“Hoodoo – (also called a tent rock, fairy chimney, and earth pyramid) is a tall, thin spire of rock that protrudes from the bottom of an arid drainage basin or badland. Hoodoos, which may range from (5–150 ft), typically consist of relatively soft rock topped by harder, less easily eroded stone that protects each column from the elements. They generally form within sedimentary rock and volcanic rock formations.”
After our plans to go to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument we’re dashed by washed out roads, we had to create a new itinerary. It was the last few weeks of our Big Trip. Chris was more eager to return home than I was; he had projects to initiate and agenda’s to set in motion. I was still content to roam. Still content to discover more secret corners of the universe. To let life unfold simply day by day. To let the current conditions determine what we did next rather than predetermined plans. I was happy to be unproductive and to be living outside of mainstream expectations.
We headed west on I-70 and eventually pulled over to look at our maps. A plan emerged. We’d go to Mystic Hot Springs in Monroe, Utah for a night or two and then go to Bryce Canyon National Park. Grand Staircase would have to wait for another trip. Although at times I felt disappointed to pass something by, I also felt glad that some areas were left unexplored; glad there would be places left unseen, places quietly waiting for us to return.
I have driven along route 70 in Utah, going both east and west, on many trips. Although some stretches of the highway I recognize, most areas look new and fresh each time. The time of year, the time of day, the cloud cover and weather create whole new landscapes out of the same old views.
Mystic Hot Springs is one of the funkiest private hot springs around. We camped in the muddy campground near a collection of old, rusting buses. They were intended to provide housing but were empty with tattered curtains and dusty interiors. All of the facilities are cluttered and needed work. The owner showed us his fleet of old four-wheel-drive Previa Toyota vans he had outfitted with old beds and well-worn furniture.
The hot springs oozed out of the hillside, forming colorful travertine masses by leaving tiny deposits over hundreds and thousands of years.There were two primary larger pools near the main building but up some dirt trails, were old discolored individual claw foot tubs. Several were being gradually absorbed into the travertine. These were my favorite soaking spots with their views over the valley below.
Bryce Canyon National Park
I’d been to Bryce once before with my family when I was a teenager. It was midday in midsummer. We were there briefly, taking a short hike into the rocks. All I remember is the blistering heat. In my mind’s eye, the hoodoos appeared white, bleached by the blinding light of the sun’s glare. It all seemed oppressive and unpleasant. I hoped that my second chance to visit some 45 years later would prove better.
I knew the park would be busy since fall is peak season. Capturing one of the remaining campsites, we settled in for several days. Western bluebirds hopped around our camper. Pronghorns grazed at the base of the small hill below and farther out in the green meadow prairie dogs kept watch. We could walk to many trails and I took multiple trips throughout each day to take photographs in the changing light. If you stayed away from the lodge and the visitors center, you could avoid the bus loads of tourists. And if you hiked even a few hundred yards on the trails you left most people behind.
One morning I joined groups of tourists enjoying the early light at Sunrise Point. I heard mostly German and French, some Italian. Seventy percent of visitors to Bryce are foreign nationals, primarily Europeans. The campground host told us about a Frenchman who purchased an old ornate double holster western gun belt with two antique guns. He decided to run around the park and play wild west cowboy, taking out the guns and liberally pointing them at campers. Law enforcement was called in. After a chase through the park, he was apprehended and forced to relinquish his weapons. Only then did they discovered that the guns were inoperable. He was lucky he wasn’t shot.
As the first morning light spread across the valley floor, some stones shown as it lit from within from an unknown source. I was mesmerized by the massive earthen forms glowing like softly lit lamps, glowing with the radiance of giant embers after a campfire. Colors were muted and everything was overtaken by an ethereal luminosity. The phenomena is caused by the horizon level sunlight reflecting from cliffs, columns and the pale dirt. Catching the total effect by camera was not easy. This glowing landscape was unlike anything I’ve ever seen and was alone worth the trip to Bryce.
Although we don’t usually do what all the tourists do, this time we joined them by taking the scenic drive from lookout to lookout. Each stop revealed a new marvelous landscape. The colors rich, at times brilliant. Each column, arch or window seemed more extraordinary than the last. Just by moving a short distance one would see a whole new vista, a new view into another magical realm. The sun played hide and seek in the white clouds and these changes also radically altered the colors and forms in a blink of an eye.
I heard a French tourist say to her partner in English, “I cannot take so much beauty.” I know what she means. The enormity and intensity of the space and the exquisite exotic colors, made it hard to absorb.
The blue of the skies and the green of the trees contrasted with the infinite fiery tones of oranges, reds, purples, and yellows of the earth. Some hoodoos took on lively, even whimsical shapes. But most were massive and architectural as if part of an ancient temple ruin that one might find in Egypt or Afghanistan. They appeared both monumental and delicate.
I took more photos here than any other single spot on our trip. The pictures shared below are but a small taste of the great repast of Bryce photographs I have.