Monday, February 7, 2011

Vamsee's list of Must-See Places in the World - Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Utah, USA

It was 1996 and my very first road trip in the US. With a few friends who were studying in Arizona State University, we planned a road trip. Pheonix - Grand Canyon - Sedona - Bryce Canyon - Las Vegas - Pheonix. Lots of energy, lots of driving (sometimes on the wrong side of the road), and very little money. We stayed up some nights (It is a punishable offence to sleep at night in Vegas) and drove all night sometimes to save on hotel money. One such evening, we drove by Bryce Canyon National Park. I was too tired and sleepy to get out of the car, but my friend dragged me out " You have to see this view. It is one of the most beautiful sights in the US", he said. It was sunset time and light was very poor. We parked the car and literally ran to the view point to see it before the sun went down. I remember standing there in awe!!! The view was like an amphitheater of hoodoos or limestone spires, arches and domes of varying shapes and sizes in colors that possibly covered the entire spectrum from pink to orange to red. The setting sun accentuated the orange hues, adding a very dramatic effect to the grand spectacle. Five minutes later, it was all dark and we had to pinch ourselves to make sure we were not hallucinating. None of us had cameras those days!!

Many years later (gosh...this is making me sound like a grandmother!) we were planning a trip for the Memorial Day long weekend (May 2004) and looking for places to drive from Vegas. Zion and Bryce Canyon National Park were the obvious choices. Two hundred million years of raging storms, changing weather patterns and erosion carved these monolithic sandstone monuments. The parks boast of deep orange canyons, mesas, stone formations, limestone spires and many more natural wonders.

Zion Canyon National Park - This is maybe the only canyon park in Utah that has so much greenery. Virgin River flows through the park cutting through gigantic rocks. One of the best hikes in the park is called "The Narrows" where you actually walk on the Virgin river bed. Saru and I walked a mile on it, but turned back because we were not dressed for hiking in waist deep water. Some streches of the hike are so harrow that you have to squeeze between 1000 ft towering peaks!!.Our friends did the entire hike and said it was one of their best experiences.

Bryce Canyon National Park
- As fate would have it, we reached Bryce Canyon National Park just when sun was setting. I did not remember the viewpoint I so loved from my trip in 1996, so we drove through the entire length of the road. I would run out, see the point, come back shaking my head until we reached "Sunset Point". One look and I recognized the place immediately. It was more stunning than what I remembered. The next day, we decided to hike to the bottom of the canyon. It was a small 2 mile hike, but quite steep going down and coming back up. I am not exaggerating when I say that almost every minute, one of us (we were 4 friends) would say "WOW". At the end of the trail we were sick of saying 'wow' - that is how 'WOW' it was. I don't know if it is the orange of the canyon that makes the sky look so blue, but I have not seen such blue skies anywhere in the US. The blazing afternoon sun made the orange look brighter and the cloudless sky as blue as it can be. Without doubt this hike is one of my Top 5 hikes.

Side trips on the way

Pink Sands State Park

Cedar Breaks National Monument

Practical Information

Best time to visit : April-July, Sept-Oct. Winter has a completely different look with snow on the canyons. It can get quite cold in winter and very hot in peak summer.

How to get there: There are a lot of cheap flights from the Continental US to Las Vegas. Flight time is about 2 hours from California. Zion is about 3-4 hours drive from there. Bryce is another 2 hours from Zion.

Getting Around: Renting a car is the only way to get around in most US states.

Lodging: Both Zion and Bryce have lots of hotels and lodges close to the park entrance.