The Paiute people lived around what is now Bryce Canyon beginning around 1200AD. Today, the Bryce Canyon National Park preserves vast areas connected to Paiute lore including countless, towering hoodoos. In the visitor center’s education area is a recording of a Paiute woman saying they often pronounce the word “uuuuUUUUdooooOOOOoo” to convey the spooky nature of the formations as described in traditional stories.
It’s easy to see why. Bryce is a captivating place of deep mystery through the eyes of any tradition, to be sure.
“Before there were humans, the To-when-an-ung-wa (the Legend People) lived in that place. There were many of them. They were of many kinds – birds, animals, lizards and such things, but they looked like people. They were not people. They had power to make themselves look that way. For some reason the Legend People in that place were bad … Because they were bad, Coyote turned them all into rocks. You can see them in that place now all turned into rocks; some standing in rows, some sitting down, some holding onto others. You can see their faces, with paint on them just as they were before they became rocks. The name of that place is Angka-ku-wass-a-wits (Red Painted Faces). This is the story the people tell.”Indian Dick, Paiute Elder of Kaibab Reservation, 1936
To us, the landscape could have been taken from a Tolkien chapter where, in Middle Earth, the trees walked and dull armies of trolls turned to stone at dawn’s first light.
When hiking, the stone figures lurk and loom and lurch at you from around every bend, while the trees stand frozen mid-step – caught with the hems of their skirts raised as they tiptoed across the scorched land while no one was looking.
When we give out the “Haveys” – the Haven’s Path awards for the best places we’ve stayed— Bryce Canyon National Park is a shoo-in for “Most Photogenic.”
Not the grandest or most majestic or any such (though it may well compete in those categories too), but most necessary to photograph.
Most captivating to the lens.
With our eyes full of the too-rich landscape of southern Utah, we don’t make this claim lightly. The countless hoodoos alone would do it. But to that mildly interesting geological term we add solitary smoke-stack-high chimneys, an entire kingdom’s worth of spun-sugar fairy towers, disembodied goblin and dinosaur heads, a wall of stone windows atop a towering ridg – all along miles of hikable trails.
– not to mention views of the horizon spanning miles and miles.
We camped four nights in Bryce’s North Campground – it would be our only stay within one of the coveted official campgrounds of one of Utah’s “Mighty Five” National Parks. Being close enough to start our adventures straight from camp was a marvelous payoff for our ever-improving camp-stalking skills.
From this ideal home base, we walked to ranger programs under the stars and set out on some epic adventures. In three days we covered about 40 miles – hiking 20 and biking the same. In this steep canyonland half of every distance is uphill, so some work was involved.
There is a simple, childlike joy one experiences right at the threshold of exertion just before exhaustion. While we did cover some long distances these days, we found we were able to sustain our efforts right in that sweet spot – another unexpected win.
Here are some more photos of what we saw in this most stunning of places. They cannot possibly convey the awe and reverence one experiences in this supernatural window into Middle Earth.
To fully grasp it, you must visit in person – something we highly recommend.