Reader Stories: Unseen Bryce
posted Sunday, April 10, 2016 at 6:22 AM EDT
By IR Reader Mark Seawell
Honestly, Bryce Canyon National Park held no interest to me. My wife, Lutgart and I moved to Utah from Ramstein Germany in July of 2014. I retired from the Air Force while serving overseas and continued to serve now as a civilian employee. When we found out we were coming to Utah, it was and remains exciting. We had been overseas for nearly 22 years and coming back the United States to live in the southwest was a dream come true.
The first national parks we visited were Capital Reef and Zion. This was in November of 2014. Because these were the first two national parks we visited ever, we were simply awestruck. Our next trip was to the Moab in January of 2015. From the moment we drove to Arches and walked to Delicate Arch, again, we were blown away. Loved Arches, loved Canyonlands and hold deep, deep reverence for Dead Horse Point State park. The Moab is just off the scale in my opinion and it left the deepest impression on both of us.
In May of 2015, we visited the Tetons. The drive to this iconic set of mountains was fun since our daughter joined us to surprise my wife for her birthday. The weather wasn’t good but perfect for moody captures of this treasure. The Tetons met my expectations and exceeded them even with the weather. I took real pleasure standing at the Snake River where Ansel set up for his iconic shot. The trip was ridiculously short (2 days) but hey, beggars can’t be choosers. On the way back to Utah, my wife mentioned, “We still haven’t been to Bryce. We should go.” The sound of silence was my reply. I really wasn’t interested. I had seen pictures of course and felt...not much.
We started a photography business while in Germany and once we arrived in Utah, we restarted Mark Seawell Photography here in the states. We sell periodically on Hill Air Force base and lately in Ogden. My wife started the drum beat for Bryce once again, complaining to me that customers were shocked we had nothing from there. Finally, my wife said “Hey, your birthday is in January and you are officially over the hill. Why don’t we go to Bryce?” With such a charming invitation how could I say no? We had a dear English friend coming to visit from Germany in January so we took her with us. Hopefully it will be worth the trip, I silently thought to myself.
The drive down was lovely. Our friend put on the Serial podcast (enthralling) and we arrived at Bryce Canyon on a cold, blue sky day. We settled into the Best Western Grand, did our check for any signs of bedbugs and settled down. This is a nice hotel, relatively new and I would recommend it with no reservations. They also serve a great breakfast but they don’t serve lunch or dinner. In the winter, food options are extremely limited. My advice is bring your own dinner. Any other time of the year there are far more restaurants open and you will have a lot more choice.
So in the middle of the afternoon we drove into the park. Snow was definitely on the ground but the roads were clear. We stopped at the visitor’s center and talked to one of the rangers. She was a treasure, giving us fantastic advice on spots to see. Finally, the three of us drove to Sunrise point. The ladies preceded me as I fumbled with my relatively new purchase, the OMD-EM5 MKII. (A loud “Thank you!” to the folks at Imaging Resource on this purchase! My photo was selected a winner in their “Photo of the Day” contest and I won a voucher to be used at Adorama.) My trusty GX7 was now the backup.
We walked up to the rim and….wow. Even in this “boring” afternoon light, what a sight to behold. Loved the land at first sight. The booming canyons, impressive and unique covered in fresh snow. The hoodoos were just alive. I remember reading about Ansel Adams’ first reaction and now I understood. And when evening arrived with the light of dusk it was impressive to say the least.
The next morning we were up at six a.m. sharp. Breakfast started at 0630 and it looked nice. The problem was sunrise was shortly after 0700 so we literally grabbed coffee, a muffin and ran out the hotel lobby. We arrived at Sunrise Point, well at least I did. It was bitterly cold and the ladies decided to stay in the car a few more minutes. I hastily arrived at the overlook for sunrise point. There were about 5 other photographers present but I easily found a spot. I love National Parks in winter. Much less crowds and noise. That being said, you would think some of the folks arriving later were the loud, after party crowd! Annoying but what can you do?
The sky erupted, light spilling through the thin, high clouds. I studied this scene, so unreal as to be otherworldly. The hoodoos shook off their silent slumber as the light started touching them. An inner glow was present and the shadows loosened their grip, retreating as the light of dawn approached. My greedy camera demanded my attention, silently humming with excitement at this feast. Focus. See it, take it in and capture the light. Out the corner of my eye I saw my wife and friend approach slowly, too slowly for me. But they made steady progress, avoiding the slippery ice on top of the snow. Just as they arrived at the stairs to join me it happened.
The sun cracked the horizon and suddenly the land changed. I literally watched the hoodoos transformed as though by a shockwave of light, changing in front of my eyes. It was pure magic!
We continued our journey later in the day. One thing I forgot to mention is the drive from the hotel into Bryce proper is no more than 8-10 minutes. So after our stunning experience at Sunrise point, we went back to the hotel for a proper breakfast. We returned to the park for a hike on the Navajo Trail which starts at Sunrise Point. What you quickly start to understand about this park is the trails. If you really want to enjoy Bryce you need to not only take pictures on the rim, but also walk among the hoodoos. So off we went to explore this unique landscape, up close and personal.
And what a sight it was. With our YAKS on the bottom of our feet, our small merry group of adventurers set off on the Navajo Trail. Funny how your perspective changes when you are walking among the hoodoos. We were all humbled by this experience. I started lingering behind because I’m me and the ladies pressed on. But seriously, no photographer worth their salt would have walked that trail in a rush. There is just too much slowing you down, visions of a land shaped by forces beyond our understanding. Perfect.
But Bryce is more than hoodoos. We returned to Bryce at the end of February. We enjoyed the first trip so much we decided to explore more of the park. Most people stop at the beginning of the park to visit Sunrise and Sunset Points, Inspirational Point and Bryce Point but the park spans 17 miles and there is more treasure to see. At the far end of the park you have views worth the trip, Rainbow and Yovimpa. Though not as spectacular as the beginning of the park, they offer some very unique views of their own. My wife and I hiked the Bristle Pinecone loop and we were amazed at the Bristlecone trees and the views from the edge. Seriously, we have just scratched the surface with this wonderful place.
So the park that I was least interested to visit has become one of my favorites. We will return in October with our best friends who will be visiting from Belgium in October. We are NOT interested in seeing Bryce during the summer for various reasons including the record numbers of people expected this year. If you photograph just from the rim, chances are you will not be alone. If you seek solitude, you need the trails. Whether you go to Peek-a-boo, or Queens Trail or another, I would encourage you to get down among the hoodoos to enjoy a true Bryce experience. Apparently, if you are into astrophotography, Bryce is perfect. From a photography and hiking point of view, Bryce is a wonderful place, especially in winter. If you haven’t made the trip, listen to your wife and go!
A Big IR "Thank You" to Mark for this excellent Bryce Canyon report and imagery!
To see more of Mark's work, please visit his website:
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