- Date: March 24, 2018
- Start: Sunset Point
- Distance: 12-13 miles
- Duration: 2 hours 36 minutes (breaks not included)
- Type: Two different loops
The packed dirt beneath my feet was heaven to my restless legs. After 16+ hours cramped in a car over 1,000 miles, we were finally hitting the trails on our long awaited Southwest run-cation. Despite how anxious I was to get moving and pick up speed, I was stopped in my tracks almost immediately. There’s nothing like experiencing a sunrise in a new (to us), unexplored landscape. And this one, with its warm, golden rays stretching out slowly over these curious desert formations, was one for the books.
Our drive from Portland to Bryce Canyon was beautiful, but draining. We spent the night–well, barely a couple of hours–sleeping in the car off a forest road right outside of the park. I was adamant about getting to the trailhead by sunrise so 1) I could see it, and 2) so we could start our mini-adventure/shakeout run before the trails were crawling with hordes of people. We timed it just right, beginning the Fairyland Loop before anyone else was on the trail. We started out high, running along the rim gazing out over this vast canyon dotted with limestone hoodoos (those aforementioned “curious formations”), pinyon pine-juniper forests, and patches of snow. So different compared to any place we’d ever run! It was definitely turning into one of those adventures where I stop every two minutes to “oooh” and “ahhhh” at the scenery and capture it all on camera.
As we dropped down into the canyon, the formerly hardened, frozen dirt began to soften beneath the warmth of the sun, transforming into a thick, goopy clay that latched onto our shoes and refused to come off. Scraping and cleaning was futile as the continuation of this sludge-y tread made it impossible for our shoes to stay clay-free. With two-pound weights essentially strapped to our feet, we continued at a slower pace. Of course, we couldn’t really complain. There was so much to see I probably wouldn’t have been moving that fast anyway.
We climbed out of the forested area and wound our way through the ever fascinating hoodoos, eventually making our way up to a ridge where we were able to look out over the park again. We stood here for a good while in complete awe of this vibrant landscape with its multicolored layers of sedimentary rock dating back millions of years, bands of orange, pink, and white stretched across the hillsides in giant waves as far as the eye could see. From here, we dropped down, following the gentle curves of the route and making the pit stop at Tower Bridge before climbing back up to the rim to start our next running route: Queens Garden-Navajo Loop.
As expected, solitude was long gone by the time we made it up to Sunrise Point, and the Queens Garden Trail is one of the most popular in the park. After a short break on the rim to get a snack and clean the clay and rocks out of our shoes, we started the descent into the amphitheater via Queens Garden. Since the final part of the Fairyland Loop had been uphill, we took full advantage of this downhill section, flying down the trail, weaving our way through hikers and camera-toting tourists, all while getting up close and personal with the tightly packed maze of pinnacles and other myriad shapes and structures.
Once on the Navajo Trail, we found ourselves running through the forest again until reaching the final narrow uphill stretch leading to Sunset Point. (Note: We ascended the Two Bridges side of the loop, not the famous Wall Street side since it is closed during the winter months) Aside from the beauty of the towering rock walls on either side of us, we also admired (i.e. geeked out about) the stonework of the meticulous man-made retaining walls that helped form the switchbacks leading out of the canyon.
We jogged back to the parking lot, which was now completely full, and proceeded to throw on a change of clothes and unpack some food to make lunch. The line of cars circling the lot waiting for spaces to open up made me so grateful that we’d arrived early to avoid this mess. “No, we’re not leaving,” became a pretty standard phrase in the short time we were at the car. With fresh clothes and bagel sandwiches, we walked back out to the rim, found an empty bench, and enjoyed a few final moments basking in the beauty of Bryce Canyon before getting back on the road to our next run-cation destination and the crux of our entire trip: the Grand Canyon.