Bryce Canyon National Park: Fairyland

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Fairyland Canyon

At just about 11am on Sunday, September 11, tantalized by our sunrise hike down and up Navajo Trail and sated with our breakfast, we set out on our day’s hike. One of the joys of camping in a National Park is the accessibility of the trails and vistas. “Let’s go see something beautiful” is what I traditionally say to Sean, particularly when we set out on foot from our campsite.

Ahead of us was a hike along the Rim Trail, then the Fairyland Loop, one of the famous hikes of the National Parks. Although the loop proper was only eight miles, the total mileage we’d end up logging was ten and a half.

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Mule Deer

As we shouldered our packs and headed out, a Mule Deer doe and two fawns ambled through the campground having their late morning meal.

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Out of Sunset Campground and across the park road, we headed north on the mixed-use trail that led to the parking area for Sunset and Sunrise Points and the lodge.

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The late morning views of Bryce Amphitheater were something. Add some clouds in the bright blue sky and a Douglas Fir in the frame, and…well…

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We walked with purpose among the visitors to the rim. Most were ambling along, taking photos and taking in the view.

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Limber Pine

The views from up on Sunrise Point were stellar.

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Aquarius Plateau and Sinking Ship

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Bristlecone Point

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Sunrise Point

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Boat Mesa (left)

We continued along the Rim Trail with all its slanting National Park glory there to our right, slipping off the Paunsaugant Plateau to the town of Tropic, hundreds of feet below. The route down into Fairyland Canyon was off on the other side of Boat Mesa.

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The ridge far beyond is protected as part of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

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Limber Pine

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Douglas Fir

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Douglas Fir. Image: Sean M. Santos 

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Paunsaugunt Plateau

The rim of the plateau rose as we approached Boat Mesa, jutting out beyond the edge of the plateau, framing Bryce Amphitheater to the south and Fairyland to the north. Out to west, the great stretch of the Paunsaugunt Plateau extended for dozens of miles north to south.

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Pink Hills

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We continued along the Rim Trail, past North Campground, as the elevation began to rise.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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The Black Mountains

Out in the distance to the north, the volcanic Black Mountains marked the transition between the Paunsaugunt and Sevier Plateaus.

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Nearer at hand, the Pink Cliffs dropped away beneath us.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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We were approaching the highest elevation of our hike, about 8,100 feet as a ridge rose between the cliffs and the plateau

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Limber Pine

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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As we began descending, the trail turned away from the very edge of the cliffs into a savanna-like setting of well-spaced pines rising above grasses and wildflowers. It was this sort of habitat that attracted the Park’s population of Pronghorn.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Desert Wirelettuce

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Wyoming Paintbrush

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Broom Snakeweed

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Wooly Mullein

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Hoary Aster

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Broom-Like Ragwort

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We came upon the “Hike the Hoodoos” medal for the Rim Trail, and Sean posed with it.

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Out in the distance looking south, we could see what we guessed was the trail we’d eventually be ascending.

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Greenleaf Manzanita

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Limber Pine

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Boat Mesa

Eventually, the trail cut across the northwestern edge of Boat Mesa, as it jutted out into the bowl of Bryce Canyon, and then offered views what was on the other side.

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Boat Mesa

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Fairyland

And what was on the other side of Boat Mesa was Fairyland Point and the walls and hoodoos of Fairyland beneath it. Hemmed in between Boat Mesa and a saddle to the northeast, the hoodoos of Fairyland are younger than those in Bryce Amphitheater. Many are still emerging from their walls. Because the cliffs were exposed from south to north along the eastern edge of the Paunsaugunt Plateau, at the southern edge of Bryce Canyon National Park, the hoodoos are past their most magnificent stage. At the northern edge, they’re just emerging.

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Fairyland

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It was just after 1pm, two hours into our hike, when we reached Fairyland Point and began descending along the saddle. We had only seen a handful of people between North Campground and Fairyland Point. Here at the Point, there were maybe two dozen taking in the view, but few seemed to be heading down into Fairyland Canyon.

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Wyoming Bristlecone Pine, Image: Sean M. Santos

Soon we were down among the hoodoos as the trail began a series of casual switchbacks into Fairyland Canyon.

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Coyote(?) Scat

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Fairyland

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Northern Sagebrush Lizard

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In the shade about two-thirds of the way down, we stopped and had a snack before continuing to the bottom of the canyon, roughly 750 feet down.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Rabbitbrush

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Down in the canyon, things opened up a bit. The trail hugged the southwestern walls beneath Boat Mesa. Across the canyon floor, dozens of hoodoos were emerging from the walls.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Wyoming Bristlecone Pine

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Fairyland Canyon

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Fairyland Canyon

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Soon we were ascending again, about 250 feet up the walls of Boat Mesa. Happily, many of our ascending moments were in the shade.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Wyoming Bristlecone Pine

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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An hour and a half after Fairyland Point, the trail turned from its generally southeastern trend and pointed us along a somewhat narrow saddle toward Boat Mesa. From this point, we would trend generally westward back toward the rim.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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From the saddle, we descended slowly into Campbell Canyon, south of Boat Mesa. The long, meandering switchbacks wound through the hoodoos and offered fantastic views in every direction.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Greenleaf Manzanita

Forty-five minutes later we were down in the shade of Campbell Canyon where a Douglas Firs grew above an understory of Greenleaf Manzanita. It was all very fragrant in the afternoon heat.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Tower Bridge

A spur trail led east along the canyon floor to Tower Bridge above us to the south. We actually blew right past the formation and only turned around when we realized that the trail was fast turning into a wildlife path.

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Tower Bridge

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We also noticed a few caves high up in the cliffs.

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Ahead of us was the final mile and a half back up to the rim, a steady ascent some 750 feet up a ridge.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Boat Mesa

Now Boat Mesa loomed north of us.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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China Wall

The trail, baking in the mid-afternoon sun, led up to and then through a long row of emerging hoodoos called the China Wall, presumably after the Great Wall of China.

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On the other side of the wall, the basin was more wooded, which provided some very welcome shade. We passed a couple descending the trail with a small dog, apparently having paid no heed to the signs prohibiting pets on the trails. All told, we’d passed maybe eight other hikers on the loop.

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The final ascent was rough. I’ll admit it. Fairyland Loop was a huge hike for our first full day in our Grand Staircase adventure. Ultimately it wasn’t the distance so much as it was the elevation. 8,100 feet is a far cry from Chicago’s 600 feet.

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It was shortly after 4pm when we emerged onto the Rim. The General Store was nearby so we headed directly there for some cold drinks (I chugged a Gatorade) and snacks.

Afterward, we walked out along the mixed-use trail to the Visitor Center to stamp our National Park Passports. Then we rode the shuttle back to Sunset Campground.

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I think the best indicator of how wiped out I was by Fairyland was how few photos there are once we emerged at the rim. I was too hot and tired to care about snapping images.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

Back at camp, we fell into our hammocks and relaxed until it was time to prepare dinner.

4 thoughts on “Bryce Canyon National Park: Fairyland

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