“I just can’t go on any longer,” I told myself. This was definitely not the positive self talk I needed to get myself through this hike. This trail seemed longer, hotter, and more draining than I had imagined. I mean, after all, how treacherous can a trail named “Fairyland Loop” be? It sounds so dainty.
It was a ten miles hike. I knew this, but somehow in the excitement of being here in Bryce Canyon National Park and meeting up with my friend Dom, I had forgot two essential things, sunscreen and a sufficient amount of water. On top of this, I had already fallen into the canyon onto a cactus. This trail experience was a little rough, but it was also amazing, and I’d do it all again, given the opportunity.
The name Fairyland Loop is quite appropriate for such a trail, because it’s such a fanciful, other worldly, colorful trail, with bizarre rock formations and hoodoos around every winding turn.
Hoodoos are columns of rocks that are soft, (if we can consider rocks soft for a moment ), but these formation have a hard capstone protecting the towers of rocks from complete erosion. They stick up like pillars and are a rather rare geological feature. I have seem them in Arizona and Kentucky also, but not to the the extent to which they are present in Bryce Canyon. This park is known for them and they are everywhere. The Fairyland Loop wanders around the base of many hoodoos and descends to the base of the canyon. The descent has one walking by sections of bright white sand and soft orange rocks. It meanders around the canyon floor, through sparse pine forest, and at one point passes by Window Arch, an iconic feature of the park- a window of erosion through a large rock protrusion, which looks like a fanciful piece of planned architecture.
As we hiked along the canyon floor, Dom and I talked a lot about teaching. We are both public school teachers, but in different states, myself in Kentucky and him in Indiana. We were talking about things most people find thrilling, such as state requirements for certification, teacher evaluation methods, and professional development in our districts.
Bryce Canyon, and particularly this trail, is a very charming place. It evokes such a unique feeling from any other National Park. Inside the canyon after getting over the possibility of encountering a mountain lion, I felt sheltered and protected, as if this was a place I belonged in. The warm colors of the rock were inviting, the pines relaxing. In many ways it was like walking through and being a part of a very fine piece of artwork. It all seemed so intentional, designed to soothe the soul and fold me up in the arms of the Creator.
As kind as my description may be, then some realities set in. As we began to ascend an island out in the canyon, the sun was beating harshly, and I realized I forgot to apply and pack sunscreen. The hot sun was stinging my skin. I had a light hoodie in my backpack, and although considering the heat it wouldn’t be preferable, I put it on the hoodie and stretched the hood over my head to protect me from the sun. It sufficed.
We then came to the top of the rock island and hiked out to a small peninsula. A few pines stood to provide shade, and short shrubbery blanketed most of the ground. Here we gazed onto another iconic feature of the park- The Sinking Ship. In the distance before us, a protrusion of land dipping into the canyon sinks backward creating a convincing image of a sinking ship. The formation was named very appropriately and was definitely worth the hike.
At this point of the hike I was beginning to wear out, and so I had a seat on the peninsula. I explained to Dom how it would be such a great place to camp- a place of remote isolation, nice shade and beautiful views in all directions.
Unfortunately we could not camp here, we had to continue one. The trail slithered around some narrow passes down, up, and around the canyon. On this final leg of the trip I ran out of water. I had only brought with about a liter and probably needed about three liters. The National Park Service advises in arid climates to be prepared with a liter per hour.
Finally, after about 8 miles, the trail guided us back on the canyon rim, where the main infrastructures of the park lie -the entrance, visitor center, lodge, roads, overlooks, and campgrounds. It was still a two mile hike back to our campground. I was extremely weary. The fact that this was my first major hike this trip at high elevation contributed to this exhaustion. I don’t think my body was ready for it. It had not adjusted, and the realization of this was the moment when the thought creeped in, “I just can’t do this anyone.”
My hiking pace began to slow down dramatically, and I was forcing my body to continue. Dom also expressed his tiredness. He was in all the same forgetful predicaments as myself, but he plowed on, leaving me literally in the rocky dust. I needed a break. I sat down on the canyon rim with my legs hanging over the end, resting on a slope of rock slide which fell beneath the stance of some large hoodoos. I casually pushed some rock with my feet, listening to a pleasing pinging hollow sound as the small rocks and pebbles clanked into the hoodoos. I did this a couple of times until I realized I was abusing the landscape and needed to let things be. I also wasn’t sure if there were other hikers below. I didn’t want to be showering them with rocks and knocking them out. I picked myself up and hiked some of the longest two miles of my life along the rim back to camp.
This predicament of exhaustion was ironic, because I had secretly passed major judgement on Dom thinking he was ill equipped and lacked the experience for this hike. So it was fitting and justified that he left me behind and crossed the finish line before me. My pride needed to be humbled.
\Once back at camp I drowned myself in some Gatorade and then water. We had anticipated taking showers and drove to the general store within the park where the coin showers were located. However, they had just closed up shower access for the day. The general store was in a log cabin type structure and was well equipped with food and supplies. I enjoyed a piece of everything pizza and a Chobani yogurt. I sat the the porch out front for a minute and took in the peacefulness of the evening.
Back at camp I organized my trunk. On this trip I was living out of my rental car, and most everything was organized in a specific location in the trunk. Clothes were in the far rear organized in piles. To the right was the camping section of all tents flashlights, and other gear. To the left was the “kitchen”- where extra storage bags, paper towels, and canned food items resided. Behind the clothes was my suitcase, which only contained things I did not need immediate access to. On top of that was the main food storage unit- a thin plastic tub filled with nuts, dried berries, and protein and granola barns. On top of that was a backpack which served as electronic department, with my Chromebook, spare batteries, cords, and cameras. I had this down to a science. Going on a camping trip and not being organized doesn’t work well for me, because I end up spending so much time looking for things around the car or not realizing all I have with me. Everything needs to have a place and be ready to be accessed on demand.
After I got organized, I built a campfire with Dom as the sun slipped below the horizon. We sat there by the fire with a sense of accomplishment from hiking the Fairyland Loop and having our vehicles organized. I was ready to make s’mores but discovered my chocolate had completely melted to liquid. First Dom cooked his rice dish and I cooked my pizza pockets. Then we then made our chocolateless s’mores as the stars began to make their bright appearance and campers retired for the night. Tomorrow we would explore more of Bryce Canyon. (Note: pizza pockets do not taste very good cooked over a fire)
Read the previous entry “Falling into Bryce Canyon,” here: https://joshthehodge.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/falling-into-bryce-canyon