Dan and Hannah Hike in Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

When I think of Bryce Canyon, I think of Wayne and Nancy.  Let me explain.

BC 1 Bryce sign

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.

Hitch ASU

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.

BC 1AA BC with no people

Bryce Canyon from Sunset Point

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.  BC 3A D and H in canyon

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.

BC 5 D and H on rim trail

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.

Turley Rothermel 1993 Bryce Canyon

Some of the hikers back in 1993 from left to right.  Nancy Turley, Hannah, Ty Turley, Cara Turley, Janis Turley, Hilary Turley, Will, and Molly

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.

BC 1 parking spot

The penultimate parking spot!

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.

BC D at QV

On the canyon floor heading to the Queen Victoria formations.  Not really a canyon, Bryce is an amphitheater of sandstone delight

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.

BC 2 Navajo Trail descent

Descending the Navajo Trail

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.

BC 2A bottom of navajo trail

Looking back up to Sunrise Point

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.

BC 4C trail to sunrise point

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.

BC 5 D and H on rim trail

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.

Dan and Hannah Hike Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

Kanab, Utah is a Western town you will come to love for its slow pace and easy access to national parks.  It is a mere 80 miles to Bryce Canyon National Park and just 40 to Zion National Park.  Our morning walk before breakfast is through quiet streets of single story homes in neighborhoods where it seems like everyone would know your name.

At the Kanab High School track, a promising young athlete works with her coach before the heat of the day.  Kanab is known as “Little Hollywood” with such television shows filmed here as Gunsmoke and the Lone Ranger.  We breakfast by the pool at the Red Rock Country Inn with biscuits, coffee, and Special K.  And believe it or not, you can get the USA Today at 7A in Kanab!

Driving through the spectacular Red Rock Canyon just prior to Bryce Canyon, Hannah and I smile to ourselves as we revisit a national park that we once took our three children to.  One memorable trip to Bryce was when our family hiked hike with our dear Arizona friends, the Turleys.  Nostalgia rocks (Danny is quite the punster!).  Even though it is called a canyon, Bryce is really a giant amphitheater of brilliantly colored stone formations created by erosion.   At the first stage of erosion, these “fins” weave through the park floor like exposed dorsal shark fins.

At Sunset Point, with salty snacks, water, a sun protecting hat, and sunscreen, we descend on the switchbacks of the Navajo Loop on the way to the Peekaboo Trail.  Once there, the canyon walls bracket us as the trail is sandy smooth and often wide enough for Hannah and me to walk side by side.

Descending on the Navajo Loop Trail

Steep cliffs of the narrow Navajo Trail

With many foreign and homegrown visitors, Bryce gives us many opportunities to engage others in conversation.  We actively seek out others and learn of preferred hikes at Zion National Park and adventures of sleeping in cars because campgrounds are full.  Germans Michael and Anja willingly respond to our opening and tell us, Americans are most welcoming.  This would not be the case if hiking in Germany.  We exchange email addresses and invite them to stay with us in Maine when they visit Acadia National Park.

Peekaboo Trail in Bryce Canyon National Park

Rated strenuous, the Peekaboo Trail rises and falls easily as brilliant vistas showcase “windows” that are created in the fins (second stage of erosion).  They appear around many turns in the trail as if to say “Peekaboo.”

The Bryce guide cautions that mild exertion can cause light-headedness and even nausea.  The Sixth Commandment of the Trail – Know thyself and thy limits. Thy is not as young as thy once was.

A narrow spur trail where we step carefully, but not fearfully, ascends to the canyon rim at 8300-foot Bryce Point.  Our breathing is harder but not taxing.  Whereas all our other days of hiking were sun filled, postcard blue skies, today we have the clouds, and what a blessed relief they are.  As we retrace our steps from Bryce Point back down into the amphitheater to Sunset Point, we stand in awe of the towering soft orange/pink hoodoos, pinnacles of stone formed by wind, water, and ice, the final stage of limestone erosion.

Hoodoo of Bryce Canyon National Park

Let me now underscore the importance of a picnic table at the end of the hike for an afternoon snack.  Without a can opener for our Rolling Rocks (the appropriate brewski for this national park), we seek out the nearest RV and hit “can opener pay dirt.”  We celebrate in this rocking part of the world (the final pun).

Our Peekaboo Trail rating is excellent.   As always when hiking in Bryce Canyon, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.