Bryce Canyon, just over an hour's drive north of our accommodation in Southern Utah, was a stunning, ridiculously enchanting locale. It was small in comparison to the Grand Canyon from where we'd just come, but then, Europe is small compared to the Grand Canyon. America is a place that seldom does small. A car is only considered small if it has less than three axles.
It was the final day of 2008, and the holiday atmosphere had all in a good mood. We reached the park entrance only to find the booth unattended. Entrance was supposed to be $25, so we drove through to the visitor centre and approached the park ranger, informing him of the problem.
Well, he mused, he's probably out for a coffee or something, and I'm not really able to accept entrance fees here. So basically, if you pay on your way out, great. If not, well, happy new year!
Bryce is made up of hundreds, maybe thousands of ‘hoodoos'; tall soldiers of orange rock that line the slopes looking not unlike the giant termite-mounds you find in the Australian outback. Our guidebook described them as looking like melting sandcastles. Being there in the winter meant there were trails of snow banked up on the hoodoos, leaving them looking like a bunch of naked Scandinavians left out in the sun too long; all white snowy hair and burnt orange skin.
After drinking in the view from the rim of the canyon, we walked down into the depths, following a snowy trail through giant amphitheaters open to the brilliant sunshine, where the sky above was the bluest of deep blues. It was like being deep in the ocean and looking up to the sunny surface, as if the graceful silhouette of a whale could go floating over us any moment. We walked deeper through the forests, and into narrow streets between the ever-larger rocks that seemed to glow orange in the reflected sunlight.
Bec wore designer gumboots borrowed from our friend Jill, winter tights, a woollen skirt, a funky short winter jacket, a hand-knitted scarf, and a woollen hat that my Mum knitted. She looked like a 60's model on location for a photo-shoot; the most unlikely looking (but down-right sexiest) hiker you could imagine. This was brought into particularly stark focus as we passed a middle-aged couple (two of the very few other people we saw whilst walking through the canyon), supporting themselves with walking poles and who, at first glance, appeared to be wearing tennis racquets on their feet. They were, of course, snow shoes. This was some serious terrain we were crossing.
The reason Bec was able to rub shoulders with the likes of Federer and Sharapova over there whilst wearing gumboots was due to a nifty little attachment to the soles of her boots called YakTrax. It was a rubber sole that you stretched over your existing footwear, with a criss-cross of coiled wire on the bottom that provided traction. Bec and Jill had purchased them at the park visitor centre on the advice of the park ranger, whilst I, being a male (read: stubborn, ignorant twat) dismissed them with a wave of my hand, assuring everyone within earshot that I had the sure-footing of a mountain goat (cue mountain goat slipping off an icy ledge, Simpsons-style). I even had the friendly ranger convinced; Yeah, you look wiry, you'll be ok.
I proceeded to spend the rest of the day slipping and skating down the slopes, spending more time with eyes trained on the ground in front of me than taking in the stupendous scenery. Wiry can only take you so far people.
The day was a brilliant outing; a wonderful way to spend the last day of 2008, and one of those times when nature's astounding beauty truly does overwhelm you. As always, the photos just don't do it justice....