- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2006

BRYCE CANYON, Utah — Utah? Who knew?

Utah hits us head-on as a land of vast discovery.

Driving to Bryce Canyon, with spectacular mountain horizons, we understand not just those cowboy movies, but how gargantuan dinosaurs could have roamed here, with so much space.

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Bryce, with 1.7 million annual visitors, may be overshadowed by its larger, better-known Utah cousin, Zion, with 3 million visitors each year, but don’t let size fool you.

“Totally outlandish” is how John Boslough and John Gattuso, authors of “America’s National Parks,” describe Bryce. “This is a place that looks like it has been gouged out of the earth, then filled with orange and red rock pedestals so fancifully and bizarrely formed that they look like the inhabitants of a dreamworld.”

Bryce is not actually a canyon but a series of amphitheaters created by millions of years of erosion on a massive plateau. It is best known for hoodoos, whimsical rock spires that sometimes resemble armies marching up from the depths below.

Hoodoo is derived from voodoo, as in casting a spell, which plays into one legend that claims hoodoos are people turned to stone by trickster coyotes.

At 13 overlooks, formations boast names such as Thor’s Hammer, the Poodles, Wall Street and the Silent City. The Bryce Point overlook is perhaps the showiest with its megahoodoo collection, Bryce Amphitheater.

The red rock is the Claron Formation, created by a 40-million-year-old lake that stretched to Nevada, says geologist Tom Hill. The Colorado Plateau 10 million to 15 million years ago uplifted the Paunsaugunt Plateau, creating joints that were eroded by water, forming slot canyons and the hoodoos.

“There are hoodoos other places, but you’ll never find another Bryce Canyon,” Mr. Hill says. “You can hear the rocks cracking and moaning. When that stuff gets wet, it actually moves,” carving an ever-changing landscape. “These columns form by weathering, and these columns die by weathering,” he says. “Millions of hoodoos have been formed and died.”

Mr. Hill’s favorite is Fairyland Point. “Nobody’s ever there. To me, it’s the undiscovered part of the park,” he says.

Jim and Senia Wade from Kenwick, Wash., have visited four of Utah’s five national parks — Arches, Zion, Canyonlands and Bryce (the fifth is Capitol Reef) — and Bryce is their favorite.

“Every time you make a turn or step in a different direction, everything changes,” Mr. Wade says. “It’s one of the smaller ones, but you can branch out in so many different areas. We started at Sunrise Point and went to the other end. If I’d had the energy, I’d have gone down in the canyon, too.”

Dave Webb of www.utah.com suggests that visitors get that close-up view. “Hike down into Bryce Canyon to see it as you hike through it,” he says. “There are a lot of different options for trails — shorter and longer — so be comfortable with the length of the hike. Another option is riding a horse . … Usually horses go on different trails than [those] you hike on foot.”

Accommodations include the historic original lodge in the canyon. In the dining room, you can smell the ponderosa pines outside, and don’t miss the Bryce berry bread pudding. The Best Western Ruby’s Inn is near the park entrance, where Western stores, a grocery, indoor pool and excursions await.

Ruby’s dates from 1916, when Bob Syrett’s grandfather homesteaded the property as a ranch. “He was here six weeks before he knew of Bryce Canyon,” Mr. Syrett says. A neighbor told him about “a big hole in the ground” but advised him to see it anyway.

“My grandfather had built inside the canyon out on Sunset Point … what they called ‘tent cabins.’ About four years later, it was made a national park,” Mr. Syrett says.

He adds that railroad executives, who had the concession rights, bought out — or kicked out — his grandfather.

The present Ruby’s Inn was started in 1924 on the ranch site, but the early days were lean. The inn’s big break came in the 1970s, when the exchange rate was favorable to foreign tourists. Ruby’s still caters to that market, which makes up 60 percent to 70 percent of its guests.

