A look at "Thor's Hammer" and beyond in Bryce Canyon National Park
My drive from Capitol Reef to Bryce Canyon was one of the most peaceful and enjoyable drives during my road trip odyssey. Perhaps the knowledge that I would end my day in Las Vegas heightened my ability to enjoy the moment. I drove on a quiet highway, passing small towns and valley farms, listening to Aristotle's Poetics on audiobook. At some point, the orange dividing lines on the road disappeared, and the road turned into what we called home a "black-top" or a no-frills strip of asphalt. I consulted Google Maps to make sure I hadn't made a wrong turn. It assured me that I was indeed on the right path to my destination. I settled into the drive and reflected on the preceding weeks, the people I met, the places I visited, and the chance to connect with something beyond, that ineffable something that lifted me from the doldrums. I felt the most profound sense of gratitude.
I arrived at the Bryce Canyon Visitor Center and got the last stamp of the trip in my National Parks passport book, then set out to see what there was to be seen. I didn't know what to expect from Bryce Canyon, except when I mentioned it to people who had been there, they all had the same look on their face. It was a look of delight. Their eyes smiled, and their head nodded in knowing affirmation, followed by a, "Oh, you're going to love it."
Strolling among the hoodoos
Bryce Canyon was one of the biggest surprises of the trip and perhaps the most magical of all the landscapes. It's not a canyon. It is numerous canyons and amphitheaters carved into the side for a forest-covered plateau. The canyons boast the largest concentration of irregular rock columns, called hoodoos, in the world. The towering spires and sandstone walls stand proud and defiant against the elements prone to batter. The rugged beauty of this area is a testament to the audacity of the natural world.
As I bopped down the trail from Sunrise Point, I came across another surprise. I noticed a hiker in front of me and further down the trail — a woman with a slight hitch in her step. As the gap between us closed, a thought popped into my head. "It can't be," I told myself. I blinked my eyes rapidly, rubbed my eyes cartoonishly, and looked again. The backpack was the same color, and she appeared to be nursing a sore ankle. "Is that…?"
I passed her on the left, trying very much not to be creepy while looking back at her. She stopped in her tracks.
“Lena?" I retorted, feigning perplexity with my voice. Sure enough, it was her, the hiking companion I met in Arches National Park two days prior. We picked up right where we left off.
"How's your ankle?"
"What did you think of Capitol Reef?"
"No, I won't judge you for wearing the same clothes you were wearing two days ago."
The delight of this chance encounter made the land seem more magical. The conversation turned to banter, and we joked about what other hikers were thinking. We took our time strolling the trail, gawking at the scenery, and snapping pictures along the way. We climbed up the Navajo loop trail through the narrow canyon called Wall Street and arrived at the canyon rim at Sunset Point. A decision had to be made. I opted to head back down into the canyon to see a bit more — it was my last day in the wild, and I wanted to make the most of it. She decided it was best not to push her luck with her tender ankle. So we wished each other well and went our separate ways. If life were a Hallmark movie, perhaps the story would not have ended there. But experience has taught me that life is not a movie, and I've learned to say my goodbyes. Except for the exchange of a few text messages, we have not spoken since.
I rolled into Las Vegas as the sun was setting. I was greeted enthusiastically by my dear friends, who welcomed me into their home. "How was your trip? Tell us all about it!” I stumbled. Where do I even begin? I thought to myself. How can I possibly explain the journey of these past 40 days? It wasn't just the places seen over the many miles driven. It was over the rugged landscape of my soul that the greatest distance was traveled.
After I returned to Los Angeles I wrote this reflection.
40 days. 7 states. 9 National Parks. 4,408 miles driven. 110 miles hiked. 1,448 photographs snapped. 60 hours of audiobooks.
I drove through 115-degree heat and a snowstorm. I traversed mountains peaks, weaved through canyons, stumbled through deserts, felt wind rumble forests, and watched time float down rolling rivers.
I saw numerous bison, elk, deer, and antelope. I met two Red foxes and one lonely rattlesnake.
I traveled solo, but I did not travel alone, for I met many fellow sojourners along the way.
What was I looking for? I still don’t know. There was no epiphany, only the rediscovery of the many tiny miracles; in each sunrise and sunset; around dusty corner bends; in the smile of a welcoming host; in the chilly air of the starry night sky; in the enduring rhythms of life in a world away from humankind.
I encountered the great Silence, and it was divine.
A sublime sunset over Yellowstone
A WRITER AND TRAVELER KEEPING THE FAITH IN LOS ANGELES