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It's A Great Life: 29 -Bryce Canyon

"For sheer picturesque delicate beauty there can be no place to compare with Bryce Canyon,'' wrote Jack Merewood.

From Denver to Salt Lake City is 520 miles in almost a straight line due west and over the Rocky Mountains. Jessie and Dean, along with Cheryl, drove out there to meet us, and we spent the day together. It was the 4th of July, Independence Day and a holiday, always a day for celebration. We made our way to a big field, where there were hot-dog stands and a steady supply of hamburgers and popcorn, and we spent a festive day, culminating at night in a marvellous firework display.

But I had a problem. After the celebrations were over, we were in the car in a queue to leave, and suddenly every time I turned the steering wheel, even slightly, the horn blew. It was extremely embarrassing. Jessie and Dean who were also in the queue wondered why I was constantly blowing the horn, as did a lot of other people, and there were more than a few irate gestures. I kept holding up my hands and shrugging my shoulders but couldn't do anything about it.

It was a relief when I finally got out of the traffic, horn still acting up. Dean thought it was a huge joke, and we all had to laugh. Except for the horn, we'd had a lovely day with Jessie and Dean, and that night we all stayed at the same motel. Next morning my first job was to find a garage and get the horn attended to. The problem, which turned out to be caused by a loose wire, was soon fixed. Jessie, Dean and Cheryl went back to Golden and we continued on our way, with our next stop Bryce Canyon.

It was a delightful drive from Salt Lake City down the Utah Valley where fruit trees grow in abundance. Particularly delicious were the huge bing cherries being sold at many little stalls at the roadside. South of the town of Panguitch, and still in Utah, we turned to drive through Red Canyon, a spectacular approach to Bryce Canyon, as the road winds its way through an area of vivid red rock and two short tunnels cut through the rock itself. Before Bryce we stopped and booked for the night at Ruby's Inn, then on to the Canyon.

For sheer picturesque delicate beauty there can be no place to compare with Bryce Canyon. Long before the arrival of the white man, the Paiute Indians lived here. Their name for the canyon, translated, was: 'Red rocks standing like men in a bowl-shaped canyon.' Well, that's what it looks like, but there is more to it than that. The first sight leaves one in awe. It is not huge like the Grand Canyon, it is big, but there is no comparison between the two, because this is a gentle, dainty, pink, white and red canyon and beautiful beyond words: in fact it's not really a canyon at all, but an amphitheatre hollowed out of the Pink Cliffs, not formed by a river forcing its way through but by erosion by wind and water - rain, snow and ice. You realise as you stand at the edge of the canyon that one day this will be the top of yet another 'hoodoo' as these columns are called. At the bottom is a wide river bed, dry in the summer, but in the winter when there is snow and rain it turns into a rushing river. Eventually this peters out and dries up. A Paiute, 'Indian Dick', wrote in 1936:
Before there were any Indians the Legend People lived in that place. There were many of them. They were of many kinds -birds, animals, lizards, and such things - but they looked like people. For some reason the Legend People in that place were bad. Because they were bad, Coyote turned them all into rocks. You can see them in that place now, all turned into rocks: some standing in rows, some sitting down, some holding onto others. You can see their faces, with paint on them just as they were before they became rocks. This is the story the people tell.

When the Mormons arrived in this area, Ebenezer Bryce was one who settled here and gave the canyon its name, but after five years life was too difficult and he moved out, not with words of praise for the beauty of the canyon but saying 'This is a hell of a place to lose a cow.'

There are six trails one can walk, and they are numbered one to six. Number one is the least difficult, number two a little harder and so on to number six which is strenuous. Over the years we have been back several times. We've walked most of the trails and nowhere is there a more delightful walk than on the Navajo Loop Trail. It descends into the canyon, from there one can take a glorious stroll along the canyon floor where there is an interesting nature trail described in a booklet, with little numbered wooden posts by flowers, bushes, trees and rocks etc, thirteen in all. One by a bristlecone tree tells us that the tree is 1,600 years old (bristlecones can live up to 4,000 years). The evening primrose is a beautiful delicate yellow flower, so delicate it opens in the cool evening and next day turns to red and dies in the sun. A trail leads off to the Queen's Garden, named because one of the rocks looks like Queen Victoria on her throne: the booklet says 'Now in the heart of the canyon you are about 350 feet below the rim. Queen Victoria, a formation on the ridge above you, reigns over this garden of hoodoos. The queen has changed little over the past 100 years. But when conditions are right, a large slab may fall off causing a drastic change. It could happen this year, next year, or years and years from now.' Then to climb out of the canyon, the round trip being three miles. Quite a climb on the way out, but worth every minute. Every time we've been, the sky has been of the deepest blue, and to look up at it, through the pink and white rocks all around, is a picture the like of which I am certain can be seen nowhere else.

There is a walk all along the rim of the canyon, part of which Sheila had always wanted to take. So once I drove her to Bryce Point, left her there, then drove back the three miles to Sunset Point, then went to meet her on the trail. She walked over two miles without meeting a soul, and had walked almost another mile by the time I met her and was delighted to have achieved her ambition. To look from the edge of the trail is a long way down, but a beautiful sight.

You can take horseback rides into the canyon and this we have done on a couple of occasions. The first time we wanted to book to take a ride the next day, but asked 'What happens if it rains?' The person from whom we were buying the tickets looked as if she couldn't believe the question. 'Rain?' she said, 'oh - it won't rain.' The horseback ride is as gentle as the canyon itself. The horses go down twice a day at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. so it is only a ride of about three hours' duration, a lovely experience. Sheila and I were there again in the year 2000, but at eighty-one I found the trails are getting a little steeper, and take a little longer to negotiate, though we still walked the three-mile trail to the Queen's garden. There is a spectacular natural bridge in the canyon, and years ago I took a movie of Sheila negotiating her way across the top. This year a sign announced that no one should attempt to cross the bridge as it was unsafe, and to do so would risk incurring a fine of $100. The horseback rides, well, we have done that twice; not that we wouldn't like to do it again... but it is wonderful, too, just to sit and look at the canyon and to marvel at the colours of all the stone men in the bowl below.

(The movie of Sheila crossing the bridge?... Well, burglars
boke into our house once when we were on holiday and stole a box containing many of our movies, including this one... irreplaceable memories, and heartbreaking. That was years ago, but we still miss them, and wonder what happened to them.)

It goes without saying that we love Bryce Canyon, and we were reluctant to leave. But now we were on our way to the Canyon, to me the greatest of them all.


To read Jack's vivid account of his wartime experiences To War With The Bays please click on http://www.openwriting.com/archives/to_war_with_the_bays/


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