Hoodoo. It’s a word that I find to be rather amusing. Say it with me… “Hoo-doo.” Hilarious, right?
If you’re wondering why I’m bringing this up, it’s because you’ll hear this word a lot if you visit Bryce Canyon National Park in the U.S. state of Utah. A mere 2 hours from Zion’s East Entrance, it was a natural progression for me to continue my road trip here. But something was off…
Here I’d been driving through hills and trees with only so-so scenery out the window. I arrived in “Bryce Canyon City” (which isn’t a city at all, but a series of overpriced hotels and terrible food), located 1 mile (1.6 km) from the park entrance to see…nothing! Here I was spoiled by Zion, which invites you in with its soaring peaks. But even driving into Bryce Canyon, the landscape looks totally normal.
It’s not until you park at a viewpoint and walk to the edge that an entire “amphitheater” full of hoodoos comes into view. These bizarre geological formations fill the space like buildings along city streets.
See, Bryce Canyon isn’t actually a canyon, but a collection of mini canyons. The park’s 34-mile (54.7 km) scenic drive runs along a high ridge on the Colorado Plateau, the top of the Grand Staircase, which runs all the way down to the Grand Canyon. At an altitude that ranges between 7,000 and over 9,000 feet, (2,134-2,743 m) it’s not hard to see how this is the case!
Mini canyons separate the hoodoos, though you’ll find no rivers here. The entire amphitheater is formed and reformed every winter when snow piles on the hoodoos. As the snow melts, it erodes away at the rock, changing the hoodoo shapes forever. It happens with some regularity and you can see bits of rock all over the hoodoos that are cracking away.
In another change from Zion National Park, you’re looking down at the “canyon” here, where hikes take you down amongst the hoodoos, which provides a fascinating close-up look. Though there are trails here, I’d wager to say that Zion is better for hiking than Bryce Canyon is (especially with hikes like Angels Landing). But maybe I’m just saying that because I was not blessed with good weather there.
I did the hike that everyone does, the Queens Garden-Navajo Loop Combination Trail, which takes you by many of the hoodoo highlights. Natural windows formed through rock. Organ pipes appeared down the path. Thor’s Hammer lay precariously on the top of a hoodoo. Seems rocks, like clouds, are open to people’s imagination.
If you visit, I would highly encourage you to drive the length of the scenic drive. All the lookouts are left turns, so I drove to Rainbow Point at the very end, where I walked along the Bristlecone Loop Trail, with its 1,500-year-old cedar trees, and hit up the view points on my way back.
An impressive stop on return trip was Natural Bridge, an amazing view of an arch worn into the hoodoos.
Bryce Point provides perhaps the best lookout over the amphitheater and is supposedly a fantastic place to watch the sunrise. I tried, though clouds made the sunrise real lackluster. If it’s any reconciliation though, I did see about a dozen deer standing in the middle of the road at 5:30am!
The nearby Paria Point is a good sunset spot, as the hoodoos at here face west, rather than the others, which face east. Don’t be fooled by Sunset Point, as it looks towards the sunrise!
And make sure you don’t miss the aptly named Fairyland Point, located before the entrance gate. The hoodoos here are not as weathered as the ones in Bryce Amphitheater are and I actually liked it better. You can also partake in the 8-mile Fairyland Loop Trail here, a strenuous hike that I would have done had the weather been better, though it was threatening thunderstorms most of the time I was there.
All I know is I left Bryce Canyon beaming at the wonders of the hoodoos, for not only is it a funny word but a truly fascinating and unusual natural formation. And, fair warning, you’ll definitely be pinching yourself because you’ll be swearing up and down that you’re standing right in the middle of the whimsical world of Dr. Seuss!
Be sure to check out my photos from inside the amphitheaters of Bryce Canyon!