Across the Big Rez

Click to enlarge this route mapWe had been in Utah when we first entered Monument Valley, but the entrance to the tribal park was nearly on the Arizona state line, and most of the park was on the Arizona side, as was Kayenta, where we had just spent the night. All of this was within the borders of the Big Reservation, and we stayed inside it as we drove a hundred more miles across Arizona and north toward the Utah state line. Like the previous day, it was pleasant and sunny day, but far from hot. The roads were straight and sparsely traveled, with increasingly impressive scenery. Even though some of this looked perfectly photogenic, we didn’t stop, and in fact took no pictures on this day. We topped up the gas at Kaibito, where we were the only non-Indians in the station/store.

We left the reservation near Page, AZ, just before crossing into Utah. We weren’t ready for lunch, so we pushed on to Kanab, where we had a motel reservation, and got there before two in the afternoon. I learned from the friendly desk manager that the name of the town is pronounced “k’NAB” rather than “KAY-nab” as I had guessed. We were given the only room that met our no-smoking requirement, had a door we could back the car up to, and had already been cleaned.

We unloaded all our stuff, but we soon realized that we couldn’t stay in that room. It smelled bad — as if all the air came in through an old air conditioner with a dirty filter. There was also an undertone of unspeakable messes having been cleaned up in the none-too-distant past.

Dorothea went to chat with the friendly manager and returned with the news that we had been assigned another room that would be free of this curse; however, it would not be ready for an hour and a half, so we would have to reload the car and take all our stuff out to lunch.

Hanging Out in Kanab

Driving away from the motel, we immediately — within a block — encountered the Rocking V Café, one of the restaurants that we had on our “looks interesting” list. A parking place right in front was vacant. We could easily have walked from the motel, but since we were already in the car, we parked. The Rocking V served distinguished food at distinguished prices — lunch, with tip, came to $28.00 — but that bought Dorothea an “Asian chicken salad” with grilled chicken, mandarin oranges, mesclun, and sesame soy dressing (plus a piece of focaccia), and me a grilled chicken breast with lime-jalapeño flavoring, This shared the plate with a mesclun salad that included sun-dried tomato bits and surprisingly spicy Spanish rice. It was our most elegant meal, let alone lunch, in several days.

The shop next door was a “trading post” pawn shop that had lots of Indian jewelry, mineral souvenirs (quite popular in this area), and Western gimcrackery. It also had old cameras and used musical instruments — including one banjo, an undistinguished cheapie— like Eastern pawn shops, and a sizeable assortment of handguns, not at all like Eastern pawn shops, at least nowadays. After Dorothea bought a couple of small gifts, we got in the car drove around the town for a bit.

Kanab, a pleasant but ordinary town in itself, has a scenic stretch of country called the Vermilion Cliffs to the east and west of it, and a dry plain to the south. It was a popular location town for the makers of Western movies when they were big. One of the older motels is said to be decorated with pictures of the stars who lodged and dined there, but they charge you a bit too much to share this excitement, so we chose humbler (if perhaps less fragrant) lodgings.

We stopped in at a store that specializes in minerals, especially local sandstone (well, almost local; it’s from over the line in Arizona) that has spectacular grain patterns. They cut the stone into shapes — we chose a few rectangles and spheres — and “treat it with heat” (which I suppose means bake it) to heighten the reds through accelerated oxidation. So it isn’t totally natural, but it’s certainly pretty. We picked up a few gifts there and a few more at a fancy Western wear and souvenir shop.

It was late in the afternoon when we settled into our new room, where the air was a bit stale, but nondisgusting. We cut another set of CDs (our third), transferring all of our Mesa Verde and Monument Valley pictures to disk so that our memory cards would be clear for Bryce Canyon, the next day’s destination.

By then it was time for dinner. We ate at Nedra’s Too, an Anglo-run place that serves mostly Mexican food. The menu included a tamal dinner for $5.75 with only one tamal, but they readily agreed to serve me two and charged only 50¢ for the extra one. Dorothea had a single tamal, and we were both well content. I drank “Polygamy Porter,” brewed in Salt Lake City and apparently named to annoy Latter Day Saints (who are of course forbidden to drink it — because of the alcohol, not the aggravation). The label bears the motto “Why have just one?” under a clip-art collage of one man and a bevy of women, no one in the picture overdressed. I took the motto to heart and drank two bottles, but detected no resulting inclination toward polygamy.

