Friday, September 16, 2011

Peekaboo and Queens Garden - Bryce Canyon

As a place of intricate and colorful geology, there are few parallels in the world to Bryce Canyon. When viewed from one of the many overlooks contained within the National Park, a bewildering array or spires, fins, and hoodoos shaded in pinks, white, browns, and reds compete for the viewers attention. As spectacular as the vista is, it becomes even more dramatic when you venture below the rim and into the land of standing rocks.

In an earlier post on the Fairyland Loop I showcased some of the wondrous sights found in the interior, and there's plenty more to see on other Park trails, in this case a combination using the Navajo Trail to descend, circumnavigating the Peekaboo Loop, and then continuing on and out with the Queens Garden Trail.

This hike is a great way to see much of interior of Bryce Amphitheater, considered to be the main attraction for many visitors. At a total distance of 6.5 miles and an overall elevation change over 3000 feet, it might be strenuous for some, but you'll soon forget tired legs as you wander within the almost surreal landscape.

The journey begins on the Navajo Trail, which descends into the canyon at Sunset Point on the rim. The path is wide and well graded, which is typical of most of the trails found in the developed areas of the Park. Be advised that during the busy summer months you will be sharing the upper section with hordes of tourists, who in most cases only go a short distance for picture taking before retreating.

One of the first notable landmarks is Thor's Hammer, a large hoodoo which tapers to an impossibly slender point with a much larger capstone appearing to balance on top. This formation is archetypal of Colorado Plateau geology, and is sometimes seen caricatured in depictions of western scenery.

As the trail drops below the rim, looking back reveals intricate patterns of layered friezes on the cliff face, a result of the differential erosion responsible for much of the Park architecture.

After a moderate grade at first, the trail makes a swift descent along multiple switchbacks. In this narrow side canyon Douglas Fir trees grow tall, hoping to reach a glimpse of the sky.

At the bottom of the switchbacks, a few trail options emerge. One is to turn north and follow the Queens Garden Trail back to the rim. For those short on time another outing includes continuing on the Navajo Loop, a 1.3 round trip that allows for a "taste" of what Bryce is about. For this hike we continue south to the junction with the Peekaboo Loop.

Peekaboo Loop by itself is 3 miles around, with a fair bit of up and down. I recommend hikers travel the loop in counterclockwise fashion, as this trail is used by the horseback concession, and they follow the loop in the opposite direction. It also seemed to me that the grade was less severe on most of the uphill sections when taking the right turn at the junction, but that is probably subjective.

Climbing out of the canyon bottom there are plenty of reasons to stop and catch your breath, with more of the magnificent scenery unfolding before you.

In many ways Bryce Amphitheater can be considered a labyrinth. This is especially evident on the Peekaboo Loop, as the trail winds in and out and up and down through fantastic gardens of stone. Once again the descriptive terms available in human language fall short, unable to convey the wonder and delight invoked by amazing displays of grace and beauty.

At the apex of the loop, a corral is located where horse and mule riders take a break from the trail.

Beyond the corral the path begins a climb out of the narrows, rising to meet a junction with the trail descending from Bryce Point. Hikers with multiple cars or taking the Park Shuttle can choose this as an exit point, making for a shorter trip.

Continuing on, I wander lost in rapture at the sights around me.

Eventually returning to the starting point of the loop, the journey now heads east and north to resume on the Queens Garden trail.

The trail begins a gradual progress in elevation, first winding up the flanks then attaining the summit of a series of ridges. Fantastical formations abound, and little imagination is needed to see familiar faces and objects around you.

These stone monoliths look eerily organic, like some kind of fungus rising from the ground.

I came across this oddity along the trail. In a land of absolutely amazing sights, human beings feel compelled to make a contribution. In this clearing there are hundreds of stone cairns, a pale imitation of the works wrought by nature.

The Queens Garden trail is named for this formation - a rock hoodoo with a profile that resembles Queen Victoria.

E.T., phone home!

Wherever you look there are statuesque features that catch the eye and tease the mind with the sensation that you've seen them somewhere before.

If it were possible to cultivate stone and grow hoodoos, then Queens Garden is aptly named. I know I am approaching the rim, as more frequent encounters with casual tourists become commonplace. Even so, there is still much to enjoy about the remainder of the hike. Gaining elevation allows for more expansive views of the area, adding to the already diverse range of visual attractions.

As the rim and end of the hike approaches near Sunrise Point, there is ample opportunity to gaze into the depths you've just traversed on the trail. From above the dramatically vertical and upthrust terrain looks nearly impossible to negotiate, but by now you know differently.

Bryce certainly contains enough wonders for those who are content to view the majesty of nature from established viewpoints. But the real rewards lie hidden in the jumbled terrain below, and can only be experienced by those willing to take the time and effort to see it.

Unless of course you are a Clark's Nutcracker, or raven, or one of many birds whose wings allow them to glide and soar over the tops of hoodoos, fins, and spires in a way that I can only imagine. Lucky birds.

No comments:

Post a Comment