April 23, 2018

FairyLand Loop, Bryce Canyon National Park

According to the National Geographic map, the Fairyland Loop Trail is 8.0 miles long and with 2,309 feet ascent and descent.  Other descriptors include "strenuous" and "less-crowded."  This sounded right up our alley, so we decided to dedicate one of our two full days in Bryce to this hike.  After getting a small taste of hoodoos yesterday exploring Red Canyon in Dixie National Forest, we were super excited to get to Bryce proper, and wanted to jump right in with both feet.  Frankie can do the Junior Ranger Program tomorrow... today was for Fairyland.  And this trail did not disappoint!  It has instantly become one of my all time favorite hikes.

We started at Fairyland Point, at the far northern end of the park.  The turn off for this parking lot is before the Visitor's Center and even before the entrance gate, meaning there was no fee to hike here.  This was quite surprising.  We just drove up, parked a few spaces away from the sign, and set off into the canyon.  Even though the morning was cool, and the hiking was easy, heading downhill on a level-surfaced trail, our progress was excruciatingly slow.  Every direction offers some new jaw-gaping view. 

The temperature rose quickly as we descended into the canyon, and we had to pause to shed layers and apply sunscreen.  After getting too much sun on the Observation Point hike, Erwin and I invested in desert hats similar to the one I'd got for Frankie.  They really do help. 

bristlecone pine (Pinus langaeva)

Erwin taking a picture of a formation we thought looked like a honey bear

The trail is rolling, with some climbs mixed into a general downward trend, for the first 4.0 miles.  The Tower Bridge formation is found down a short spur trail, looming over a grove of pines along a small stream that was amazingly still running; all the previous washes we'd seen were bone dry.  We took a lengthy break here, eating lunch in the shade, then waiting less and less patiently for Frankie to finish his sandwich (he didn't really like the bread, but his little body definitely needs fuel on a hike like this).  We enjoyed watching the Stellar's jays that flitted through the grove looking to steal food. 

Tower Bridge formation

Finally powered up, we set off again.  Tower Bridge is the low point of this hike, so from here, there was a lot of climbing to get back to the rim.  The trail surface remains flat, though, and there are many switchbacks to ease the grade.  There is nothing terribly challenging, except for the punishing sun and heat.  And we were fortunate: it was a relatively cool day on the rim (although NOT in the canyon), plus we had some partial cloud cover.  I cannot imagine what these canyons are like mid-summer.  

dwarf Townsend daisy (Townsendia minima)

dwarf lousewort (Pedicularis centranthera)

We got a great look at a weasel right below the lip of the rim.  It ran across the trail in front of us, then we watched it scurry down the slope.  We enjoyed a brief pause to savor the spot, then set out along the rim back toward Fairyland Point.  There is a bit more climbing to get up on top of the Pink Cliffs. 

Somewhere during that climb, Erwin paused to take pictures and Frankie and I continued along chatting.  We went around a bend and could no longer see Erwin, and Frankie got it into his head that we were racing back to the car.  He was extremely motivated to beat his Dad, and set a fast pace to make sure we would.  Whenever I paused to take pictures, he would get a little worried, and use his eagle eyes to scout for Erwin.  He devised a complicated code to alert me to any sightings, with different levels based on proximity. 

urging me forward

Erwin approaching, shaking his fist
Frankie, ready to bolt
one final look
We did end up winning the race, and Frankie hid behind the car to jump out and "scare" Erwin, who dutifully feigned surprise.  We will have to remember this race strategy, because a 7-year old could realistically be expected to be a little tired near the end of a strenuous hike like this, perhaps even drag a little.  However, the "race" completely energized him; this kid was motivated.

The Fairyland Loop hike was amazing, and as promised, without crowds.  We did see other hikers, of course, but they were well dispersed.  Aside from the time we spent in the pine grove under the Tower Bridge, it felt like we were alone much of the day.  There were wide open vistas where we could see the trail winding through hoodoos and climbing distant ridges, either the path ahead we were to follow, or the path behind from where we came.  Long stretches of empty trail, through the most spectacular scenery -- it was truly magnificent.  Where are all the people?  I suspect we'll find out tomorrow when we head to the shorter trails of the main Bryce Amphitheater. 

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