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Bryce Canyon: Hoodoo chile

Monday, January 26th, 2009


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….

Bryce 1Bryce 2Bryce 3Bryce 4

Bryce 5Bryce 6Bryce 7Bryce 8

Bryce 9

The Grand Canyon: A Big Fucking Hole

Tuesday, January 20th, 2009

It was mid-afternoon, around 4pm, and the sun was already low in the sky, ready to kiss the horizon good night. I drove the big SUV, a Ford Explorer, through the snow covered plains north of Flagstaff, towards the south rim of the Grand Canyon.

I expected the landscape to be more dramatic, but the road refused to budge from its dead-straight line, easing across the lightly rolling land. Christmas trees lined the road, and patches of ice hung onto the asphalt in the shadows.

Entry to the park was paid, only $25 for a 7-day pass for the three of us, and we continued along the road as it began to slowly wind through the forest, yet beyond that the landscape offered no further clues as to the gaping cut that scarred the earth just up ahead. We reached the main village, perched near the edge of the canyon, but still it lay hidden; my eyes focussed on the slippery road, my mind concentrating on driving.

We were moving at little more than walking speed; the roads covered in ice. We began to leave the village. Two cars were stopped just up ahead where a sign showed a map of the area. I put the brakes on, a little harder than necessary.

“Holy fuck! There’s a big fucking hole!”

“What, where?” Bec craned her neck to look down at the road in front of the car, expecting to see a pot-hole that had stopped us in our tracks.

“No, out there!”

She turned to look out the passenger window, where to our right the trees had parted to reveal an earth that simply fell away to depths we couldn’t see, fell seemingly forever, laying bare jagged red walls dusted with snow. She gasped. Literally gasped. I don’t believe I’ve ever actually heard someone audibly gasp before. I hadn’t been to the Grand Canyon before.



I planted the accelerator, and we raced along the canyon’s edge. I wanted to look out the window, but had to watch the road. Cars stopped as four or five deer munched on the icy grass by the side of the road. We kept on, racing the sun as it dipped ever lower. A lookout was reached, cameras set on tripods and clicked and clicked and clicked. Colours changed, faded, slipped away. The sky melted from blue into pink into nothing. The canyon walls cried yellows and oranges and reds, or hid under the snow. The air grew cold, and my fingers began to hurt. Cameras clicked and clicked and clicked some more. Heads were shaken as glances were exchanged and smiles of incredulity spread across faces.

The sun was gone, replaced by a smiling moon. We drove back to our motel to eat some steak and listen to an old cowboy tickle Johnny Cash covers on his banjo.

Next morning was cold. Still dark and real cold as we started the car at a little after 6.30. We made the canyon as the first light began to creep into the sky. The canyon edge was covered in ice that had been worn smooth from constant foot traffic. My feet started sliding, and I crashed onto my arse walking from the car, holding the camera above my head as I landed. No harm done.

A light wisp of cloud swept across the sky and turned slowly pink as the sun, though still out of sight, shed more light on the immense hole below us. It was a mesmerising sight. The desert reds of the land told my eyes that it should be warm out, that the sun should be piercing with its heat, but my fingers were frozen, my beanie pulled down tight over my ears. The first rays brought welcome warmth, and the canyon walls began to sparkle in the light.

We spent the morning driving slowly East along the canyon’s south rim, stopping at lookouts for jaw-dropping views, and stripping off layers as the sun climbed and delivered an unseasonable but entirely welcome warmth.

We left the park a little after lunch, and drove north on Highway 89 across Arizona, through the Navajo Reservation, and across the border into Utah.

USA: Words are overrated

Monday, January 19th, 2009
Words. They're overrated. Well, I reckon, anyway. How do you describe the grandeur of the Grand Canyon, the self-aware buzz of New York, the far-out-are-we-still-on-planet-earth bizarreness of Bryce Canyon in Utah? You can't. Well, by 'you' I mean 'me'. I ... [Continue reading this entry]