Just a four-hour drive from the bright lights of Las Vegas, NV, the grandiose Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah offers a memorable hike.
It was the first time I started a hike by looking down into a deep canyon. The famous Navajo Loop at Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah descends steeply from the rim into a shadowy canyon filled with pale orange and dark ochre surfaces and then loops around in a gentle climb to return to the starting point. My fiancé, Paul, brought me to Bryce Canyon, promising a stunning and unusual hiking experience like no other, as he remembered it from his visit many years before. He hadn’t mentioned this steep downward path, and now he stood looking over the rim with me.
“Should we do this?” he asked, “or would you rather take that trail over there?” He pointed to an alternative footpath with a gentler slope. We looked at each other and then down the 550-foot drop. We had come this far because of a shared passion for hiking, beauty in nature, and outdoor exercise, but we also craved adventure, and that meant taking the plunge down the Navajo Loop Trail together — one carefully placed step at a time.
One Trip, Two Environments
Paul and I enjoy hiking in nature, typically through local forests and along nearby rivers and streams. I’m also driven to experience unique and beautiful man-made environments, including cities and buildings with striking architecture and distinctive interior design.
The trip ultimately was planned to combine both types of experiences, starting with one of my favorite cities, Las Vegas, which Paul hadn’t visited before, and then driving a scenic four hours to Bryce Canyon for some hiking. Las Vegas also happens to be the closest and most convenient major airport to this park. The contrast between the two environments would be striking, and we looked forward to the experience.
This desert city shimmers with lights both day and night and attracts millions of tourists for stellar entertainment, fine dining, and sightseeing in addition to gambling. For me, the city provides opportunities to tour stunning hotels and restaurants with distinctive décor, including the beautiful Bellagio hotel inspired by Italian villas and the Luxor hotel constructed in the shape of a pyramid.
I took Paul to the Paris Las Vegas hotel to enjoy a cup of espresso in a café in a beautifully reproduced Left Bank neighborhood. Afterwards, we ducked into a French bakery and viewed the giant Eiffel Tower from the base. The illusions may not have been perfect, but they were romantic nonetheless.
Next, we strolled through Wynn Las Vegas. The whimsical lobby with decorative foliage and Gaudi-like mosaics on the floor never cease to delight me. In the wee hours of the morning, the lights of Las Vegas were still shining, the Strip was still bustling, and the clubs were still pulsating with sound. Before retiring for the night, we enjoyed a final view of the night skyline from our hotel room on the 11th floor.
Leaving the man-made wonders of Las Vegas behind, we headed northeast, briefly crossing over the northwest corner of Arizona before moving into Utah. Signs of civilization soon became scarce as the road carved through desert cliffs and plateaus.
Bryce Canyon has several features that make it special. For one, it’s not really a canyon, according to geologists, but rather a series of natural depressions called amphitheaters, each decorated with hundreds of hoodoos, which are thin spires of rock formed by water freezing and unfreezing within the rock over centuries. The result is a spectacular environment that can best be appreciated by hiking through it.
With an average of 1 million visitors per year, Bryce Canyon is earning a reputation for being fairly crowded from spring through fall. We arrived in late October and were thankful to see minimal crowds. Emily Moench, Public Relations Manager for the Utah Office of Tourism, says more people are visiting Bryce Canyon during the winter months than in the past, possibly in an effort to enjoy a more solitary experience and daytime high temperatures that are typically in the high 30s to mid-40s.
The astonishing descent on the Navajo Loop Trail turned out to be less difficult than it looked, owing to frequent switchbacks reducing the steepness of the incline. Once we arrived at the bottom, the secrets of Bryce Canyon unfolded foot by foot, mini-canyon by mini-canyon. From shadowy, narrow passageways at the bottom of the initial descent to an open courtyard dotted with desert trees and open-air trails that snaked around crimson and scarlet rock formations hundreds of feet high, the canyon offers surprises around every corner.
My mind struggled to describe what my eyes were seeing. It was otherworldly, fantastic, and a lot like a fairyland. The sun shone brightly overhead, warm but still comfortable at 8,500 feet elevation. The peacefulness and the breathtaking beauty of this place really struck a chord in me. Bryce Canyon captured my imagination and imprinted itself upon my memory.
Returning to Las Vegas, the contrast with the solemnity and grandeur of Bryce Canyon’s stone sculptures could not have been more profound. Fortunately, there was no need to choose between them. We hope to return someday to both the pleasures of Las Vegas and the magnificent example of nature just a short drive away.
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