The first day on the job consisted of orientation, an easy day of being a tourist and exploring the same sights that they do. I hopped on the free shuttle bus and took a hike along the rim to refamiliarize myself with the most popular lookouts-- Inspiration Point, Sunset Point, and Sunrise Point.
The midday sun was not ideal for photography, but Bryce still manages to look amazing at just about any time of day (or night!). Here's the view looking down into Queen's Garden:
Next, I hiked down the Queen's Garden trail. I had about 3 hours before needing to get back to the Visitor Center for an afternoon bus tour-- plenty of time! My favorite part of the trail is the first archway that leads you into the garden area itself...
I started my climb back up to the rim, still thinking I had plenty of time to spare, when all of a sudden a visitor came running down the trail saying the trail above was closed and that we'd either have to stay and wait or go back down and take another trail up to the rim. Hmm, the alternate route was much longer and I'd miss my bus tour for sure if I went that direction. So I chose to continue hiking up the trail to the closure point in hopes it would re-open soon.
I arrived to find one of my fellow RV neighbor volunteers working crowd control. The trail was closed for an in-progress rescue of a young woman who had been taking selfies with her friends and fell off the edge down into a steep gravel bank about 100 feet below the rim. She was not seriously injured, but had no way of getting any traction in the loose, steep gravel to climb back out.
I learned from the fellow volunteer that rescues like this are a daily occurrence at Bryce-- most are due to dehydration, improper footwear, or getting way too close to Bryce's fragile eroding rims. Most visitors survive these mishaps with just a few scrapes or a sprained ankle, but a few of these accidents per year are fatal. A valuable lesson learned this day to share with visitors I meet in the months ahead.
Within about 20 minutes, my gamble of waiting at the closure point finally paid off when a fireman radioed down to us to reopen the trail. I made it back to the VC and still had some time to spare!
Activity around the VC was busier than usual due to the park's annual Geology Festival in progress this weekend. Lots of shade shelters and exhibits were set up on the front patio:
After a quick lunch, it was time for afternoon bus tour down to Rainbow Point. The tour is led by the concessionaire bus company drivers, and on this afternoon, we had one of their best (Spike). He did a fabulous job keeping us entertained and well informed on the 3 hour free tour. Here, he was showing the group a bristlecone pine tree (my favorite):
We then moved over to Rainbow Point (elevation 9,000 feet), at the end of the Paunsaugunt plateau-- the highest/newest layer of the Grand Staircase that stretches over 100 miles to our east and south all the way down to the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell.
On our return to the Visitor Center, Spike stopped at the various lookouts to let us gawk and take pictures. Natural Bridge was the crowd favorite!
At the end of the day, I reconvened with my supervisor to get my uniforms, fill out some paperwork, and get my assignments for the rest of the week.
My most unique assignment was to be the "caboose" for the very popular Full Moon Hike. The hike is so popular that the park must use a lottery system to select the 30 lucky folks who get to take the hike. In the late afternoon, prospective hikers must show up to the Lodge with their hiking boots. We then inspect the boots to ensure they are appropriate for the terrain, and issue the visitor a lottery ticket. A few minutes later, the ranger draws 30 tickets from the hopper and those winners are given details on where to meet up for the hike later that evening.
I was assigned to Ranger Joel's hike with the responsibility for staying at the back to ensure that no visitors got left behind. These hikes use only moonlight for trail illumination. At times, it can be a bit dark, but at other times, there's enough light for a quick handheld iPhone photograph!
The park (and its trails) are always open, and hiking at night is a great way to find some solitude and have the park all to yourself.
After my first work week was completed, I headed out to check out the neighborhood. The nearest grocery store is about 25 miles away in Panguitch. On my way to the store one day, I decided to check out the East Fork of the Sevier river which runs parallel to Bryce's western boundary.
As I rounded a curve, I saw a young Golden Eagle on the ground fairly close to the road. I expected it to fly off as I drove past, but it didn't. So, I stopped and backed up to get a closer look.
Ah, that explains it-- the bird was trying to arrange its midday meal for transport.
From the white-tipped tail, I could see that its prey was an endangered Utah Prairie Dog, quite common in this area on the Paunsaugunt plateau.
Finally, with its prey firmly secured in its talon, the eagle extended its giant wings and took flight. What an amazing sight!
As I neared the Tropic Reservoir, the largest body of water in this area of Utah, I saw my next big bird-- an Osprey! I'd never seen one this close before and it was quite a thrill to watch it take off.
The reservoir is rather small but serves as a welcome respite for both wildlife and humans. This area is all National Forest land and has a nice campground next to the lake as well as many free dispersed camping options-- just a short 13 mile ride from Bryce's entrance gate!
Perhaps my most memorable evening at Bryce happened near the end of July. We were now into monsoon season and would often see a quick thunderstorm roll through every afternoon. On this day, it had been cloudy and rainy most of the afternoon, but towards sunset time, I happened to see the sun pop out beneath the clouds. I quickly grabbed my camera gear and charged over to Inspiration Point about 3 miles away.
Running up to the highest overlook, it was still lightly raining with a few bolts of lightning in the distance. I crouched low near some smaller trees away from the exposed overlook (with its metal guardrails!) until the storm had safely moved east. Lightning strikes are common along Bryce's rim and I didn't wish to become another statistic!
My patience was finally rewarded as the setting sun lit up the canyon revealing a rainbow beneath the retreating storm. Wow! What a privilege to live in this spectacular place!
Within a few minutes, other visitors were now repopulating the overlook. I took a quick photo of them to show the sense of scale of the scene. At 37,000 acres, Bryce is one of our smaller national parks, but it certainly is worthy of the status nonetheless!