widths.
I see hoodoos as children of a parent rock, slowly parting from the whole family and becoming their own beautiful, separate selves. The “family” that supports them, the rock formation that forms them is called the Claron Formation in Bryce. This rock was “born” 30 or 40 million years ago in an ancient lake.
As a natural process of aging, hoodoos are formed by different weathering processes. The extreme temperatures on the plateau cause a freezing then thawing process to repeat more often than other places.
The melting snow seeps into the cracks of the limestone, then it freezes, which makes it expand. (Yes, water expands when freezing. If you need to see the process, freeze water in a plastic bottle, and watch what happens.) In the case of the limestone, this freeze/thaw process causes cracks to appear. This process is called frost wedging.
Then rain, sun and wind slowly erodes the rocks and separates the hoodoos from their parent rock.
Of course, the same process that forms hoodoos, will eventually erode them, too. We don’t see the difference since the erosion happens at the rate of 2-4 feet every 100 years. But in another few million years they won’t exist as they are now.
We are the lucky ones who get to enjoy them.
Hiking to the Bottom of Bryce Canyon
While my husband decided to walk down and into the canyon on the most strenuous (but most spectacular) trail, my daughter and I took the easier, more traveled one. I usually choose the less traveled path, but sometimes, when I am out of shape, I don’t mind easy.
In the morning, to catch the best light, we set off from the Sunrise Point on the Queen’s Garden Trail. It was pleasant, an easy hike (of course, it was downhill), though slightly crowded. The short trail got down to the Queen’s Garden. Queen Victoria, that is.
“Why would they name that rock formation Queen Victoria?” asked Karen. “She’s never even been here.”
Yes, I know. I guess whoever named the rock has seen the queen and felt that it resembled her, looking over her garden of other hoodoos. It took me a while to see the resemblance, but I finally got it while sitting in the shade of a tree in front of it.
Instead of returning the way we came, we walked through the canyon for about a mile, and took the Navajo Loop Trail back up, through the Wall Street formation.
Given the fact that it was sunny and hot by midday, when we got there, Wall Street was the highlight of this particular hike for me. We spent a fair amount of time in the shade of the tall rocks surrounding us.
Of course I was a slow turtle going up the steep switchbacks, but I made it. It was worth it, every step of the way both down, and up.
When we first arrived the day before, we drove to the Southernmost edge of the park, and stopped at Rainbow Point. The easy hike on the Bristlecone Loop, through a pine forest took to Yovimpa Point, offered a far view into the Four Corners area.
We stopped at the Natural Bridge overlook, where we enjoyed the view of the arch.
After we settled in the lodge, we walked the rim trail between Sunrise and Sunset Points, with a great view of the amphitheater below.
Now, after a relatively long hike, we were on the shuttle to Bryce point, with an overlook of one of the most scenic vistas of the whole amphitheater. Different view, different perspective. The Peekaboo trail, a harder hike into the canyon, starts there, but I left it for another time.
Before leaving the park, we stopped at the Fairyland Canyon overlook. One of the most strenuous, but also most spectacular trail starts here, about eight miles long with an elevation gain of over 1100 feet. In comparison, the combination of two trails that I did was a little over 3 miles long and an elevation gain of about 600 feet. I thought that was high. Of course, I left without hiking the Fairyland trail. I need to train for that, if I ever want to make it.