Bryce Canyon National Park is home to the world’s largest colony of hoodoos. No, I’m not talking about some strange breed of owl. Hoodoos are crooked towers of rock. And so many reside in Bryce Canyon they form a forest of stone. Curious about the cause behind these scraggly, often gravity-defying, columns and pillars? Weathered by rain and melting frost throughout the year, the combination of hard layers of limestone and crumbly layers of shale means uneven erosion. They say that the landscape is constantly changing—that the solid cliffside you see one year will crumble into hoodoos the next, and that the hoodoos you see today will dissolve into colored sand tomorrow.
Before approaching these cragged giants, take the shuttle from the visitor’s center to Bryce Point, the first in a series of overlooks. From here, traverse the path along the rim of the cliff face to Inspiration Point and Sunset Point. The landscape resists description. Impossibly, the stone’s pattern is packed with movement. From the crater, the hoodoos seem to rise in spikes as if reaching out for you. Simultaneously, they seem to be melting in rivulets as the basin sinks down toward the heart of the earth. With the exception of the lookouts, the rangers don’t seem to believe much in fences. Enjoy the untainted view, but make sure to maintain a healthy distance from that crumbly edge and open-air drop-off!
From above, you’ll also be able to admire swallows and birds of prey as they swoop over the abys, riding air currents. Though there’s not a whole lot for wild flowers in the area, the trees make up for it. They have more personality—attitude even—than most of their woody relatives. Poetic, if not a bit gloomy, their trunks are twisted and contorted like misshapen spinal columns. A number of these gnarled skeleton trees strive to combat the elements on the collapsing cliff side. They’re fighting a losing battle. They lean toward the precipice as they start a decade’s fall. Exposed roots reach out over the chasm like a cliff jumper tests the air with his hands.
By now you’ve thoroughly teased yourself with a preview of what awaits. It’s time to descend into the middle of the action. To achieve that closeup, dip into the hoodoos by way of the Navajo Trail. Follow the path as it weaves down through rows of rock and notice the trees come back to life, a healthy green restored to their branches. Proximity will allow you to deepen your appreciation of these bizarrely-shaped spires. Similar to clouds, it’s easy to imagine animals, objects, and even faces in these naturally chiseled statues. See if you can find Thor’s Hammer—a squarish head balanced atop a teeny-tiny neck. Another takes the frame of Queen Victoria. Apparently as the erosion continues to eat away at her, she seems to ride different animals. When I visited Her Majesty, she appeared to be poised on the shelled back of a sea turtle.
Emerge again at Sunrise Point and take the last 1½ mile trail back to the visitor’s center (or if you’re completely exhausted at this point, it’s totally acceptable to cheat and take the shuttle. We won’t tell.). To wrap up your day, drive to some of Bryce Canyon’s other outlooks. They’re parked right by the roadside so your legs will be rewarded with a well-deserved break. Natural Bridges is perhaps the best of these. A hulking rock arch serves as a frame for a forest of trees in the distance.
Bryce Canyon feeds the imaginative spirit. As the Greeks believed Atlas carried the heavens on his shoulders, it’s not difficult to conclude that these stone columns hold up a celestial ceiling. Who isn’t seeking a chance to witness the sublime on earth?