Surreal beauty at Bryce Canyon

Bryce Canyon boasts the largest concentration of spectacular “hoodoos” in the world, from tall pointy spheres to otherworldly, precariously balanced free-form sculptures.

Southern Utah has a lot of beauty to behold and some of its most magnificent landscapes can be found at Bryce Canyon National Park.

Attracting about 2.7 million visitors per year, Bryce Canyon National Park might be a bit crowded but is way more manageable to navigate than neighboring Zion National Park, which hosts 4.5 million visitors annually.

This May, my boyfriend David and I were lucky enough to spend a day at Bryce Canyon, which is about 70 miles outside of Kanab, where we were staying for a long weekend.

The drive includes miles of bucolic small towns and family farms, before ascending into winding mountain roads. Since Bryce Canyon is at an altitude of 8,000 to 9,000 feet, there are tall Ponderosa pine and fir trees beautifying the drive — making you wonder, where are the canyons that the park is famous for?

Be patient. They’re just a few miles from the ranger station, where you’ll pay $35 for a 7-day pass and receive a map of the park. The fee also includes access to a shuttle, which stops at the most popular points and trails.

Luckily for us, we were able to find a parking spot quickly at the Rim Trail lot. From there, it took about 100 yards to be blown away at the scene below us, a seemingly endless amphitheater of rocky formations called “hoodoos” in every size, shape and hue of gold, rust, orange, red and white.

Formed over thousands of years, Bryce Canyon boasts the largest concentration of spectacular hoodoos in the world, from tall pointy spheres to otherworldly, precariously balanced free-form sculptures.

After looking in awe for several minutes, we noticed something. There were tiny dots of movement in the canyon below. Sure enough, there was a hiking trail called Queens Canyon at the far left of the rim. At just 2.9 miles of fairly flat, straight path, it’s the easiest of the dozen or so hikes available at Bryce Canyon.

Though we didn’t have more than a couple of bottles of water between us, David and I decided to descend into Queens Canyon along with the masses. Every twist and turn brought us to yet another incredible formation or canyon, all set under a brilliant blue sky. It was like being on the most beautiful soundstage possible. Of course, it’s a photographer’s paradise, so we stopped along with everyone else for the requisite selfie or taking turns posing against the insanely beautiful backdrops.

After about a mile, we headed back to the rim, which was a bit more strenuous than the way down, but worth every inch of the climb.

Hungry from our impromptu hike, we headed back into town, which features many non-descript fast, casual places serving pizza, hot dogs and burgers at high prices. Determined to find something better, we cruised along for a few more miles until we came across Bryce Canyon Pines.

With its rustic wood décor and country accents, Bryce Canyon Pines could have been another tourist trap, but we were more than pleasantly surprised with our meals: a savory bison cheeseburger and tender, juicy grilled chicken sandwich with creamy avocado and thick Applewood smoked bacon served on fresh, fluffy focaccia bread.

To top it off, David had a piece of lemon cream pie, a revelation of tart, sweet and creamy atop a textbook flaky crust. The perfect end to a memorable day.

Bryce Canyon National Park, Highway 63, Bryce, Utah 84764. Open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Bryce Canyon Pines, 2476 UT-12, Bryce Canyon City, UT, 84764. Open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

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