life list item #39: hike and photograph bryce canyon

When Kristina was a toddler, we met Bill Zabriskie.  He was a bit of a nomad and jack-of-all-trades.  He was also a dear, kind man – my daughter and I both loved him like family.

Bill traveled in a pick-up truck, carpentry tools at the ready, and had family all over.  For Christmas, he made his own cards, and donated his time in the name of family members.  He was an awesome uncle.

One warm afternoon, we got to talking about places we had been, places we wanted to go, and he asked if I’d ever been to Bryce Canyon.

“What?  No?”

“Oh man, you have to go there.”

Out at his truck, he rummaged around until he located a thick packet of photos. As he showed them to me, he kept saying, “These do not do this place justice.  I’m only showing them to you so you’ll get an idea.  You have to go there.  This place is spectacular.”

He spoke with a reverence about Bryce.  He ran out of adjectives for what he was trying to say, but his message was clear – he was deeply moved by this place, and wanted me to share that.

Bryce has been on my list since then.

We’ve long since lost touch with Bill (are you out there, Trip?), and I’m sad about that.

Especially because I now know exactly what he meant.

Ed and I took a road trip to Utah in April 2005.  We visited Zion and Bryce Canyons, and have planned since then for a return trip.

Zion is magnificent, grand, epic.

As you drive down the highway, the vegetation gets more sparse, the sense of expectation grows.  That canyon has to be somewhere near here, right?  At least, that’s what the map says.

Then you round a hairpin curve to find yourself staring back up the canyon, stone walls rising beside and ahead of you – you realise you’ve been driving beside the canyon for miles.

At this point, I wept.

I wanted to look everywhere at once.  I tried.  Then I turned to Ed with tears streaming down my face to say, “I had no idea such a place even existed.”

Another time, I’ll talk more about Zion.  This post is really about Bryce.

on the road between Zion and Bryce

Bryce is magical, alien, barely real.

You walk to the edge, try to imagine how this place was created, wonder at the giants and gods who make this their playground.

You hardly believe this landscape of hoodoos will still be there when you wake up the next morning in a cabin just 30 yards from the sharp rim.

But it is.  And it’s even better in the rising sunlight.

The rim of Bryce Canyon is at 8,000+ ft.  The canyon drops away sharply from there.  We arrived in mid-April, with winter still firmly in place.  Every vista includes red rock, green ponderosa pines, and drifts of white snow.

At that elevation, the air is delicious – clean, fresh, spare.  (They claim some of the best air quality in America – I believe them.)

Visibility – day or night – is unparalleled.  Our photos clearly show rock ledges and mesas that are 5, 15, even 30 miles away.  At night, the stars in Southern Utah are the finest I have seen, outside of the Pacific Ocean sailboat crossing.

Hoodoos are the daytime stars of Bryce Canyon.  These vertical formations are scoured from the rock by wind, water, sand, and erosion.  Each one is different, a delicate balance of structure and spirit – some defy gravity.

Ed and I took photos for days – at sunset, at sunrise, from the rim, and as we hiked down into the canyon.

We also made a point at times to not take photos – to simply be there, to take in the magic of the place, to be still with it.

Because Bill was exactly right: the photos may help you remember the canyon, but they cannot possibly do it justice.

We try anyway.  It is in our nature.

Rather than stacking them up here, I’ve put together a little slideshow.  I do this so that you will have an idea.  But, really…

Dude, you have to go there.  I hope you do.

bryce canyon from Jet Harrington on Vimeo.


  • Very nice post. I’m heading to Zion and Bryce in a few weeks and I was wondering if you had lodging suggestions? I really want to stay in one place if possible for 3 nights but be able to get in the parks early and shoot the sunrise. Springdale seems to out of the way to get to Bryce. Any suggestion would be much appreciated. J

    • Thank you, Jaime for your visit and your comments. We stayed inside the parks at the National Parks Lodges. Each lodge has rooms in the main building, and small one-bed cabins as well – we opted for the more private cabins.

      The cabins are rustic, nothing fancy, but serviceable. And we spent our days out hiking in the park anyway. At Bryce, the cabin had a gas fireplace, as well.

      Our main reason for staying in the NPS Lodges was the same as yours – easy access, for sunrise and sunset shots. We were so glad we did.

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