Utah State Highway 12 near Capitol Reef National Park, April 22, 2012

(Torrey, Utah, April 22, 2012) Last night, after bidding our friends in the Hiking Zion and Bryce Canyons program a fond farewell, Cameron and I met another group of Road Scholars on their way east. They’re on a ten-day program touring Zion, Bryce, Anasazi State Park, Capitol Reef and Arches National Park, and Lake Powell, with stops at a number of museums along the way.

Road Scholars hiking into Bryce Canyon, April 22, 2012

It’s a different experience, with less strenuous hiking and a more intellectual exploration of Utah’s natural wonders. But we begin where we left off, with a hike into Bryce Canyon and its magnificent landscapes. It’s fun to see a new group of participants experience this one-of-a-kind environment.

Larissa Matthews inside Bryce Canyon, April 22, 2012

Later in the day, we’re off to the Colorado Plateau and Escalante National Monument. We’re above the top of Bryce, which we remember is above Zion, which is above the Grand Canyon. It’s a mind-boggling concept, but our new program coordinators, Chrystal and Marc Deshowitz, are more than up to the task of guiding us through it. Sometimes, the reality of where you are has a way of putting conceptual musings into their proper contexts.

Kenneth Matzner at the Anasazi Museum, Boulder, Utah, April 22, 2012

Vistas that were overwhelmed by the unique worlds of Zion and Bryce have opened up quickly, and we can see for hundreds of miles as we drive east. Anasazi State Park, with its ruins of Native American settlements, reminds us of the people who shared these geological wonders with us long ago.

And finally, we arrive in Torrey, positioned for two days in Capitol Reef National Park, which is out of the way enough to record the fewest annual visitors of any National Park, but beautiful enough to boast the highest percentage of repeat visitors. We can’t wait to find out why.

Geologist Marc Deshowitz describing the view from Boulder Mountain, April 22, 2012

Geologist Marc Deshowitz describing the view from Boulder Mountain, April 22, 2012

(Bryce Canyon City, April 22, 2012) A look back at our week in Zion and Bryce Canyons, in pictures.

The Virgin River and Zion Canyon from Angel’s Landing, April 18, 2012

Valerie Bassett, hiking in Snow Canyon, April 17, 2012

“If it’s red, chances are it’s Navajo Sandstone. If it’s black, it’s always lava. And if it’s white, that’s because the sand that blew into here had a low iron content.

Snow Canyon, April 17, 2012

Gayle King and Joan Jennings, Angel’s Landing Trail, April 18, 2012

Nini Sherwood hiking Angel’s Landing Trail, Zion, April 18, 2012

Morning in Zion National Park, April 19, 2012

Bob and Sue Trower, Snow Canyon, April 17, 2012

Jane Roe enjoying Snow Canyon, April 17, 2012

Claron rock in hoodoos and coarse sand, Bryce Canyon, April 20, 2012

Bill and Linda Provencal, Snow Canyon, April 17, 2012

Cross bedding on the rocks of Echo Canyon, Zion, April 19, 2012

Jen Conners hiking out of Angel’s Landing, Zion, April 18, 2012

Sharon and Roy Michaels in Echo Canyon, Zion, April 18, 2012

Linda Burns on the banks of the Virgin River, Zion, April 19, 2012

The hoodoos of Bryce Canyon glowing at dawn, April 21, 2012

Steve Mach enjoying the sunrise at Bryce Canyon, April 21, 2012

A window in the limestone cliffs of Bryce Canyon, April 20, 2012

Sun and shadows on the hoodoos of Bryce at dawn, April 21, 2012

Thank you, Marcia and Keith, for a great adventure in Zion and Bryce

Bryce Canyon’s hoodoos glowing at dawn, April 21, 2012

(Bryce Canyon City, Utah, April 21, 2012) Joan Jennings, one of our fellow participants, thought it would be a good idea for us to see sunrise over Bryce Canyon. Last night she suggested it to Marcia, who agreed to it if at least ten of us would go.

The morning hike down to Queen’s Gardens

This morning at 6 am, twenty-one Road Scholars boarded the bus and headed to the canyon. The no-colors gradually gave way to pinks and tans, and then deep reds and deeper shadows as the sun rose over the horizon. There probably weren’t twenty-one happier people for hundreds of miles.

The morning sun reaching further down into the canyon

Later in the morning, we hiked down into Bryce Canyon to the Queen’s Gardens and Wall Street to see the hoodoos up close and personal. Today was the day I learned that canyons really do look better from within. It’s a lesson I won’t soon forget.

Queen Victoria in hoodoo sandstone

One of the hoodoos famously looks like Queen Victoria. There is a certain resemblance, but some of us could swear we heard, “Albert, does this hoodoo make our arses look fat?”

But I digress…We continued our hike along the canyon and back up to Sunset Point to end our day of hiking and have lunch along the trail before heading back to St. George and our farewell dinner. It’s been a fantastic time, one we’d all like to repeat someday, particularly with program coordinators and geologists like Marcia Cooper and Keith Norlin.

Marcia Cooper’s famous laugh, Bryce Canyon, April 21, 2012

Bryce Canyon from the top, Friday, April 20, 2012

(Bryce Canyon, Utah, April 20, 2012) After breakfast in Zion, we take a two-hour drive east to Bryce Canyon. The grasslands of the Colorado Plateau dotted with small towns, and the town of Bryce Canyon is no different. We’ll stay here tonight, but we’re only passing through on our way to hiking along the rim of the canyon.

A hoodoo stands tall in Bryce Canyon

Marcie and Keith tell us that Bryce is as spectacular as Zion in its own way, and they’re right. The higher rocks that form Bryce are softer, and they’ve eroded into columns of red sandstone capped by harder white limestone. These “hoodoos” (not a scientific term) stand upright until the limestone cap wears away, and then they dissolve into coarse sandy hills.

Roy Michaels of Monterey, California, hiking along Bryce Canyon

Science aside, they’re beautiful. Native Americans believed they were people who were punished for evil deeds and turned to stone, but that seems like a harsh way to describe formations so elegant and inspirational.

As we hike along from Sunset to Sunrise Points, we get to beta-test listening devices so we can hear Keith’s geology talks as we hike at our own pace.

Las Quatras Amigas - Vicke Chegwin, Janice Cross, Annie Fischer, and Lorrie Gervin, of Southern California.

It’s a great idea, but gradually the spirituality of Bryce Canyon takes over, and we move into silence — first by turning off the devices to experience Bryce’s natural beauty without interruption, and then when we gather near the end of the day for two minutes of total silence convened by Marcia. It was a highlight of the day.

We end the afternoon in the same constant state of motion – alternately leisurely, challenging, and social – but always with deep appreciation for the unique natural beauty that surrounds us. Thank goodness there’s another day of hiking tomorrow.

Hiking to Fairyland Point, Bryce Canyon, Utah