Let’s just get this said upfront and out of the way – any lavish praise you hear of Bryce Canyon is totally justified.
I spent two months of a summer in Salt Lake City, some 13 years ago now, and still remember clearly being reminded almost on a daily basis that I must make the effort to travel south and see Bryce Canyon before I returned home. Well, that opportunity never presented itself, and I’ve always wondered if I missed out.
Now I can tell you, I did.
But no longer! For I have now witnessed the enchanting beauty of the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.
We certainly enjoyed the couple of relaxing days afforded us in our primo boondocking spot in the forest. Well, I did anyway. Cycling, reading and sewing; I had fun. Loops on the other hand did battle with the generator, changing out the oil and filter in it. Oh, but he did get to watch the Sunday NASCAR racing he enjoys so much (the crashes are really why he watches it).
It wasn’t until our final morning that we actually went to visit Bryce properly. We had popped into the park the first evening we arrived and watched as the sun slowly dipped down, setting the hoodoos blazing to life. And let me tell you, they are quite unlike anything else I have ever seen.
If you are unfamiliar with the term hoodoo, it is the name given to the tall, upright, totem pole looking limestone structures that are scatter throughout Bryce Canyon. They are created primarily through the process of freeze and thaw erosion. They start off as full and solid rock structures before the softer rock areas are eventually worn away, leaving gaps in the rock face and ultimately leading to the more durable rock being left standing in a much thinned and slim-line version of their former selves.
It’s not only the shapes or their numbers that make them a visual delight, but the colours that saturate them. In their simplest forms they can be described as red, orange and white. But for anyone who has seen the hoodoos up close and personal, well, that just seems bland and rather insulting. A better description would include words such as flame, cinnabar, copper, coral, salmon, earth, chalky, deathly and buff.
Which is to say that spending a brief moment in their company was simply not enough, staring out across the canyon wasn’t going to do justice to such natural and intriguing beauty, we had to get up close and personal.
The National Park Service has done a great job making Bryce Canyon easily accessible while still providing a rich walking/hiking experience. If, like us, you want a walk that gives you a sense of achievement, but not so much that you need to have a mountain climbing level of fitness, go and take a wander along The Queen’s Garden trail. This trail leads you gently down into the canyon along a series of switchbacks and small tunnels taking you through the rock face, and eventually to floor level. The trail allows you to experience the wonder and splendour from both above and below; allowing you to stand next to, and walk right up to, the hoodoos. Everything you look at is beautiful and breath-taking. Everything.
At the end of our trail is there is a sign. It explains that some of the hoodoos have become shaped into things that are roughly recognisable – and this trail has led us to, of course, something British. Looking upwards, in front of the sign, perched high above, is Queen Victoria.
I’m not lying. There is seriously a hoodoo that has somehow randomly been shaped into the form of the Queen Victoria statue in London. It’s impossible not to see the shape. It sticks out to me like a sore thumb. And it makes me grin.
And yes, by the way, there are other people around, but today this does not bother me. I don’t know if it is just that I am so absorbed by what is surrounding me, or simply the fact that people are slightly spaced in distance while walking, but my enjoyment of the canyon isn’t in any way diminished by the presence of others, the way it was at Zion.
Looking at the hoodoos, there is only one element that makes this experience slightly sad. The hoodoos, being the product of erosion, will one day themselves, vanish. According to the National Park Service information, the hoodoos are eroding away; 2-4 feet every 100 years. OK, so while that may not be cause for immediate alarm, it is a poignant and melancholy thought; I am seeing something that, if people are still around in a thousand years (and let’s not get into that thought!), this may just be a memory for them, a story from history.
And on this thought we move northwards, traversing the length of Utah. Our destination? Provo, third largest city in Utah. While the city itself isn’t much to chat about, the drive up there certainly is.
For our route from Bryce we choose to take both two Scenic Highways – 12 and 89. And how scenic they are! We leave behind the fiery rocks of the south and head into a changing landscape, one of river canyons, pasture fields, arable farms and finally mountains. Huge, snow-capped mountains. And my heart sings to see them.
Loops rather charitably lets me drive along this route, choosing a fairly flat stretch with fairly little traffic. Yes, I can drive Belle, but certainly not with the same level of ease that Loops exhibits. I sit in a totally rigid position, arms locked on the wheel, eyes dead centre, and try not to move an inch; my body is a tightly coiled spring vibrating from the effort of concentration. My eyes must dart every now and then to the dials on the dash to ensure the engine isn’t overheating, the oil isn’t boiling, we still have air pressure in the brakes and, of course, I must check the rear camera to ensure that The Beast is still following happily behind us.
This is not a case of enjoyable driving. It is a thrill, but a terrifying one. I am happy once again to be relieved of my duty and allowed to simply enjoy the beauty from the windows while I crochet in my comfy seat.
