Since I own an international gay vacation company, I spend a lot of time traveling through different countries. Travel is in my blood, and last summer during the pandemic, I had to find a way to appease my need for travel and adventure while most countries were closed to USA travelers. Plus, Zoom Vacations also creates domestic trips, and keeping up with the best the US has to offer is important to me.
So, I decided it was the perfect time to explore the United States national parks. I started in Glacier National Park in Montana, then drove to Yellowstone National Park and Grand Teton in Wyoming, the Salt Flats outside of Salt Lake City, Arches National Park, Dead Horse State Park, Capital Reef National Park, Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, and Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada.
All of the parks offer something unique, and I loved every experience. Bryce Canyon, however seemed to be the most otherworldly—the most like a fairytale. Bryce Canyon National Park is a massive reserve in southern Utah about two hours from Zion National Park, and is known for its sunset-colored hoodoos. Hoodoos (irregular columns of rock) exist on every continent, but here is the largest concentration found anywhere on Earth. Hoodoos form over millions of years of erosion in areas where a thick layer of soft rock is covered by a thin layer of hard rock. Over time, hoodoos form as a small cap of the hard layer protects a cone of softer rock underneath from erosion.
One of the nice things about Bryce is that it is accessible for virtually any skill level. The 18-mile main road travels from the park’s only entrance in the north along the plateau rim to its highest elevations in the south over 9,000 ft. Hiking trails explore the forests of the plateau, connecting viewpoints along the rim of the Bryce Amphitheater, and wandering through the hoodoos below. While it is worth the visit even if you just do the drive, if you enjoy hiking, you will love exploring the tails, passing alien-like hoodoos along your way. You can experience Bryce Canyon in one day, but if you are as taken by the beauty as I was, you will want two, to really explore and get the most out of it.
There are a number of decent hotels where you can stay in the area, and my friend and I stayed at the Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel, just three miles from the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park. It was inexpensive and very convenient. We even made time for the pool and jacuzzi after a long day of hiking.
As I said, there are a number of hiking trails, and you really cannot go wrong. The drive along the main road provides several stops for panoramic vista photos, so my recommendation is to do the drive, then take one of the hiking trails to immerse yourself in the experience. The three mile Wall Street and Queens Garden Loop Trail is not to be missed, but portions of this loop sometimes may close due to weather and freezing overnight temperatures.
In addition to the incredible vistas and magical hoodoos that seem to pop up just about everywhere, you will also see a lot of wildlife. We were amazed, for instance, at the friendliness of the Uintah chipmunks that we saw and even interacted with along the way. They are definitely used to seeing people. Other animals include the Rocky Mountain elk, mule deer, pronghorn, the Utah prairie dog, and North American porcupine.
One morning we got up at sunrise to see the changing light on the hoodoo amphitheaters, and we were rewarded for our efforts by seeing a heard of elk, grazing on a meadow right off the main road. We could hear them calling to each other as they enjoyed their early breakfast of grass, covered in morning dew. They crossed the road right in front of our car, and I fortunately was driving slowly and didn’t hit them. This is a good time to mention that it is really important to adhere to the speed limit and other safety precautions set up by the Park’s District.
In addition to sunrise, sunset is a really popular time to visit Bryce Canyon, and it is when the canyon really comes alive. As the sun sets, the light gives motion to the hoodoos, which change color right before your eyes. Our hotel was so close to the entrance, that we literally made several little trips into Bryce Canyon to experience it at different times.
If you find yourself mesmerized by the hoodoos and hoodoo amphitheater formations, you may wish to someday visit Goreme Valley and Cappadocia, Turkey. In a spectacular landscape, entirely sculpted by erosion, the Göreme valley and its surroundings contain rock-hewn sanctuaries that provide unique evidence of Byzantine art in the post-Iconoclastic period. Dwellings, troglodyte villages and underground towns – the remains of a traditional human habitat dating back to the 4th century – can also be seen there. I am bringing a Zoom Vacations group here in October! More information can be found at https://www.zoomvacations.com/turkey-highlights.