The day I left Zion National Park, I arrived at Ruby’s Inn, which is just outside of Bryce Canyon National Park in Bryce Canyon City. Having been spoiled with the charm of Springdale, I felt let-down by Ruby’s Inn. The inn opened just over a hundred years ago as a destination for tourists and provided various forms of southwestern-themed entertainment. I could see the novelty of it in its heyday, but now it just feels like its vigor is lost. It’s now a monstrosity of an operation being the only lodging near the park (there is some lodging inside the park). The mediocre grocery store and gift shops swell with the arrival of the next charter bus that rolls in.
It was recommended to me not to ride my bike into the park, so I took the shuttle. I decided to do the Peekaboo hiking trail loop which was a total of 5.5 miles. To get there, you get off at Bryce Point and head down a very steep switchback trail for about a mile. Unfortunately, I had gotten a late start. It was around 9am as I was heading down into the canyon, and it was already starting to get hot. One noticeable difference between Zion and Bryce is that Zion has an abundance of water with the Virgin River flowing through it, whereas Bryce Canyon only has a handful of creeks throughout the canyon, so it feels hotter and drier.
Let me pause here and backtrack for a moment. The day I drove to Zion National Park, I stopped along the side of the road to get a picture of the changing scenery. Initially, I didn’t think twice about my new surroundings as my bare legs brushed up against the desert shrubs. Finally, it dawned on me that I was in rattlesnake country now, and I should pay more attention to where I’m walking. Fortunately, I have some amount of experience with reptiles. Having even just that limited knowledge gave me confidence to stay safe.
Back to my hike down into the canyon. I came around a bend and started going through a shaded area. Out of nowhere I heard an all too familiar rattle come from my right. I jumped in the air, expelling several profanities while trying to find the source of the rattle. I had my sunglasses on, so I vaguely saw something slightly off the trail to my right. I kept going about 10 or 15 steps, took my sunglasses off and whipped around. There it was just off the path, not three feet from where I was walking. As I paused to look at it, I could see that it was in the middle of eating breakfast. I knew it wasn’t in any position to strike at me, so I slowly got low to the ground and inched my way closer to get a better look. My initial thought was that it was a Western Diamondback, but after doing some research on the wildlife of Bryce Canyon I learned it was likely a Great Basin Rattlesnake, a subspecies of the Western Diamondback. That made my day! Not only did I get to see a rattlesnake out here, I avoided getting bit! Bonus.
I continued down the trail and finally came to the beginning of the Peekaboo trail loop. The scenery was spectacular. I learned that the “hoodoos” (the strange looking pillars of rock) were once entirely a thin wall of rock. Over time, rains from flash floods slowly erode the rocks, forming holes or windows that get bigger and bigger so that it looks like a bridge, and then eventually the “bridge” collapses, forming these single pillars. There were a few of these “windows” along my hike. The trail was a lot of ups and downs, and it was definitely getting hotter with no river to cool off in. My legs were really starting to feel it from the two mountain bike rides and the Angel’s Landing hike I did.
At some point, I noticed some dark gray clouds but couldn’t tell if they were approaching or not. During one of my shuttle rides, we got lectured from the bus driver about the thunderstorms out here: what to do and what not to do. Apparently, a handful of people have died from lightning strikes in the canyon. So, I kept a close eye on those clouds. I didn’t want to get caught in a thunderstorm in this canyon as it didn’t seem like there was anywhere to take shelter.
There were a couple of times the trail intersected with another trail coming from somewhere else, so I made sure to stick to the Peekaboo trail. About three quarters of the way, I noticed the rain clouds were indeed coming my way. Time to kick it into high gear! But by this time, I was nearing the end of my energy as the sun bore down on me, and I was ready to be done with this hike. Eventually, I came to another intersection with a couple trail signs, one for Peekaboo Loop and one for Bryce Point. So, I stuck to the Peekaboo Loop. I continued walking for another 50 steps or so, pretty well worn out by now. WAIT A MINUTE! I thought. Was that my turn off to get back up to Bryce Point? Yes, it was. I laughed at the thought of how mad I would have been had I kept going and done another loop.
I did a 180 back to the intersection and took the turnoff, the beginning of what would be a slow, arduous, hot, tiring climb back up the steep switchbacks to Bryce Point. I had to stop at almost every shady spot to catch my breath – still getting used to the higher elevation AND the heat. I noticed the rain clouds had gotten closer and darker. Halfway up, I could hear the thunder starting. I tried to pick up the pace but… I couldn’t… go… any… faster.
Finally. I made it to the top before the thunderstorm reached me. Now I could seek shelter in a shuttle bus. I stopped at a couple more viewpoints and a cool little general store, then headed back to Ruby’s. Come to think of it now, that thunderstorm never did roll through…