Bryce Canyon – “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”

Highway 12 is a most scenic drive through the Red Canyon

Bryce Canyon, UT

It was late October and my wife, Lynn, and I had just finished visiting Arches and Canyonlands in typical fall desert warm weather. We left Moab in plenty of time to get to Bryce Canyon National Park in the afternoon. The plan was to scout the park looking for the best sites to take photos during the golden hours that evening and the next morning. Mother Nature, however, had other plans for us. As we checked into our hotel, about 20 minutes from Bryce, it started to rain. The rain was to continue, very heavy at times. There would be no golden hour that evening, but we went to the park anyway to become familiar with its layout. We would be traveling there in the dark to arrive in time for the morning sunrise.

Along the way, tunnels were carved in the Red Canyon walls to make room for Highway 12

Our home for the night was a newly built hotel on Highway US 89 just south of Panguitch, UT and just over 20 minutes from the park. We rose early to be sure we arrived in the park in time for sunrise. The last thing I had to do, however, before we left our hotel, was to remove the three inches of snow that had buried our car overnight. Only a mile or so from our hotel is the turnoff to Bryce Canyon via Highway 12. The road through Red Canyon is one of the most beautiful sections of the drive. Giant red rocks tower over the pines in the Dixie National Forest, adjacent to Bryce Canyon National Park. The photos of Red Canyon shown here were taken on our return from Bryce Canyon as it was still dark when we left for the park.

At 8000 feet (2400 meters), snow in October is not uncommon

We soon discovered that there are closer hotels to stay at Bryce Canyon than the one we chose. We were happy where we were, but we could have slept in a bit longer to get those sunrise shots if we had stayed closer to the park. There are plenty of amenities for visitors in all seasons just outside the park.

Driving through the winter wonderland of the Dixie National Forest

As it was, we started toward the canyon a little bit later than I would have liked; as it turned out, even though it was daylight, the sunrise above the mountains was delayed as the horizon in the park is probably around the 8,000 ft (about 2400 meter) level. The rangers were not at the entrance and the visitor center was not open yet, but the main drive was open for traffic into the park.

Hoodoos, unusual pillars created by the random nature of erosion, abound in Bryce and Red Canyons

Having done my research online, I learned that Bryce Point would be a great place for sunrise photos. As it turned out, the single road through the park was closed just past the Bryce Point turnoff. There would only be two areas from where we could take photos until the snow was cleared from the roads. Bryce Point and Paria View would be our only options this morning.

Photographers setting up their equipment at Bryce Point a few moments before sunrise

We arrived at Bryce Point just a few minutes before the sun rose above the peaks in the east. A small collection of photographers were already there, tripods and cameras at the ready to capture the magic moments soon to be upon us. Throughout the hour or so that we remained at Bryce Point, photographers, amateur and professional alike, came and went. As we were leaving, a large tour bus was disgorging its passengers into the parking area.

That magic moment when the sun peeks above the horizon and bathes the clouds above in a fiery glow

Bryce Point provides a view of hundreds of hoodoos

The snow clinging to a nearby plant attains a golden glow while the valley below is still immersed in blue shadows

As the sunlight penetrates the shadows in the valley, larger and larger sections of the red rock acquire a beautiful golden color

Photos do not begin to show the majesty of the view of the canyon at sunrise. Upon leaving Bryce Point, we drove down the other side road into the Paria View parking area. I wasn’t sure what to expect as unlike at Bryce Point, there were no wheel tracks in the snow. Nor were there cars in the parking area when we arrived, about an hour after sunrise. Though not as spectacular as Bryce Point, Paria View is not to miss. I believe it would be better for photographers in the evening golden hour.

Paria View remains in the shadows much of the morning

One of the last views of the park at Paria View entices us to return soon

The major section of the park is to the south, however when we returned to the main road, the road to the south remained closed. We stopped at the visitor center and inquired as to when we might expect to see the southern sections of the park. The ranger on duty could not give me a time, but did say that we shouldn’t expect the road to open until sometime in the afternoon. Unfortunately for us, we had other commitments a few hundred miles from here, and we couldn’t wait on the off chance it would open early enough for us. We have two other national parks to visit in Utah, Capital Reef and Zion. Bryce Canyon isn’t far from either. We will have to make a point to visit the park again.

John Steiner

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11 thoughts on “Bryce Canyon – “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas”

    • You made some beautiful photos. The heavier overcast on the day we were there limited the expanse of golden tones that you were able to much more fully capture. I shall have to return, that’s for sure.

  1. Very, very beautiful – we’ve certainly been in that area a couple of times, but since we are southern Californian’s – we really don’t have a clue how to “do snow”. Great shots with your limited access. into the park. Red canyon is one of the most wonderful road drives in Utah.

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