Provo Elks Lodge offers us their last RV site, it has full hook-ups and some pretty jaw dropping scenery for the centre of a town…
See what I mean?
We are actually here for two reasons; the first, to sit out a heavy rainstorm which Loops didn’t want to risk doing on soft forest ground. The second reason, so I can pop in to see an old friend of mine (in length of time known, it’s not like I’m not calling her ancient or anything).
Back in 2004 (oh, how long ago!), I spent two months completing an internship at The Tracy Aviary, located in downtown Salt Lake City. I sweated my backside off through the height of summer, doing bird shows, slap bang in the middle of a high altitude desert. And what fun it was too. I met some fabulous people, two of which I have been planning to see on our westward trip – Rhonda, who lives on the outskirts of SLC and Lacy, who now lives in Portland, Oregon.
So the following morning, while Loops gets Belle ready to move, I take a few hours to drive over to see Rhonda; 8 years since I had last seen her (while passing through after my sister’s wedding). I really can’t put into words just how thankful I am for the people in my life, my friends and family. I don’t quite know how I’ve managed it, but I have somehow gathered together a diverse selection of friends over the years, from all around the world and all walks of life. But not only have I succeeded in meeting these people, I have also been lucky enough to retain and maintain these special friendships to such a point that I might not have seen someone for an immense length of time and yet, I can walk into their home and sit for hours and catch up on life, feeling like I had only seen them last week. And for that, I am eternally grateful.
I do really think the highlight of my trip to see Rhonda had to be, while discussing her fast approaching trip to Europe (leaving in three days), Rhonda declares, “Now, I have to ask for your fashion advice…” For those of you who know me, you might understand why I just burst out laughing. First time ever I have been asked for fashion advice for living in England. Or ever, really.
Once I say my goodbyes to Rhonda, I head over to where I assume Loops is waiting for me, a Cabela’s car park where we will be boondocking for the night. I arrive to find the car park devoid of Belle. There are plenty of other RV’s, but my bus is not to be seen. I give Loops a call to make sure everything is OK, after all, I’ve been gone several hours. He’s still at the Elks Lodge, faffing. Well, I’m sure not faffing (much), but he’s not going to be here for another hour.
So I take a turn around Cabela’s (massive outdoor camping/fishing/hunting shop) and buy some fuel for my camping stove, so that I can boil water on mornings when we don’t have power for my kettle. Once that’s done I wander outside, plonk myself on a handy picnic bench with a view of those big mountains and chat to my friend Kerry from England hearing all about her exciting job training dogs to assist people with dementia; while I wait for Loops.
Not to worry, he does eventually show up.
I spend a pleasant afternoon indoors, sewing, while staring at the mountains. And with a view like this, who can blame me?
I find it incredibly comforting to be here. These mountains are familiar to me. This whole area feels, in a way like a second home. Apart from hiking the trail, Utah has been the one place where I have spent the most time living (stationary) in the US; living a normal, working, independent life. And still, even after so long, it makes me comfortable and happy to be here again in the ring of the Wasatch Mountains.
Our final day in Utah is jam packed, from dawn til dusk. We shake a leg in the morning to be able to dump the tanks (free at Cabela’s!), drive to the petrol station and fill Belle with diesel before making our way into Salt Lake City proper to go and visit some Mormons. Well, not the Mormons specifically, but their Family History Library; where you can attempt to track down your family tree, which Loops would very much like to do.
The staff (or volunteers, I’m not sure) are more than happy to welcome you in and show you how to use the computers. Now, once again, my experience of those of the Mormon faith has always been pleasant; everyone I’ve met has been nice as a cup of tea and a biscuit. But it does have to be said, today I am feeling slightly overwhelmed and a tad creeped out by the assistance we receive in the building.
The lady at the front desk ask what we are there to do, insists on taking our names and giving us name tags for all to see, escorting us up to the 2nd floor in the elevator and then sitting with us (after gathering in another Mormon chap in the process) while we search their website for past family members.
Loops is having some success tracking down a couple ancestors. Me on the other hand, well, I feel smaller and smaller with every attempt. Bearing in mind I didn’t come here for any reason other than to accompany Loops on his quest, I am at a loss when the lady insists on pressing me to try and search the computer. According to her, you can only track down people who have passed away, and their census records only go back to 1940. Now, because I don’t know my extended family very well, this makes it very hard to, on the spot, try to recall details that will enable me to search for anyone. The only person I can think of is my dad, and I already have the information the machine can tell me (his death notice in the papers and where he lived).
