Snow dots evergreens in the upper elevations of Zion National Park.
BRYCE, Utah - I love New York, but walking along Bryce Canyon National Park's "Wall Street" inspires more awe than anything I've ever seen in the Big Apple's financial district, even in the best of economic times.
On Bryce Canyon's Wall Street, rock formations carved by erosion known as hoodoos tower close overhead, letting in a sliver of light to showcase two Douglas fir trees more than 400 years old shooting upward. Wall Street, part of Bryce Canyon's Navajo Loop trail, gives hikers a sense of being dwarfed, albeit by red cliffs that are hard to take your eyes off instead of skyscrapers.
It took me a dozen years after canceling a trip to finally get to southwest Utah's Bryce Canyon and nearby Zion National Park. After recently spending six days tramping through the two very different yet equally impressive national parks, at times in fresh snow, I'm not letting that long pass before visiting again.
Just 158 miles northeast of Las Vegas, Zion near Springdale has sandstone cliffs in creams, pinks, and reds that rise above the park's scenic drive and elsewhere in the park. The North Fork Virgin River glides along the park's scenic drive, where the northernmost trail is an easy hike along the river's edge until the canyon narrows to a spectacular view.
Another 78 miles northwest of Zion, Bryce Canyon near Bryce is home to colorful hoodoos in unusual shapes. The main route treks along the canyon's rim, and many stunning formations - including Fairyland Canyon, the Silent City, and a natural archway - can be seen after diverting off at various stops.
Both Bryce and Zion are part of the Southwest's "Grand Circle" of national parks, monuments, historic sites, and recreational areas, including Grand Canyon National Park. After flying into Las Vegas and renting a car, I used Springdale at Zion's south entrance as my home base, staying in a family-run motel with a picturesque view of cliffs that became fiery at sunset.
The northwest part of Zion National Park features the Kolob Canyons, the entrance to which is located off U.S. 15. They are well worth a 24-mile detour heading to or from Las Vegas.
My crowning achievement on the trip was hiking to Zion's Observation Point, a 2,148-foot ascent to 6,508 feet above sea level. From there, Zion Canyon was spread out before me, and chipmunks, a turkey vulture, and other wildlife could be watched, too, although the vulture later got a bit too close for my comfort when I could hear its wings flapping.
Getting to Observation Point can be tough, especially the four-mile trail's initial steep switchbacks. But once they are past and the trail heads into Echo Canyon, where I spotted a bighorn sheep on the way back, the rest of the climb seemed to go quickly and easily despite more switchbacks and areas of unprotected drop-offs.
Branching off from the Observation Point trail, I braved some long drop-offs to get to the mouth of Hidden Canyon. On other days, I hiked to the Upper Emerald Pools, enjoying views of the lower and middle pools along the way; the Watchman trail, where I got a good view of Springdale from above; and part of the East Rim Trail where I enjoyed snow.
As at Bryce Canyon, various formations can be seen off Zion's scenic drive, including the Court of the Patriarchs, the Temple of Sinawava, and Angels Landing, another popular summit for hikers to reach. Those who follow the Zion-Mount Carmel Highway to Zion's east entrance will go through a 1.1-mile tunnel carved through rock on the way to other formations, including the Checkerboard Mesa.
Beyond the east entrance is Bryce Canyon, where I allotted myself one day but easily could have spent more. The drive goes through Red Canyon, which more than earned its name in the brilliant morning light.
After arriving at Bryce Canyon, I drove south to Rainbow and Yovimpa points, where you can see both hoodoos and mountains beyond. Then I worked my way back to the Bryce Amphitheater region, hitting each observation point to get better looks at various canyons and formations, along and among which are hiking trails.
Between Sunrise and Sunset Points, I walked down into Bryce Amphitheater for a few miles, checking out the Queens Garden Trail, Navajo Loop, and spectacular Wall Street. The climb out was a doozy, but at least there are good views while resting on the switchbacks above Wall Street.
I nearly missed Fairyland Canyon on my way out of the park out but luckily decided to drive a mile off the main road to Fairyland Point. As the name suggests, the hoodoos there are particularly fanciful, and I walked along a trail that leads to Sunrise Point.
Bryce Canyon's Wall Street, however, has forever earned my love.
Contact Julie M. McKinnon at:
IF YOU GO
Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks are located in southwest Utah, and both are within 300 miles of Las Vegas.
Bryce Canyon: Bryce, Utah; Information: www.nps.gov/brca or 435-834-5322. Open year around. Entrance fee is $25 per car and is good for seven days.
Zion: Springdale, Utah; Information: www.nps.gov/zion or 435-772-3256. Open year around. Entrance fee is $25 per car and is good for seven days.
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