This post represents another installment in the series detailing the second of our three cross-country National Parks camping trips with travel trailer in tow. At the time of this trip in 2010, our son, Ryan, was 16 and our daughter, Kyra, was 11.
It was during our first National Parks trip in 2007 that our family initially ventured off the path of camping in private RV parks by spending a few nights at the Madison Campground inside Yellowstone National Park. Waking up in such a gorgeous and serene location immediately changed our perspective on camping, and a love affair with State and National Park campgrounds was born.
|Madison Campground ~ Yellowstone National Park|
On this, our second National Parks trip with the kids, we left our campsite in Zion National Park’s Watchman Campground and continued our journey toward the North Campground in Bryce Canyon National Park. Along the way, we made a brief stop at Cedar Breaks National Monument. Sadly, we cut our visit short due to parental concerns for our kids’ safety – a result of a sketchy-looking character hanging around at one of the viewpoints. We'd welcome a return trip to Cedar Breaks when we're in a better frame of mind. North Campground (not to be confused with the North Rim Campground at Grand Canyon National Park) did not disappoint. The campground is located across and just a short way down the road from the Park’s Visitor Center. It has 99 sites which are available on a first come, first served basis. (At the time of our trip in 2010, reservable sites were available – you all know that I’m too particular about my campsites and too much of a chicken to take a chance on first come, first served.) There are no hookups, but a dump station is operational during the summer months (a small fee is charged) and potable water is available. Our campsite was large and wooded, and staying inside the Park allowed easy access to its highlights and trails.
|North Campground ~ Bryce Canyon National Park|
With geological features so unlike the mountains of the northeast, Bryce Canyon was a National Park we had been itching to explore. Photographs of intriguing and colorful hoodoos had aroused our curiosity and we were eager to hit the trails. After poring over the Park maps, we decided that combining the Navajo Trail with the Queen’s Garden Trail would not only give us great views of the Canyon, but would also allow us to get down into it to investigate nature’s grand designs in depth - no pun intended.
Allow me to digress for just a moment. Since my birthday is in July and I’m the family vacation planner, I can usually manage to schedule some type of glorious adventure as a way to celebrate my birthday. Having a November birthday, Alan is not so fortunate; however, he has the advantage of celebrating both his birthday and Thanksgiving together on some years, and that’s pretty special, too. Borrowing one of my sister-in-law’s favorite expressions, “it was quite delightful” to spend my birthday exploring Bryce Canyon National Park. It was a beautiful weather day, too – the icing on the proverbial (and birthday) cake.
It doesn’t take much to make our family happy, and we spent our time at Bryce Canyon visiting all the viewpoints, taking advantage of the trails and relaxing in the solitude of the campground. I would love to see the Canyon with a dusting of snow – I imagine it would be a magnificent scene and a memorable experience. I appreciate the fact that each National Park has its own attributes and personality accompanied by a wide variety of outdoor activities and opportunities for sightseeing. At Bryce, it was all about the colorful rock formations that fill the vast Canyon and the ever changing views as we hiked or traveled in the Park.
Having done my research (of course!), I told Alan, Ryan and Kyra that our plans included hiking the Bristlecone Loop so that we could see what was believed to be the oldest Bristlecone Pine tree in the Park. The Bristlecone Pines in Bryce Canyon National Park are estimated to be up to 1,800 years old. There is more than one kind of Bristlecone Pine, and all of the different types have exceptionally long life spans. One tree, in the White Mountains of California, is allegedly estimated to be more than 5,000 years old. That just boggles my mind! Naturally, I was talking up this adventure and the incredibly magnificent tree we’d be seeing on our hike - because I was thinking about the pine trees on our property that tower hundreds of feet into the sky and are nowhere near 1,800 years old.
Well, as it turns out, had I been thinking instead about the location of Bryce Canyon and this Bristlecone Pine tree, I would have realized that the challenges to plant life on an exposed ridge at an elevation of over 9,000 feet were much greater than for our pine trees at a much lower elevation and in a more protected location. As embarrassed as I am to admit this, when we first gazed at the oldest Bristlecone Pine tree in Bryce Canyon National Park, I couldn’t help but think, “This is it?” It was, indeed, a stately old tree but, honestly, it didn’t even look like it was still alive to those of us used to greener and more vibrant plant life.
All three family members turned to me, asking if that tree was really what we hiked out to see. Although we were treated to a spectacular view of the Grand Escalante Staircase and we all enjoyed the hike, my family has never let me live down the dubious adventure of locating the oldest Bristlecone Pine in Bryce Canyon.
Bryce Canyon was one of the National Parks near the top of our bucket list, and for good reason. It offers stunning vistas, extraordinary hiking opportunities and, for our family, the chance to get up close and personal to an impressive and almost unimaginable landscape. I’d return to Bryce Canyon in a heartbeat, and I do believe that everyone in the family would happily tag along, too - if only for another opportunity to recount the Bristlecone Pine Adventure.