In 2012, our yearly February trip took us to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. I decided that we are going to visit enough national parks this year to warrant the purchase of the America the Beautiful pass. It is a pass that allows you access to pretty much every National Park in the United States, as well as most of the recreation areas managed by the National Park Service.
Our trip started off with the drive from Southern California up Interstate 15 through Las Vegas. This year was the first time we took Alex’s car instead of my own. This allowed her to be comfortable driving, so she took over more than 50% of the driving duties! We wanted to leave early enough in the morning to get to Bryce Canyon before dark, so we left the house by 7am and were on the road by 7:30. This was pretty tough, considering both of us were fighting the beginning stages of a cold that was only going to get worse.
The drive was pretty uneventful and we eventually made it to Mesquite, NV. From there, I took over driving because Alex was still a little wary of driving through the canyon along the Virgin river. Due to a land slide in October, highway 14, which is the recommended route from the Los Angeles area, was closed to all traffic. The two alternative routes were to either go through Zion National Park or up through Cedar City, UT and east on highway 20. I decided that since I was planning on buying the America the Beautiful pass anyway, we might as well go through Zion. It was a whirlwind visit to Zion, mostly just using the bathrooms at the Visitor Center before heading up to the tunnel. After a few more hours, we made it to Red Canyon as the sun was setting. It was very beautiful, but since we were trying to get to the hotel before dark, we didn’t stop to get any pictures. At this point, there was snow on the ground, but we later found out that it had been two weeks since the last snowfall!
Finally we arrived at Ruby’s Inn, a Best Western hotel in Bryce Canyon City. Once we dealt with the confusion of a giant tour bus blocking the entrance, it was easy to check in and get our room. We stayed in the Antelope Lodge, which is a disconnected bank of hotel rooms across the parking lot from the main lodge. The first thing we did was to get settled into the room, then decided to walk by the indoor heated swimming pool to see what it was like before heading to dinner. The place was crowded as hell. The pool was filled with German boys, maybe high school aged, mostly wearing Speedos. It was gross, and that pretty much decided for us whether we would be swimming in the pool. I don’t know what it is in Utah that attracts more German tourists than I have seen anywhere else in my life. The reason I no longer enjoy camping also finds Germans to blame. Note: do not show up to a campsite at 2AM and use an air compressor to fill up your air mattresses. Especially if it’s the middle of summer and 90 degrees outside, it’s already hard enough to sleep without all that noise!
Anyway, we decided to skip the pool and go have dinner at the only place to eat in the winter, the restaurant in the main lodge. It too was overcrowded with German tourists, most likely the parents of the kids in the pool. There was a line at least 50 people long waiting to get into the restaurant. After standing in line for about 10 minutes and not even moving forward, we decided to see what was available in the general store. We got some microwavable soup and headed back to the hotel room to eat and rest for the next day.
The next day we woke up relatively late to find that the parking lots were empty. There was nobody around. It was amazing. We were able to have a pretty decent breakfast in the restaurant and then headed into Bryce Canyon NP. I assumed that the parking lots were empty because everyone else got up early and headed to the park. I was wrong. There were not many people at all, which made the park that much more enjoyable. We did the entire drive to Rainbow Point, stopping at all the different stops along the way to view as much of the park as possible. Due to the snow on the ground, we were being extra cautious, and did not stray far from the main viewing areas. It was incredible though, even seeing the same things that everyone sees. The main amphitheater is beautiful with snow on the rocks. It looks like an American flag with red rocks, white snow and blue sky.
At the end of the road, and a bit of lunch with some ravens eying us the whole time, we decided to walk the Bristlecone Loop trail. It is only a mile long and listed as “easy” on the map. It was not easy. At least, it was not easy with the foot of snow covering the trail. It took about an hour to get out to the 1600 year old bristlecone pine tree. It looked dead. We were concerned that we were on the wrong trail, so decided to go back the way we came instead of risking the wrong trail and not actually being a loop.
After finishing the trail we headed back out of the park. At this point we were feeling pretty sick, so we headed back to the hotel. We had some mediocre ribs for dinner at the empty restaurant, and then headed to bed. The next day was going to be a lot of driving. Ryan suggested that in the future we stretch these trips out to four days or more. I agree with him, having only one day at the park itself seems silly with two full days of driving to get to and from the park.
On the way home we stopped in St. George to have some Olive Garden, then it was pretty much just a straight drive all the way home. The traffic was terrible, and I don’t recommend doing this trip with return travel on a Sunday. You have to contend with thousands of d-bags all the way from Las Vegas to LA. A drive that normally should take no more than 4 hours (Vegas to LA) actually took six. There were large portions of the drive where we were actually just sitting still on the interstate, with 70MPH speed limit signs mocking us.
Overall, it was a good trip, and I am glad that Alex got to see Bryce Canyon for the first time in her life.