Bryce Canyon, named for Mormon Scotsman Ebenezer Bryce, an early homesteader near the Paria River beneath the pink cliffs of Bryce Amphitheater, was declared a National Monument in 1923 by President Warren Harding. Five years later, after the requisite private properties were purchased and state properties were transferred, Bryce Canyon was upgraded to National Park status. The Park protects the southeastern rim of the Paunsaugunt Plateau and the spectacular towers of pink rock, called hoodoos, that descend from the plateau’s rim into the basin below. For all its fame, the Park is diminutive, only thirty-five thousand acres, and it is surrounded by portions of Dixie National Forest, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and private land.
We woke before dawn on Sunday, September 11, in the hopes that we would be able to see the sunrise from the rim of Bryce Canyon. Looking up, we saw some clouds, but we decided to walk the short distance to the rim anyway to see what we could see.
Aquarius Plateau and Sinking Ship (foreground) from Bryce Canyon National Park
On Friday, September 9, 2016 Sean and I began our trip down the Grand Staircase with an evening flight to Phoenix. More often than not, this was our modus operandi, to fly out after work, stay overnight near the airport, and begin the trip proper on the ground in the morning wherever we were. That Friday, I was more than ready to be gone. It had been a very long week at work, culminating in issues with a new vendor. (I’d ultimately be proven right in my assessment of their shoddy service.) But either way, it would be good to do some hiking in a place I’d wanted to visit since childhood.
Twilight at Bryce Canyon National Park
In 2016, the Centennial Year of the National Park Service (although National Parks had existed for decades prior), Sean and I embarked on a mini-journey to calibrate our Park trips so that by the end of the year, we’d both have visited the same National Parks. That meant that we had to travel to Yosemite, Shenandoah, Dry Tortugas, and Grand Canyon. Along the way, we picked up other Parks near those four so that by the end of the year, we’d visited eight National Parks and thirteen National Park units.
After Yosemite and Channel Islands in May and Shenandoah in June (and Muir Woods, Golden Gate, and Point Reyes in August), we planned to visit the Grand Canyon in September. We knew that we’d want to pick up at least one more Park on a visit to the Grand Canyon. Very early in our planning, we considered a relatively short trip to the South Rim and Petrified Forest National Park, which is near the top of Sean’s list of Parks to visit. But we decided that an extended long weekend was giving both those Parks short shrift.
It was the early afternoon of Friday, August 12 as Sean and I made our way up the California coast north from Muir Woods National Monument and Golden Gate National Recreation Area to Point Reyes National Seashore. Established in 1962 to prevent impending development, the National Seashore protects over 71,000 acres of the California coast as a patchwork of federally-designated wilderness and “pastoral” lands used by ranchers. The Seashore comprises most of a huge, roughly triangular peninsula, Point Reyes, which sits on the eastern edge of the Pacific Plate, while the adjacent mainland is at the edge of the North American Plate. The two plates are separated where the peninsula connects to the mainland by the San Andreas Fault.
In August 2016, in the midst of our Centennial Year goal of eight National Parks, Sean and I unexpectedly visited three National Park Service units that were not National Parks.
After having spent ten days in late May in California, in August Sean and I spent another week in the state. It would ultimately be the second of three trips to California that we would make within nine months. The first trip’s goal was to visit our friend, Patrick, at the Getty and hit two National Parks: Yosemite and Channel Islands. While we were there, Sean mentioned that he’d likely be coming back in a few months as his firm rolled out a new software at its offices across the country. Back in May, I’d dismissed out of hand the idea of returning with him. But as the summer progressed, I found myself persuaded.
In August 2016, Sean’s firm sent him to Los Angeles and San Francisco for a week. On Sunday afternoon, August 7, we were treated to spectacular aerial views of southern Utah and northern Arizona. In particular, we were able to see Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, and Grand Canyon National Park, all from the comfortable cruising altitude of American Airlines Flight 2220 from Chicago O’Hare to LAX.
Lake Powell, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Black Bear Cub
After our excursion to Hawksbill Summit, Bethany, Sean, and I returned to Big Meadows campground to strike camp. We’d done some preliminary work toward this before the hike, and now we had about an hour to finish up before the noon checkout time. Bethany would be driving home to Pennsylvania that Sunday afternoon, July 31. And Sean and I had a flight to Chicago departing at 6:13pm, so we still had some time in the Park, certainly enough to explore the Visitor Center and have a picnic.