Still, the lady sits staring at me expectantly and I think is beginning to suspect me of being either some type of spy there to steal Mormon secrets, or maybe that I was just dropped on a doorstep somewhere after I was born. She also keeps referring to my husband (4 times now) and with her already tainted opinion of me I feel too embarrassed to explain Loops is my boyfriend, not my spouse, in case she starts citing some type of scripture at me or something.
I try to dredge up some information about my grandparents, trying to locate a record for my grandmother who passed away just last year. Try as I might, I can’t find any record for her. I try her married name, maiden name, year and place of death etc. Nothing. I try my grandparents on my dad’s side next. My information here is a little sketchier, but I have the details close enough they should show me something – even a census record should pop up because I darn well know my grandparents lived in their house for all of my life and I’m pretty sure my dad’s too! Zip. Nada. Nowt.
OK, the lady is really suspicious of me now, looking me up and down in a distrustful way, and I’m glad when Loops finally decides he’s found as much as he can and we can leave.
Our final miles through Utah are picture perfect. We decide to hit one last National Park Service location before we cross the border into Idaho, reaching the Golden Spike National Historical Site with only 30 minutes until they close.
Golden Spike, you really have to want it. It’s in the middle of nowhere. Which makes the grassland scenery all the more special if you get a chance to drive through it, and the experience of reaching the visitor centre an achievement.
We are here for trains. Trains and railroads.
Back in the 1800’s while the west was still being settled, the east coast of the USA had become, in comparison, well developed. They had a successful railroad system allowing travel and business to flourish. The west however was still not linked to the rest of the country by rail, due to the Rocky Mountains sitting in the way and needing to be bridged or tunnelled, a huge undertaking. In 1863 work started on a railroad running from Sacramento in California, to Omaha in Nebraska, where it would then be joined to the rest of the railroad that had already reached that far westwards.
Golden Spike is situated in Promontory, Utah, the point at which the very last railroad tie was placed and the final spike was driven into the ground to make the railroad one whole line.
Of course, this railway system has long since become defunct and been replaced as technology moved onwards. It certainly doesn’t take away though from the significance of the achievement of making this railway line happen in the first place. Somewhere between 8,000-10,000 workers – made up mainly of the unemployed Irish, Italian, German, Chinese, Civil War veterans, previous slaves and even some Native Americans – worked to learn to lay between 2-5 miles of track per day, crossing a span of 1,776 miles of desert, river and mountains to complete the line in approximately 5 years.
They had to survey the land for the best route; prepare the track bed using black power, picks and shovels; dig tunnels and build high wooden trestle bridges; lay ties and spikes for the actual track as well as add poles for the accompanying telegraph system.
Golden Spike, so named because the last spike to be driven in was a ceremonial one made of gold, has a visitor centre explaining the era of the railroad, what workers lives would have been like and describing the ‘Hell-on-Wheels’ pop-up towns that appeared wherever the work crews did (consisting basically of bars and brothels).
The special part of this place though is the trains. There are two of them, reconstructions of the two original trains which made the first journeys using the track. Today, when we visit, the train on show is the Jupiter, a steam locomotive; the original model had been owned and operated by Central Pacific Railroad, eventually being sold for scrap in 1909.
We have arrived just in time for the end of the public demonstration where the Jupiter is chugging up and down a short stretch of track, blowing its whistle and clanging its bell. Although it is only a short line for it to move forwards and backwards on, it is still an impressive sight and somehow instils a sense of history, helping to transport you back in time to when this train was the most modern of sights and sounds.
Given that we are standing in a huge open valley, every time the whistle blows, it reverberates and echoes around the valley, bouncing off the surrounding hills. It all makes for a very romantic and dreamy western setting. I expect any moment to see ladies in big billowing skirts, chaps in suits and hats and some soot-marked train workers in the background.
While not a long visit, it was certainly worth the detour for it.
It’s not long after we leave (and after we pass a rather unusual compound that looks like some type of explosives and biochemical weapons factory) that we cross over the state line and Loops and I swap seats. I get to drive the bus again!
This time I have an excellent stretch of road to cover, over an hour of just pure straight road, there’s hardly even any curves in it. We are well and truly in farming land, passing field after field of arable crops, all of them receiving a liberal dosing of water from sprayers – they’ve obviously had a good winter snow here in Idaho, resulting in plenty of water to irrigate with. The sprayers are everywhere you look. And I mean everywhere. There is not a single field in sight that doesn’t look like the outside of the Bellagio Hotel with all its fountains; they just need a music system to set them to.
Our long day is coming to an end. As the sun sets, in a state of panic, I am allowed to steer the bus off of the motorway and take a few turns down the narrower roads to bring us to the Snake River Elks Lodge, just outside the town of Twin Falls. I have to have Loops give me clear guidance on how to take the corners (“Turn now! Turn, turn, turn!”), but we arrive, safe and sound and in one piece.
Now it’s time to go and meet the locals…..