Bryce Canyon National Park
Bryce Canyon, Kurt Repanshek
Spend enough time in the national parks with a good camera and you're bound to come away with a good shot or two. Getting this one, though, required a pre-dawn wake-up call and a hike through a cold, dark December morning. But the effort was worth it, as the rising sun slowly fired the rocks down below and revealed phalanxes of stone soldiers.
Southern Utah's national parks all are red-rock wonders.
Zion National Park features towering cliffs of stone. Arches National Park showcases a one-of-its-kind collection of stony arches and windows. Canyonlands National Park is a maze of canyons, and Capitol Reef National Park offers a sprawling rockscape.
Bryce Canyon, on the other hand, is much, much more intimate and, in some manners, more curious, geologically.
Not quite 36,000 acres in size -- little more than a tenth the size of Canyonlands -- the drawing card of Bryce is its namesake amphitheater crowded with hoodoos and goblins that erosion has sculpted from the pink underbelly of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Whether you gaze down upon the amphitheater, or stroll through it, the features known as Thor's Hammer, Queen's Garden, Natural Bridge, ET, Indian Princess, and the Warrior, just to name a few, fire your imagination and cause you to marvel at nature's artistic side.
For most visitors, Bryce is a one-day adventure, as the 18-mile long Rim Road leads to all the major overlooks that provide dramatic views into the canyons down below.
But this small park deserves a closer, more attentive inspection, for its wonders are in the nuances that wind, rain, ice and snow have created, and even in the shadows it casts. You can spend at least a day exploring down below the rim, and the viewpoints from the top of the rim can take up the good portion of another day.
Not to be overlooked, either, are the dark skies overhead that sparkle with stars once the sun goes down. Another good reason to spend at least one night in the park.
Traveler's choice for: Hiking, photography, geology
Most of the wildlife you initially spot in Bryce Canyon National Park flit about the park's coniferous forests or scamper across the forest duff, but if you take the time to look, and are in the right place at the right time, you just might be surprised.
Surrounded by southern Utah’s rugged wilderness, I’m confronted by, of all things, butterscotch. In a landscape of warm kaleidoscopic colors that change with the swinging of the sun, butterscotch currently is the color of the limestone ramparts that brought fame to Bryce Canyon National Park. And, I find as I plant my nose against the rough and rumpled bark of a 100-foot-tall Ponderosa pine, butterscotch is the unmistakable scent wafting from the tree.
Though summer draws the bulk of Bryce Canyon National Park's 1.2 million annual visitors, a strong argument can be made that winter is a more fascinating time to visit this red-rock icon. The sharp contrasts between fresh-fallen snow, cerulean skies, and the park's red-hued amphitheaters are spectacular.