When last we left our young heroes, they were driving 85 miles per hour in an effort to reach Bryce National Park with enough time to hike the Navajo Loop Trail. Well, we did make it in time (although a little bit more sunlight would have been nice), and promptly set out into the hoodoos.
Bryce is one of the most sublimely bizarre places on the entire planet. The entire landscape honestly looks like a Hollywood set depicting some alien planet. Were it not for the trees, you'd swear you were on Mars. The Navajo Loop trail gives you a quick and jarring introduction to the environment, dropping you quickly down a set of switchbacks and then right through Wall Street. We were in a bit of a hurry, as we knew light was fading. The area near Wall Street was very crowded actually, with a large group of German tourists ahead of us. Rather humorously, one of the women fell flat on her butt (just as if she'd stepped on a banana peel in a cartoon) and all of a sudden we had the views to ourselves.
Once you're out on the other side, you're walking around in a valley just filled with hoodoos and rock formations of all shapes and sizes. The colors are astonishing, and because of it the sky appears more blue than any I've ever seen.
Continuing on, well, we just kept taking picture after picture of hoodoos because it was simply so astonishing. Eventually we made our way back up and out of the canyon (this hike was only about 2 miles long), and loaded back into the Highlander for the trip to the lodge for dinner. After a fairly disappointing meal (at least by my standards....Danielle loved it because the food was so bland) we drove to our room in the Bryce View Lodge which was just past a small group of buildings that seemed to be known collectively as Ruby's Inn. Ruby's Inn was strange, offering a restaurant our guide book said served "consistently atrocious" food, a fast food joint, and a creepy general store at which we purchased some supplies for the day of hiking we had ahead of us (a few thousand calories of trail mix, granola bars, and bagels). We were asleep in our room just after dark, which in this time zone happened around 9:30pm.
After a breakfast of bagels and granola bars, we set out to hike the Fairyland Loop Trail, our biggest endeavor so far on the trip save the ride down the Grand Canyon on Dan and Gizmo. The 8.5 mile hike offered consistently spectacular views, with so many opportunities for pictures it would be impossible to put even a representative sample of them here. One interesting thing to note is that it was cold; very friggin' cold. I did alright in my shorts and fancy REI shirt, but Danielle actually had to wear her jacket for the first hour or so of the hike, as it was windy with temperatures in the 50s. As we wound our way past Boat Mesa, Tower Bridge, and various other named formations in the park, we had several encounters with the local wildlife. First, a cicada landed on Danielle's shirt and basically refused to fly away. Then we passed a pronghorn antelope, something Danielle had only seen for the first time from a distance leaving the North Rim just a few days earlier.
After we completed the Fairland Loop (which took us something like 4.5 hours), we went back to the lodge for our second meal in a row. This time Danielle had the taco bar and I ate a hamburger, and I was much more pleased with my experience. Then it was back out for more hiking (unlike Zion, Bryce's shuttle bus system offered sparse enough coverage as to be practically non-existent, so we were merely driving around in the Highlander all day), with Bristlecone Loop and some other lookout points on the agenda. We saw some bristlecone pine trees, and learned about Witches' Broom, which apparently has taken a serious toll on the population around Bryce. Bristlecones supposedly can live to be several thousand years old, but the one at the end of our trail was...dead. Kind of anticlimactic if you want my opinion. At Yovimpa Point I was convinced we were about to get a good old fashioned thunderstorm (it was probably about 45 degrees with 30 MPH winds), but thankfully we escaped back to the Highlander dry and free of static charge. This point also marked our highest elevation on the trip, at just a shade over 9100 feet.
On the drive back through the park (it was tens of miles to get out to the end), we stopped at a few more lookout points and had an encounter with the bravest raven I have ever seen. This bird had apparently learned that approaching cars on foot was a good way to end up with a free meal, as people were apt to throw food out of the car to him. Eventually his raven friend showed up and the two of them were tag-teaming a group of tourists parked at the lookout.
Then we reached a decision point; our feet were sore but we were otherwise in pretty good shape, and the hour was not yet late enough that we needed to go back to our hotel room. So what should we do? How about another 4 mile hike, a redo of the Navajo Loop Trail combined with Queen's Garden Loop. After some hemming and hawwing we decided to just do it, and we were thankful we put out the effort. We walked through Wall Street again, following our tracks from the night before, then diverged where the two trails intersected and headed off down the Queen's Garden Trail.
After the hike we visited Ruby's Inn once again and took a peek at the menu of the restaurant. Seeing that it was also expensive, combined with our guide book's low opinion, was enough to make us head over to the fast food joint and order a pizza. While Danielle waited for it, I attempted to gas up the Highlander. This was no small feat. First of all, the gas was only 85 octane, something I don't think I've seen for 15 years or more. Second of all, not only was there no option to pay at the pump, but I couldn't even prepay; I had to leave my credit card inside, pump the gas, then come back in to get it. It was just all so totally 1994, just the way I always feel when I visit Reno. So eventually I had gas and went back to pick up Danielle and we retired to our room, pizza in hand. At this point I realized the Penguins game was on at that very moment, and Danielle consented to let me turn on the television. That lasted for about 15 seconds, as the Pens were down 5-0 halfway through the 3rd period. We decided not to do laundry, as we both had enough clothing to squeek by thanks to repeated wearings of our fancy REI shirts and some bathtub scrubbing of underwear and socks, and actually relaxed for an hour or two in the hotel room, with Danielle reading one of the thirteen books she brough on the trip (she didn't even finish one, to my knowledge). This was the only leg of the trip outside of Vegas where we stayed in the same room for two nights in a row, and it was certainly a nice break. The next two days were going to provide a whirlwind finish to the trip, and we were thankful for the extra rest.