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Discovering Bryce’s best

By Allen Holder
The Kansas City Star

This story originally appeared in the August 12, 2007 edition of The Kansas City Star

ABOUT THE PARK

Bryce Canyon was established as a national monument in 1923 and became Utah National Park in 1924. In 1928 its name was changed to Bryce Canyon National Park. The park comprises nearly 36,000 acres in southwestern Utah. The park draws 1.5 million visitors a year, said ranger Kevin Poe.

Even in midsummer, temperatures rarely reach above the mid-80s. That's partly because Bryce sits anywhere from 6,620 feet above sea level at Yellow Creek to 9,115 feet at Rainbow Point.

Bryce Canyon is not really a canyon. "Real" canyons are valleys created by flowing water, and they're usually V-shaped, formed by two walls, ranger Jan Stock said. Instead, Bryce is a series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters that sit where a huge lake was 50 million years ago.

WHO WAS BRYCE?

Ebenezer Bryce was a Mormon shipwright, carpenter and cattleman who lived in southern Utah with his wife, Mary, and their family from 1875 to 1880. Their name endured long after they left the area. When the National Park Service took over the land and began looking for a name, people who lived there said, "It already has a name: Bryce's Canyon."

Bryce was once asked about the area's unusual landscape. He reportedly responded: "It's a hell of a place to lose a cow."

RANGER ACTIVITIES AND GREAT WALKS

Interpretive talks and walks are almost always worthwhile. Check the visitor center for a list of current activities. Here's a sampling of this summer's schedule:

Family hikes: A walk to Mossy Cave on the park's north edge shows a different side to the park -- water. A small waterfall and stream give kids a chance to play.

Sunset walk: Leisurely hike along the rim of Bryce Amphitheater explaining the geology and legends behind the hoodoos.

Astronomy programs: At least twice a week visitors can get a hands-on chance to see what the dark-sky fuss is all about. Full-moon hikes are held two nights a month.

It may be tough to tell one hoodoo from another after a while, but not all hikes are alike at Bryce Canyon. A few to consider:

Rim Trail: If steep walks down (and then up) aren't for you, the mile between Sunset and Sunrise points climbs only 15 feet, from 8,000 feet above sea level to 8,015 feet. The entire Rim Trail is 11 miles long.

Fairyland Loop: This eight-mile loop tends to be steep -- 2,309 feet down or up -- but it's well worth the effort. It leads past some of the park's celebrated and ancient bristlecone pines and up to some wooded areas with expansive views. Look for the Tower Bridge and the China Wall.

Queen's Garden: One of the park's most popular trails, this is the least strenuous path into the canyon, dropping only 320 feet along 1.8 miles. This is not a loop, but it can be if you follow the steeper Navajo Trail back to Sunset Point. Two things to watch for: the figure of Queen Victoria near the bottom of the canyon and the Wall Street side of Navajo Trail, closed because of a 2006 landslide.

Peekaboo Loop: This 5 1/2 -mile loop offers more spectacular scenery. It originates at Bryce Point, which offers stunning sunrise views without the crowds of Sunrise Point. It's rated strenuous.

PLANTS AND ANIMALS

Bryce offers no single animals in large abundance but a large diversity because of the park's changes in altitude, park ranger Kevin Poe said. Among the animals you're most likely to see are prairie dogs, mule deer, pronghorns, ground squirrels, chipmunks and lizards.

The park's most notable tree is the bristlecone pine, at left, said to be the oldest known living thing in the world. Some in the park may approach 1,700 years old. The short, bushy bristlecone has deep green needles in clusters of five. The branches are bushy at the end. Look for bristlecones especially on the Bristlecone Loop Trail from Rainbow Point and Fairyland Loop Trail from Fairyland Point. Also common are piñon and ponderosa pines, junipers, firs, aspens and manzanita.

TRAVELER'S CHECK | BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK

Getting there

Bryce Canyon National Park is in southwestern Utah, about 260 miles south of Salt Lake City or 270 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Round-trip, restricted airfare between Kansas City and Las Vegas recently ran from about $145; to Salt Lake City from about $275.

Many travelers combine trips to Bryce Canyon with other national parks in southern Utah. Zion National Park is an 80-mile drive; Capitol Reef, 120 miles; Arches, 270 miles. The north rim of Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona is 160 miles away.

Getting in

A seven-day vehicle permit costs $25. Individual seven-day passes are $12 and sold to pedestrians, bicyclists, motorcycle riders and persons on group tours. Annual passes cost $30.

If you're planning to visit several national parks in the next year, an America the Beautiful annual pass costs $80 and permits access to national parks and other federal recreation sites. Call 1-888-ASK-USGS or see store.usgs.gov/pass.

A lifetime senior pass for citizens or permanent residents 62 or older costs $10. Lifetime passes for permanently disabled American citizens are free.

Getting around

Between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. from May to September, free shuttles run from Ruby's Inn outside the park to Bryce Point, with stops at the visitor center and popular park sites. Buses run every 12 to 15 minutes.

Where to stay

Bryce Canyon Lodge, inside the park, was built in 1925 and is a National Historic Landmark. It is the only one of four original Union Pacific Loop Tour lodges still standing. 70 rooms, plus three suites, one studio and 40 cabins. Open April 1-Oct. 31. $140-$159. 435-834-8700, brycecanyonlodge.com.

Best Western Ruby's Inn, 1000 S. Utah 63, Bryce, dates to 1916 when Reuben Syrett established a ranch in the area. Today the inn is a sprawling complex of lodge buildings, restaurants and retail. 370 rooms and suites. Through Sept. 30, rates begin at $130. 800-468-8660, rubysinn.com.

Bryce Canyon Resort, 139 W. Utah 12, Bryce, has 71 units, including 12 cabins, from $95 to $179 in summer. 866-834-0043, brycecanyonresort.com.

More than 200 campsites are available in the North and Sunset campgrounds for $10 a night. North Campground reservations are available for an extra charge May 15-Sept. 30. 877-444-6777, recreation.gov.

Where to eat

The Cowboy's Buffet and Steak Room at Ruby's Inn, 1000 S. Utah 63, offers a dinner buffet that runs $16.99 for adults and $9.99 for children 3-12. The menu also includes steaks, from $14.99; St. Louis-style Rustler's Ribs, $16.99; and Ranch Hand Pot Roast, $12.99. Ruby's also has a fast-food restaurant.

In the park, Bryce Canyon Lodge's menu includes Oriental Mandarin salad, $7.50; Red Canyon Grilled Trout Almondine, $16.95; and Fairyland Crème Brie and Apple Stuffed Chicken, $18.50.

The restaurant at Bryce Canyon Resort, 139 W. Utah 12, has smothered chicken, $14.99; fajitas, $14.99; and South West Alfredo pasta, $13.99.

Hikers can grab sandwiches, drinks and snacks at the General Store near Sunrise Point.

To learn more

Contact Bryce Canyon National Park at nps.gov/brca.

WHEN TO GO

Bryce Canyon experiences more than 200 days a year when temperature rises above and dips below freezing. Temperatures generally rise above 90 degrees Fahrenheit only in June and July. Thunderstorms are frequent in July and August.

Jan. Feb. March April May June July Aug. Sept. Oct. Nov. Dec.

Normal daily high 39 41 46 56 66 76 83 80 74 63 51 42

Normal daily low 9 13 17 25 31 38 47 45 37 29 19 11

Source: National Park Service

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