While eating dinner at the Thai restaurant in Cedar City, UT on Tuesday night, snow began to fall, but the flakes were quite large. Large wet snowflakes are usually indicative of a brief snow squall, so we were not very concerned about the condition of roads for our planned drive to Bryce Canyon National Park on Wednesday. What did worry us was the weather report for Bryce Canyon which projected highs in the mid forties and strong wind.
After breakfast at the B&B on Wednesday morning, we gathered our bags and transported them to the Santa Fe. We heard someone scraping their windshield before breakfast, so we were pleased to find only a small accumulation of snow on the ground when we finally poked our heads from the inn and walked across the icy sidewalk. Once we started, it did not take long before we found the main highway that led us to Bryce Canyon. One thing we did, however, omit from our thoughts was the steady climb over a mountain pass between Cedar City and Bryce Canyon. As we gained elevation the amount of snow on the ground increased until it peaked at five inches, but the snowplows were patrolling the pass, and we made the trip without incident albeit at a relatively slow safe pace.
Our next surprise was the long line of cars ahead of us at the entry gate to Bryce Canyon National Park. We assumed that tourist traffic would be light in the middle of the week with cold temperatures, wind and snow present. We were wrong. The entrance gate and the visitor center were crawling with people including a substantial number of international visitors. Fortunately once we left the visitor center and drove the main road, the density of guests spread out. The experience was comparable to a day of skiing at Vail. Upon arrival one is overwhelmed by the crowd of enthusiastic skiers and boarders tromping about in boots, but as the day progresses, the masses spread out over the vast expanse of terrain until one sometimes feels alone in a remote backcountry location.
Our first stop was Sunrise Point, and after gazing in amazement from the overlook at the layers upon layers of canyons and rock formations, we embarked on a brief hike on the Queens Garden Trail. The trail was somewhat muddy, but we each had the foresight to pack hiking boots, and they were secured on our feet for the entire day. We did not descend the entire trial, but turned around once we reached a point where the slope leveled out. After we climbed back to the top of the canyon rim, we hiked from Sunrise Point to Sunset Point. Sunset Point offered the best panorama of the vast Amphitheater area. Rows upon rows of curved canyons, walls, and hoodoos create the impression of the largest amphitheater in the world. The dusting of snow added even more interest to the spectacular vista before us. Come to think of it, perhaps the fresh snow is what brought the mid-week crowds to Bryce Canyon.
Once we returned to the Santa Fe, we continued to the turn for the two mile drive to Bryce Point. Bryce Point is situated southeast of the Amphitheater, and it provided additional spectacular views of the natural wonder. Rather than continue on the main road to the south, we decided to eat lunch. The map indicated there was a picnic area near the North Campground across from the Visitor Center, so we negotiated our way to that area and found a cluster of picnic tables that were partially covered with snow. We expected to make our sandwiches on the table and then retreat to the car; but the sun appeared, and we were somewhat sheltered from the wind, so we had our first picnic in the snow. I found the ice scraper in the car, and pushed all the slush off the table and bench. It actually turned out to be one of the highlights of the trip, as we reveled in our outdoor toughness.
After lunch we returned to the main street and drove the full length of the national park paved road surface. I was navigating while Jane drove, so I made sure we stopped at each of thirteen overlooks. Each displayed its unique beauty, but none were as magnificent as the Amphitheater. By the time we reached Yovimpa Point at the southern end of the park, we were saturated with hoodoos and canyon formations.
After reaching the end of the trail, we reversed direction and exited the park, and then we drove north to Interstate 70. By now we were hearing dire reports of a major snowstorm in progress in Denver, so we decided to interrupt our journey and stay in Grand Junction. Jane called a La Quinta Inn on the western side of Grand Junction and reserved a room. This proved to be a prescient move as Interstate 70 was closed in both directions for periods during Wednesday night. The five hour drive on Thursday was uneventful, and we were pleased to arrive home, although the sixteen inches of snow surrounding our house was a bit of a shock after enjoying ninety degree temperatures in Phoenix.