There are no two ways about it: Bryce Canyon is incredible. Located in the high desert of southern Utah, Bryce is a place where your imagination can run wild, especially when it comes to the distinct, trademark rook formations called hoodoos. According to a Paiute Indian tale, the hoodoos are not simply rock; they were alive and the were not necessarily benevolent.
“Before there were any Indians,” the tale goes, “the Legend People… lived in that place. There were many of them. They were of many kinds — birds, animals, lizards and such things — but they looked like people…. For some reason the Legend People in that place were bad. Because they were bad, Coyote turned them all into rocks. You can see them in that place now, all turned into rocks; some standing in rows, some sitting down, some holding onto others. You can see their faces, with paint on them just as they were before they became rocks. The name of that place is Angka-ku-wass-a-wits. This is the story the people tell.”
A strange story, to be sure, and one that invites exploration. Perhaps the best way to get close to the Legend People is to take a hike on the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail. It’s only three miles long, but what the trail lacks in length, it makes up for in mind-blowing scenery.
The hike begins and ends at Sunset Point, just a short drive south of the visitor center. There are full amenities in the parking area (flush toilets and running water!). Peer into the canyon at one of the numerous overlooks to get an idea of the strange land you will soon be hiking through. The park service recommends doing the loop in a clockwise fashion, and
who am I to argue with its expertise? The Queens Garden Trail is accessed from the canyon rim at Sunrise Point, and hikers are immediately sent switchbacking down the trail almost 400 feet. Right from the start, the views are superb. Hikers stroll by an amazing variety of hoodoos and other rock formations on their way to the bottom, passingthrough small doorways carved right through the rocks. Cool stuff, indeed.
Upon arriving at the bottom, you may be be surprised by the landscape. Instead of the standard slick rock and sand terrain of southern Utah, you will find large groves of Douglas Fir and Ponderosa Pine thriving in the area. Scrub oak and numerous wildflower species complete the diversity of the region. Continue hiking south and let your mind wonder. The tale of the Legend People is brought to life before your eyes as you scan the area for formations.
Hikers soon arrive at a four-way junction; Navajo Loop or Wall Street will take you back to the top. I cannot recommend the Wall Street trail enough. Turn the corner and get ready to be amazed: Two close, high walls give the impression of a slot canyon. Smack in the middle of the crack are a few gigantic Douglas Fir trees that extend all the way to the light above. Take a rest under one of these giants and get ready for the steep hike out.
The NPS has done a great job easing the pain of the ascent. Switchbacks are well worn and wide enough to accommodate two lanes of foot traffic, something that the Wall Street portion of the trail is never short on. Hikers from all over the world make the trip to Bryce and Wall Street is a big attraction. On your way back to the top, you pass Thor’s Hammer, one of the most well known hoodoos in the park.
Make sure to stop at the overlook near Silent City, a group of rocks that lives up to the name. The visitor center at Bryce boasts that the Queens Garden/Navajo Loop Trail may be the most beautiful three miles in the entire park system. Quite honestly, it’s tough to argue with that claim.
Ryan Malavolta traded the urban lifestyle of the East for the tranquility of Western wilderness in 2005 and hasn’t looked back. An avid hiker, backpacker and snowboarder, Ryan seeks adventure in and around Utah. Whether it is the high peaks of the Wasatch Mountains or the slot canyons of the Colorado Plateau, you can bet he’s out there no matter what the season. He is a regular contributor to UtahOutside.com. Follow his personal blog at kepeusa.wordpress.com.