Although Salt Lake City was the official site of the 2002 Winter Olympics, many events were held in satellite locations such as Soldier Hollow at Wasatch Mountain State Park near Heber City. Eighteen biathlon and cross-country skiing events were held there. We play like sharpshooters there, firing air rifles on the same range Olympians used, which is open to the public. Five for five is perfect.

Participants get instruction, then try their skill, going from prone, racked gun to holding it freehand, quite a difference when accuracy counts and much harder when your pulse and breathing are affected by the rigors of championship skiing.

Nearby at the Homestead Resort is the Crater, a bit of a misnomer. Not open as might be expected, it’s a 55-foot-tall domed limestone rock with a small hole on top that nature has hollowed out and filled with 90-some-degree water. A tunnel has been cut through the rock at ground level to access the crystal-clear mineral water. The site is popular for scuba lessons.

Lake houseboating

For plenty of people in the know, summer vacation means Lake Powell. The nation’s second-largest man-made lake (after Lake Mead), this behemoth has more shoreline — 1,960 miles — than the West Coast.

Although most of the 186-mile-long lake is in southern Utah, Wahweap Marina, where we pick up our houseboat, is in Arizona, near Page. Four friends join us on the 59-footer because the four-bedroom two decker would be hard to handle with just two. Besides, summer on the lake is more fun with a crowd.

Novices need not worry. Rentals come with several hours of instruction, help is always just a marine radio call away, and plenty of fellow houseboaters offer advice. Nevertheless, after leaving the marina, we immediately turn the wrong way, knowing the guys onshore are no doubt laughing at us.

Food and water must be brought aboard, and don’t forget a global positioning system device or compass, map, flashlight, firewood and binoculars.

At times, the lake is so still that mirror images of the towering, sheer rock walls of red sandstone can leave you breathless. Its glasslike surface makes it a favored spot for water-skiing. Throughout the day, the colors of the rock change with the light, and near sunset, a canyon wall on one side casts huge craggy shadows on the other, where stone tips glow orange or yellow.

“It’s like going along the Inside Passage” of Alaska, comments Marcy Gallagher, taking her turn behind the wheel. Her husband, Tom, a practiced mariner, adds: “It’s like boating on Mars.”

The goal is to beach the houseboat as a base of operations, then use the speedboat, included in the rental, for exploring, skiing, tubing, fishing or just cruising.

That first day, however, time slips away — shopping and training take longer than expected — and cruising the main channel is so much fun that it’s near dark before we locate a decent anchorage in Gunsight Canyon. We never find the brochure-advertised “sandy beaches.”

All pitch in to dig shoreline anchor holes, and before long, we’re munching on steaks cooked on the houseboat’s gas grill. Later, the six of us stretch out on the upper-deck mattresses to marvel at the stars, including the Milky Way, plus planes, satellites and the occasional meteorite.

Under way on day two, we wise up and send a scouting team in the powerboat to locate our next anchorage. We’re rewarded with a spot in Middle Creek Canyon so nice that we spend our remaining three nights there.

Each evening, neighboring houseboaters entertain us with fireworks, but first we sit around our own campfire. Thirteen-year-old Will Poston and his mom, Rebecca, lead us in making up stories, each starting one, then passing the tale on for the next person’s embellishment.

We howl over Will’s first story starter: “A little penguin is wearing a blood-soaked tourist’s shirt … .”

Other Lake Powell highlights are bathing in it with lake-friendly products; seeing Will’s luminous smile when he goes tubing for the first time; observing a herd of bighorn sheep descend the steep rock bank beside our houseboat late one afternoon; and zipping down the upper deck’s attached slide into the refreshingly cool lake.

“Aussie Steve,” as we nicknamed our orientation instructor, gave this tip for getting the “zing” factor — gaining an extra two feet in distance after coming off the slide: Mop it with dish-washing soap and water first. It works.

We pack snacks and water for our powerboat trip to the world’s largest natural bridge and get under way early to beat the crowds and midday heat. This is the must-see excursion for all houseboaters, a trek to one of the National Park Service’s most remote properties in the lower 48 states: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which straddles Utah and Arizona. There, the 290-foot-tall Rainbow Bridge spans 275 feet and measures 33 feet across the top.

