Editor's note: This is a special advertiser-supported article from the Essential Park Guide, Summer 2014.
It sounds counterintuitive to head to the Utah desert this summer to cool off. But Utah is an enigma: it is desert, canyons, and high mountains in one trip. You find groves of Ponderosa pines and wildflower meadows in abundance in Bryce Canyon National Park. The days are warm, the nights are chilly. The view of the desert is astounding, and at night visibility is measured in light-years.
Travelers from around the world come to Bryce to marvel at what time, wind, and water have created: an amphitheater of pinnacles, pillars, and hoodoos. The rosy morning sunlight on the red, orange, and cream-colored limestone is pure magic, and a photographer's dream.
But, unless you want to drive up Red Canyon from Highway 89 in the dark, it's best to spend the night here, either at one of the nearby lodges or campgrounds. The park's North and Sunset campgrounds fill up fast, but if you'd rather have a warmer experience, then stop at Ruby's Inn at the park entrance.
In 1916 Reuben 'Ruby' Syrett built his family ranch on this high, forested ridge, and soon was showing visitors the wonders of the area. That led to his Tourist Rest lodge a few years later. Then, in 1923, Bryce was designated a national monument, a development that lured more visitors and turned Ruby's into the de facto base camp from which daily excursions into the monument were launched. In the ensuing decades this hostelry'affectionately known by locals and repeat visitors simply as Ruby's Inn'continued to evolve, adding post office, cafe, gas station, an RV and tent campground with 180 sites, and three lodges with a total of 700 rooms: Best Western Plus Ruby's Inn, Best Western Plus Bryce Canyon Grand Hotel, and the Bryce View Lodge.
These days you'll also find a rock shop, photo supplies, and an auto mechanic on site, too. It's just about the center of activity at Bryce Canyon.
There's a lot to do up here at Ruby's, from horseback rides, ATV and mountain bike rides and rodeos to helicopter tours. If you're looking for one-of-a-kind merchandise, the gift shop offers everything from ice cream and fishing tackle to native jewelry, artworks, and the requisite postcards. Start your day with a calorie-intense breakfast for a long day hike, or finish the day with dinner, a swim in the inn's pool, and a soft bed. Summer is the busy season, so call ahead to reserve one of Ruby's 700 rooms, or one of their 180 campsites.
Inside the park, walk the rim, bike the trails, or hike the trails. Every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday throughout the summer attend one of the park's star parties, where Bryce Canyon's 'dark rangers' will guide you across the night skies, and offer you some time at one of their telescopes.
Then return to Ruby's and cozy up in front of a blazing fire in the lobby and make plans to return come winter when snow falls deep and snowshoes or cross-country skis are the gear on which you tour the fairyland of stone. It's a magical spot. You might even run into some of the Syrett family, who know how to welcome visitors with genuine Western hospitality.