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A fullness of solitude embraces anyone who has the fortune to hike the back trails at Bryce Canyon in winter. My wife and I made the journey from our home in northern Utah early on Friday morning. It had been nearly three years since we had visited, which surprised us both, and it was like greeting an old friend. We had been three times previously but on this visit we were determined to get off the beating track and away from the crowds. We had been unaware that festivities were occurring at Bryce on this President's Day weekend which only made us more determined not to be standing with the throngs of potential visits.
Friends had told us of a trail off the beaten path so on Saturday morning we ate breakfast and made the short drive to the trailhead. The skies were blue with wispy clouds floating by with the temps in the mid 40's, perfect for a five mile hike and quite unexpected in February! We've experienced brutal weather conditions on previous winter visits to Bryce, one truly never knows what to expect! Once we reached the rim we quickly had to shed some layers before the true hike began. And then we were off! Looking down from the rim we were already struck by the incredible hoodoos covered in snow. How could you not be? Another photographer was there, his coat stuck in a tree and photography bag tucked underneath. After exchanging greetings he warned us to be prepared for the ice and the mud! His predictions were unfortunately spot on and it wasn't long before our hiking shoes were covered in a primordial cake of orange/red mud. It was so thick I nearly lost my balance navigating the trail at several points and we had to stop to clear it off...a useless gesture since five minutes later our shoes were nearly covered again. And there was also some tricky navigation with ice, fortunately we came prepared and had clampers on the bottom of our shoes to get us through. And so it began.
The first thing I want to say is to me Bryce is at its peak covered in snow! The red hoodoos clash with the blanket of white to create an irresistible, irrefutable beauty that has so much impact. Bristlecone pines trees , their ancient beauty dating back to the times of the Roman empire, dot the land along our path. The hike spirals down as the land changes from the grand view to something more intimate and no less interesting. The temperature dips as we embrace both shadow and light. Around us we see contradictions as the green colors of tiny trees sprout of through the snow. One can hear water flowing invisibly through the land, covered by foliage, ice and a thin layer of snow. We stop to take it in, both of us happy to catch our breath and re-hydrate. This break turns into lunch consisting of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and trail mix for an energy boost. And then on wards, the land taking sharp climb back up, the path ahead flattening out into a sensuous S surrounded once again by staggering hoodoos. The path is suddenly obscured by a hoodoo so we walk another five minutes to see what lies beyond. And that is when it hits me as I turn the corner and behold a marvel. This pure light is uncovered by passing clouds like a magician pulling away a cover to show something that was hidden from his audience. In front of me Bristlecone and pine trees, their heads seemingly bowed,point my eye towards this incredible sight of stark, naked beauty. Standing before us is the final performance of a grand earth gesture, a canyon rising furiously into the sky, clouds lazily floating by for this audience of two. For me this moment summed it all there truly is to love about our earth and why I love it so...the grandeur of Bryce Canyon.