For dessert I ordered deep-fried ice cream, which is on the menu of many Mexican restaurants in the West. With a ball of vanilla ice cream, plus the crunch supplied by the cornflake coating in which it's deep-fried for five seconds, plus additional crunch from walnut bits sprinkled over the whipped cream on top, plus the caramel sauce poured over all (this was my choice in place of chocolate, which is also available), plus the crisp fried shell made from a flour tortilla and sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar, it was a rather spectacular dish. I had ordered it merely as an Experience, not expecting much in the way of quality, but found it much better than I expected.

Fins and Hoodoos

Click to enlarge this route mapWe left Kanab before nine the next morning. The breakfast room at the motel had been full of Frenchmen and Frenchwomen, a surprising number of whom seemed to be wearing leather pants. Dorothea suggested that they might be motorcycle tourists, and indeed we soon spotted a Harley T-shirt on one of the men. As we were driving out, we saw some of the cycles parked in front of another wing of the motel, but we hadn’t seen or heard them until then. We ran into more French cyclists later in our travels; this seems to be something that French travel agencies specialize in. I suppose it’s a reasonable exchange if Americans go to France to ride bicycles and Frenchmen come to the US to ride Harleys. Considering the distances that have to be covered, it works much better this way than it would the other.

The weather was still sunny, and we rolled northward along US-89, a two-lane highway with light traffic. Red cliffs and hills rose on either side; then the road came to and climbed over some white cliffs. Little Utah towns popped up here and there — a few houses and businesses, a gas station, some evidence of small scale farming.

Bryce Canyon Lodge -- click to enlargeBy 11:30 we had arrived at the lodge inside Bryce Canyon National Park, where we'd reserved a room in one of its motel units. We couldn’t check in until four, so we ate lunch and left at about 12:30 to explore the drive along the rim of the “canyon.”

Bryce isn’t really a canyon, in the sense of being a valley between two sheer walls — it has only one wall, looking out over a wide space. That wall has been shaped fantastically by streams spilling over the top, and also by the steady erosion, through various natural processes, of the sandstone it’s made of — but not by the action of a river cutting a track into the earth, which never happened here.

Fins at Sunrise Point -- click to enlargeThe rock formations left by the erosion mostly consist of tall, thin pillars that are pointy and lumpy at the same time. Sometimes they stand alone and sometimes they're stuck together in long lines, forming thin and sometimes perforated walls. These last are called fins, and they do resemble fishes’ fins in a way.

Hoodoos in Bryce Amphitheater -- click enlargeThe freestanding pillars have been given the name hoodoos. I don’t know how this term originated — did the early settlers associate the word with heathenish religious practices, and did the pillars make them think of idols?

Both fins and hoodoos occur in mind-boggling numbers in the “Bryce Amphitheater,” a big semicircular gulf in front of the cliff that contains the largest assembly of standing rock formations, sometimes lined up in ranks like an army. The colors of the rocks, ranging from a pink so faint that it’s almost white to deeper shades of rose and orange, add to the weird beauty of the place.

Click to enlarge this (inside-the-park) route mapBecause all the viewpoints are on the same side of the road, the recommended drill is to drive without stopping the 18 miles to the farthest viewpoint, then turn around and visit the others in order starting from there. That way the viewpoints are always on the right side of the road, which is easier and safer for everyone.

Natural Bridge -- click to enlargeWe stopped at nearly every viewpoint and spent some time looking and taking pictures, occasionally walking a short way to see another view. The end-of-the-line viewpoint, where we stopped first, was a twofer: Rainbow Point and Yovimba Point. Its altitude was 9,100 feet, but for some reason I felt a good deal spryer than I had at Silverton (only 200 feet higher) a few days before.

