After the mob scene at Zion yesterday, I have to say I was a little apprehensive about what we’d find at Bryce Canyon on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried.
For one thing, of course, we got an early start — we met for breakfast at the restaurant next door to our hotel at 7:30. The dining options 6 miles outside of Panguitch, Utah, are somewhat limited. I’m sure this comes as a shock. But the place had a perfectly good, though limited, breakfast menu. We had plenty to eat and plenty of coffee, and the waitress, who almost certainly was the wife of the cook and probably the co-owner, had a pleasantly flippant manner.
We got to the park around 9, and a very pleasant ranger was directing traffic at the General Store where we parked. I asked her where one might look for Clark’s Nutcracker, as it was the bird I really had as a target for the park. She was sorry, but she’d only started at Bryce a week ago, and didn’t know. We had a nice chat anyway, and she gave us tips on how to avoid the crowds as the day went on.
We decided to start with what is billed as the easiest hike into the canyon, the Queen’s Garden. While looking for the trailhead, and while the rest of the group was admiring the view, I saw a bird in a dead pine tree and got a good view of it: Townsend’s Solitaire! A lifer, and one I hadn’t really been thinking about that much.
Eventually we started down the “easiest hike into the canyon”. I think it’s safe to say that the other hikes into the canyon are pretty strenuous. The trail was less than a mile round trip, but it has about 400 feet of vertical, and most of that is in a couple of steep sets of switchbacks. Robin elected to sit out the bottom half and wait for us, and she was still pretty tired by the time we got back. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful trail with great views of some really amazing rock formations.
On the way back up it started to rain a bit, so we figured we’d drive down to the far end of the road and check out overlooks that were easy to reach.
The ranger had also suggested the Bristlecone Pine Trail, which is accessible from the very south end of the park road. We stopped at several overlooks, had some very nice views, and finally got to Rainbow Point. Robin decided to hang out at the car while the rest of us walked the Bristlecone Pine Trail. As it turns out, it was actually easy, especially by comparison with Queen’s Garden.
We did get to see some very old bristlecone pines, and it was a great walk through fir-spruce forest at over 9000 feet elevation.
When we got back, we drove north to a parking lot in a burned-over area. Looking for Three-Toed Woodpeckers. No luck on that, though we did see a Downy Woodpecker, some Western Bluebirds, and a couple of Mountain Bluebirds — finally I got a good look at one with binoculars.
For the finale, we thought it would be interesting to go to Mossy Cave. This is an area off Highway 12, not really connected to the main park road, where there’s a waterfall and a cave with a perennial seep. It’s down around 6000 feet, so the terrain is much more desert than the rest of the park that we’d seen. We had started walking in when I heard a raspy call, I thought, and I stopped to see if it would repeat. I was thinking Clark’s Nutcracker, but it didn’t happen again, so we moved on. We stopped again to look at a Broad-Tailed Hummingbird perched in a tree, and Robin said “What’s that sound?” It was the rasp again, and this time it came repeatedly from some trees on the cliff next to us. Pretty soon Hamner spotted motion, and I got the binoculars on a Clark’s Nutcracker! Another one flew in, and all of us got good looks while I got some pictures as well.
By this point I was pretty happy, and in a great mood to continue up to the waterfall. This is a cool place; the Mormons dug a diversion channel to siphon some water from the Sevier River through the pass to Tropic, Utah. In some places they used existing washes, and converted them to occasional paths of runoff to a permanent stream. The resulting waterfall is an unexpected oasis in the desert scrub. Nearby, water seeps out of the sandstone and drips from the roof of a small cave before running down the main stream.
We had a great little hike, and Robin agreed this one was worth the trouble. From there, we went to Bryce Canyon City outside the park gates, and had dinner.
Tomorrow is a long day — over 9 hours drive from here to Santa Fe.