The Byron Cummings-William Boone Douglass expedition of 1908 is recorded as being the first whites to see it, though there is some dispute about that.

On the trail, we meet ranger Chuck Smith, who talks about multimillion-year-old rock formations that rose from what was ocean floor at what once was near the equator. He tells the legend of the rock lizard (a stone formation) clinging to the side of the bridge, and explains that the site is sacred to American Indians, especially the Navajo.

“Did you see the dinosaur print?” he asks.

He walks us to the base of the rock formation, produces a water bottle from his backpack and sprays the surface. A three-toed print suddenly becomes much more noticeable.

Near Vernal is Dinosaur National Monument, perhaps the Grand Canyon of dinosaur land. However, don’t overlook Emery County’s Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, famous for unearthing more than 12,000 bones that represent an array of Jurassic dinosaurs.

Cleveland-Lloyd, known as a dinosaur trap because so many bones are mysteriously concentrated there, has yielded 74 individual dinosaurs, 66 percent of them belonging to the carnivore genus Allosaurus, which is Utah’s state fossil. Skeletons from here are exhibited in more than 65 museums worldwide.

If seeing is believing, what about touching? Our guide, Mike McCandless, Emery County’s economic development director, graciously shows us more dinosaur bones in the wild. Thanks to him, we find a 70-pound rock containing several ammonite fossils probably 200 million years old (nonvertebra and, thus, OK to keep). The guys at the Ruby’s Inn gem shop are knowledgeable enough to help us ship it home.

Thanksgiving Point at Lehi, 16 miles from Provo, is home to the world’s largest dinosaur museum, the excellent North American Museum of Ancient Life. A DinoSnore evening, in which you can spend the night, is a unique treat.

Riding an all-terrain vehicle isn’t on our wish list — until we do it. Then it becomes clear why people ride these four-wheel runabouts. Mountain scenery; encounters with antelope, deer, coyote and wild donkey; and the thrill of speed and dust in your face may help explain the fascination. Did we mention the views?

We sample a beginner’s section of the Paiute Trail’s 260 miles of mapped trails around Richfield and Marysville, but the Sevier County route centers on family fun and outdoor adventure, especially during the Rocky Mountain ATV Jamboree each September.


Other parts of the trip produce discoveries in nature, but Robert Redford’s Sundance resort sparks artistic creation.

The 95 guest cabins and 11 private homes sit below Mount Timpanogos in Provo Canyon. Mr. Redford set out to save 5,000 acres from mass development by purchasing land in 1969 for what he envisioned as an arts community with recreational opportunities.

The resulting resort, situated within the nature he so reveres, became the birthplace of the Sundance Institute in 1981; the well-known Sundance Film Festival is held annually in nearby Park City.

Mr. Redford is quoted in the resort brochure: “To us, Sundance is and always will be a dream. What you see, smell, taste and feel here is a dream being carefully nurtured. It is an area whose pledge is to people. What we offer in the form of art and culture, spirit and service, is homegrown and available to all.”

Sundance fosters artistic discovery. The film festival and Sundance cable channel evolved. Sundance Institute offers summer labs for the movie arts. For all guests, the dramatic setting and the Art Shack set this vacation apart.

With advance bookings, visitors can try their hand at pottery, photography, jewelry making or painting. Potter Tim Rencher easily guides us through throwing a bowl on the wheel; painter Lisa Gardner instructs us in watercolors; and silversmith Brittany Golden helps us create a pendant necklace.

Activities abound at Sundance: riding horses and hiking, especially to the popular Stewart Falls; mountain biking; stargazing at the amphitheater; off-site float trips and fly-fishing on the Provo River.

In winter, there’s alpine and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and, off-site, snowmobiling at Homestead Crater.

The small spa offers top-notch services inspired by American Indian traditions. Try the hot-stone massage.

