When I think of Bryce Canyon, I think of Wayne and Nancy. Let me explain.
Living in the shadow of Arizona State University in the 1970s, Hannah and I were recently-weds when Wayne and Nancy came into our lives. I was scuffling along as an elementary school teacher, looking to find my way – wondering if teaching was for me. Hannah, too, was searching; she tried nursing school, but the paperwork and condescending doctors sank that ship. Since tuition for us as in-state residents was $300 per semester at ASU back in the day, she, without much financial pain, gave the counseling program a shot.
In her studies, Hannah met Wayne, who was teaching a course in motivation for the Educational Psychology Department. Hannah loved the class that fall semester; and then Hannah, being Hannah, invited Wayne and his wife Nancy to our house in Tempe for dinner. We clicked and the magic began.
Though six years later we moved from Arizona to raise our family in a small town on the coast of Maine, we have never lost our love of the West, its trails, its national parks, and its Nancy and Wayne.
In 1992 when our family of five traveled West, our four-cylinder Subaru wagon pulling a homemade trailer could barely climb the mountains of Wyoming, Utah, or Arizona. That’s when Nancy and Wayne came to the rescue. Near their home in Mesa, AZ, they found a mechanic who diagnosed the problem as a radiator working at 30% capacity on a vehicle that was never meant to tow a trailer of any size. Later, leaving the Valley of the Sun (Phoenix Metro Area) at 1100’, they towed our trailer with their GMC Yukon to Heber at 8000’ in northern Arizona so we could roll downhill from there for home in Maine.
The following year, Nancy and Wayne arranged for their family of eight (soon to be nine) and ours of five to camp at the KOA (Kampground of America) in Panguitch, UT and hike in Bryce Canyon together.
Whenever we would fly to Arizona for a week, they would seamlessly add our five to their household, treating us as family.
They are stunning folks; they think when we are together, what would make Hannah and Dan’s visit enjoyable? And they love playing card and board games. They are the ones who taught us Mormon Bridge; now the Family Rothermel’s favorite card game.
On this first Sunday in June, we return to Bryce Canyon National Park with memories of the Family Turley on our mind. Years ago, both families hiked down the switchbacks of the Navajo Loop here in Bryce Canyon.
Today, the ranger at the visitor center at Bryce Canyon shows us that we can do that very same loop trail starting at Sunset Point, take the switchbacks to the canyon floor, and return up the cliff side to Sunrise Point. Though just three miles in length, the trail at 8000’ elevation is a workout.
Being 945A, the ranger suggests we park our car at the lot across from the visitor center and take the shuttle. Hannah sees the wisdom of such a move while all I see is waiting and more waiting. Waiting to get the shuttle, waiting as we ride the shuttle all the way to the end of the park and then finally get back to Sunrise Point. And that’s just the half of it. Because we’d wait all again on our return.
I hate waiting. I’d rather not go than wait. Turning to Hannah, I and say, I’d like to take our chances of finding a parking spot by driving to Sunset Point. No fan of waiting herself, she agrees. Driving just three miles to the Sunset Point parking area at 10A, we enter to what appears to be a packed parking lot. But… after circling just once, we find one of the last two sweet spots. Faith, my loyal readers, faith.
Preparing to hike, I wonder how my left knee with its patellar tendinitis will hold up on this fourth hiking day in the last five. Having stretched earlier, I take my Tylenol, pull on my compression sleeve, and give it a go.
Descending through the red sandstone walls of the Navajo Trail, we are among the fit and unfit who think that this shorter 1.3-mile loop is something they can easily do. It’s a fairly rapid descent of 600’ down and that same 600’ up! The switchbacks do make for a family-friendly descent and, from time to time, the high walls shade us from the penetrating sun.
At the bottom, we cross the canyon floor towards the Queen Victoria Loop, and eventually we see Sunrise Point high above us. And then beneath my compression sleeve, I feel the first twinge in my left knee. There is no shuttle service for aching hikers; I have little choice but to man up and climb to the rim.
Climbing the switchbacks to the rim at Sunrise Point, I am reminded of the August hailstorm (at 34F) eleven years ago that attacked us when we last hiked to Sunrise Point. Today, the cloud cover keeps the temperatures in the low 80s, but it’s still a bitch of a climb.
Nearly to the rim, I realize I am feeling no pain at all; throwing caution to the wind, we decide to hike along the rim for a mile and a half to Inspiration Point. In many places, there are no protecting fences, and any fall off the trail is sayonara.
Climbing from Sunset Point at 8000’ to Inspiration Point at 8500’ is relentless, but… the rich red in the rock formations makes every vista a moment for memorable photography.
Returning to the Sunset Point after three hours of hiking, over lunch, we toast Nancy and Wayne first, Bryce Canyon second. We got to have our priorities.