View from Bryce Point -- click to enlargeThe rim goes downhill from that point, so the rest of the stops were at increasingly lower elevations. Not much lower, however: the lodge, where we ended up, was close to 8,000 feet above sea level. The accumulated high-altitude activity gradually took a toll, and we decided to break off after visiting Bryce Point, leaving Inspiration Point and the two points near the lodge, Sunrise and Sunset, for later. (All of these points overlook the Bryce Amphitheater from different angles.)

Motel unit near Bryce Canyon Lodge -- click to enlargeIt was now four o'clock and time to check in, so we did. Our room, pleasant and clean, had a little balcony outside even though it was on the ground floor. Dorothea had managed to switch us from the second floor because there was no elevator, and although she also got us the room closest to the parking lot, we still had a 50-yard walk, which with our dozen or so bags and no luggage cart available was not an easy trek.

Before dinner we cut another set of CDs — number four. We weren’t sure this was necessary, but on the next day we planned to see the rest of Bryce Canyon and then some of Zion National Park, so it seemed prudent to start out with empty cards again.

Sunset and Sunrise

The Lodge Dining Room has been restored to its 1920s mountain-lodge appearance and is very attractive that way. The prices were high but not outrageous; the food was good but not great. But the desserts were excellent. Our choices both featured the lodge’s own “Bryceberry compote” (apparently made of small blackberries) which was ladled in Dorothea’s case onto a piece of fine cheesecake, and in my case over bread pudding, topped off with what was described as a “Jack Daniels hard sauce,” but appeared to be whipped cream with a hint of bourbon. Truth in labeling aside, however, it was delicious.

We ate dinner at six in order to be outside in plenty of time for the 8:30 sunset. We discovered that, for snapshooters like ourselves, the time before sunset works best, because as the light diminishes picture-taking becomes a more and more demanding operation. Among the 30 or so people posted around Sunset Point were more than a few Real Photographers with massive tripods and huge lenses, all waiting for the last possible moment to get the perfect shot. I would have been mortified to display my tiny tripod in such company, and was glad that I had left it in our room.

Almost sunset at Bryce Amphiteater -- click to enlargeDespite the many people around us, the sunset brought us a feeling of quiet and calm. We stayed until the formations below us were lit only by afterglow (though it was still a few minutes before the official sunset time as defined by the Weather Bureau) and then called it a night.

Before going to bed, I discovered that I had lost both the nitroglycerine and the eraser that I always carry in my shirt pocket. The second was the more serious loss, seeing that I never used the medicine but could hardly write a sentence without the eraser.

Having seen that low-light photography was not going to be one of our strong points, we decided not to get up before sunrise, though we did want to see the amphitheater in the early morning light. We got to Sunrise Point at about ten minutes to eight, an hour and a half after sunrise.

Formations in Bryce Canyon Amphitheater by early morning light -- click to enlargeThe morning light did give us a new way to see the Bryce Amphitheater (which both Sunrise and Sunset Points overlook), because although the sun was in front of us, the reflected light from the cliff below our feet illuminated the near side of the freestanding fins and hoodoos with a lovely effect.

We walked the half mile from Sunrise to Sunset taking pictures. Hikers were following a trail down into the amphitheater. It looked like a wonderful excursion, but unfortunately that sort of climb was beyond our athletic capability.

So we went off to eat a big breakfast instead. The lodge dining room had set out a buffet, and we indulged deeply. Well, all right — I indulged deeply. Dorothea had fruit, French toast, and bacon; I had scrambled eggs with ham and cheese mixed in, home fries, three sausage patties, an accidental cheese Danish I picked up on impulse, and cheese blintzes with strawberry mush poured all over them. These were about 4" long, smaller than you’d get in a good Brooklyn deli, but they were so delicious that I had two helpings of two. One view from Inspiration Point -- click to enlargeWhen we left we were both pretty well stuffed, and made a vow (which we kept) to eat an extremely modest lunch that day.

After checking out, we drove to Inspiration Point, which we hadn’t visted before. It was still beautifully illuminated by the morning sun. Whether or not our photos do it justice, it was a fine last impression to take away with us.


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This section last updated 12-13-2004

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