Therapist Tracy Eldevick talks about “the Sundance spirit”: “It’s a place that gives you the freedom to explore yourself. I love working here and especially for a company with a conscience.”

Public relations manager Lucy Ridolphi says visitors to Sundance differ from other visitors in the area, “who most often visit family or friends or connect to the [Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints] here, or Brigham Young University.”

“Some come here,” she says, “because they’ve heard about us through art and film. I think the number one thing that people love about this area is nature.”

Our airport shuttle driver, Tim Bingham, agrees: “You can go up there and find serenity. To be able to escape the rat race is absolutely fantastic. That’s why I like Sundance. It’s nature.”

For Kitty Howell of Mount Pleasant, S.C., the attraction was Robert Redford.

Chatting as she completes a jewelry class, Miss Howell says, “We were staying in Park City and couldn’t be this close to Robert Redford without coming up.”

She and her friend Ann were rewarded by spotting Mr. Redford “wearing jeans and a white shirt sitting on the grass talking to an attractive woman,” Miss Howell says. “The minute we spotted him, we called Ann’s daughter on the cell phone. He looked wonderful.”

Who knew there was so much to discover in Utah?

Jamboree, gardens, fossils to visit

Ride an all-terrain vehicle, especially on the stunning Paiute ATV Trail near the million-acre Fishlake National Forest in Richfield.

Nearby is yellow-hued Big Rock Candy Mountain. For information, contact the Sevier County Travel Council; call 877/473-8368 or visit www.visitsevier.com. The annual ATV Jamboree will be Sept. 18 through 23; visit www.atvjam.com.

Thanksgiving Point (www.thanksgivingpoint.com) near Sundance is home to beautiful gardens and one of the world’s largest dinosaur museums (801/768-4940).

The Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry, 30 miles south of Price, is one of the world’s most prolific fossil sites, thanks to its location in the San Rafael Swell, a large geologic upheaval of a type found nowhere else on Earth.

Visitors can see an Allosaurus skeletal reconstruction on site (435/636-3600; www.blm.gov/utah/price/quarry.htm). Fossil hounds, dino hunters and other tourists can contact Mike McCandless of the Emery County Economic Development Department: [email protected]

At Soldier Hollow, near Heber City in Wasatch Mountain State Park, visitors can shoot air rifles (435/654-1791; www.soldierhollow.com).

In Midway, the very romantic Blue Boar Inn was voted Utah’s best bed-and-breakfast inn, and its restaurant has a four-diamond AAA rating (888/650-1400; www.theblueboarinn.com).

One of the most complete collections of Indian rock art is in Fremont Indian State Park & Museum in Sevier at Clear Creek Canyon (www.stateparks.utah.gov/park_pages/fremont.htm; 435-527-4631).

The sites www.utah.com and www.grandcircle.org offer handy information on the national parks and monuments as well as itineraries for the Grand Circle Tour of Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks.

For information on Bryce Canyon: 435/834-5322 or www.nps.gov/brca/home.htm.

Best Western Ruby’s Inn, open year-round, has 368 rooms. Its Bryce View Lodge, across the street, has 166 rooms, and there’s a recreational vehicle park as well. Activities include canyon helicopter tours, guided ATV tours and scenic rim-trail rides on horses (800/468-8660, www.rubysinn.com).

The historic Bryce Canyon National Park Lodge is open April 1 through Oct. 31 and offers the only in-canyon accommodations. Facilities include 70 motel rooms, 40 historic cabins with exposed beams and fireplaces, and a restaurant (435/834-5361; www.brycecanyonlodge.com).

Visit www.lakepowell.com for itineraries and information on houseboat rentals from Aramark and Lake Powell resorts and marinas; call 800/528-6154 for reservations.

Rainbow Bridge, 520/608-6404; www.nps.gov/rabr.

The Sundance resort is an hour’s drive from Salt Lake City, 45 minutes from Park City and 20 minutes from Provo. Rates start at $240 a night; 800/892-1600; www.sundanceresort.com.

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