Friday, November 4, 2016

Bryce's Peek-a-Boo Trail

Working the Visitor Center at Bryce Canyon National Park was far different than at Bosque del Apache NWR.  At Bosque, I'd interact with less than 100 people per day, each often asking very unique questions (i.e. showing me their camera LCD and asking "what is this bird/plant/reptile?").

At Bryce, the line of visitors waiting to speak with us at the Info Desk was often long and continuous.  No matter how hard (or how many different ways) we tried, we could never seem to meet the demand of Bryce's exploding visitation (now about 2 million a year).  Exasperatingly, the question from all these visitors was almost always the same:  "what's the best hike?"


Of course, before a new ranger or volunteer stands at the Information Desk delivering this valuable information, they really must experience these hikes for themselves, so that's exactly what I began to do after arriving to Bryce.

One of my favorite hikes quickly became the Peek-a-Boo Loop.  Peek-a-Boo is a 3-mile up and down loop that is accessed a variety of ways.  The most-direct access (Bryce Point) was closed for parking lot and rim trail renovation all last summer, so that access point was never an option.

That meant accessing Peek-a-Boo via one of Bryce's other trails.  The vast majority of hikers accessed it via the connector trail to the Queen's/Navajo loop.  Doing both loops together form the very popular 6.4 mile hike called "The Figure 8."  A highly-rewarding hike if you have the better part of a day to do it.

But there's another access point to Peek-a-Boo, far less known and populated (but admittedly, far less scenic)-- via the trail from Bryce Canyon Wilderness Area on the east side of the park.  Driving up a long, dusty road from the town of Tropic, UT below the canyon, you arrive to a small turn-around area where only a couple of cars can park.

A step-over metal gate and small brown sign point you to the trailhead.  Note that there is no fee station here, so if you don't already have a park pass or daily entrance receipt, you'll want to pick that up at the main Bryce entrance before heading down this trail.


I hiked this trail on a perfect July morning and, while I noticed one other car parked at the trailhead, never saw another person coming or going on this part of the trail.  It was a quiet, peaceful reprieve from the tour bus crowds along the rim.


Unlike all trailheads on the main side of the park that start at the canyon rim and descend steeply down into (and out of) the canyon, this trail starts from below and gradually climbs up.  A great workout at the beginning of your hike when legs are still fresh (and a great relief to only have a gentle, continuous downhill at the end!).


After about 1.7 miles, you reach a junction of the horse trail with the Queen's/Navajo Connector trail.  Yes, there's one more way to reach Peek-a-Boo-- via horseback!  A concessionaire offers day-long rides from the Bryce Canyon Lodge, and by all visitor accounts I've heard, it's a great experience.

As I reached the start of the Peek-a-Boo loop, this group of riders was coming down off the loop.


While the loop can be hiked in either direction, the more rewarding way to do it (from the bottom of the connector trail) is clockwise, heading to the left/east side of the loop first and finishing with the right/west side last.  That allows for the last mile of the loop to be all down hill, and saves the most stunning views until the end.

The start of the trail is no slouch, though.  As you climb up into the amphitheater, you get closer and closer to the brilliant hoodoo formations that Bryce is known for.  Nowhere else like it in the world!


After a mile or so of climbing, I arrive to a shady, massive rock overhang with a some empty benches.  A perfect spot to enjoy some lunch!


I continue a series of short up and down climbs for another 3/4ths of a mile when the loop turns to begin its westward side.  The scenery grows more and more spectacular until rounding a corner to this amazing sight-- the "Wall or Windows"



The Wall of Windows is a great place to see the various stages of hoodoo formation.  Hoodoos are formed by a process known a "frost wedging," a series of nightly freeze/thaw cycles.  As moisture and erosion cause softer sediment to wash into the canyon from the rim, long fins of limestone begin to emerge. As nightly freeze/thaw cycles carve away at these fins over hundreds of years, the wall of rock begins to transform into connected cylinders.  Wind erosion then blasts holes into the thinnest segments of rock forming "windows" between the columns.  Eventually, the top connecting arch of the window succumbs to erosion and crumbles, leaving solitary hoodoo spires.  Finally, wind erosion and frost wedging topple these free-standing hoodoos into the canyon.  Hopefully, by that point, Mother Nature has already began a new set of hoodoos closer to the canyon rim for the process to begin once again, but conditions must be just right.

At Bryce's 8,000-foot east-facing rim, hoodoo-forming conditions have been perfect for the past few hundred years.  But if global warming reduces the number of annual freeze/thaw cycles or alters precipitation levels, this all could change in the future.


Climbing up one final set of switchbacks, I look back to admire the hoodoos to the east one final time...


And look ahead through a manmade tunnel to an amazing vista of the entire canyon ahead....



From Peek-a-Boo looking West, you get an amazing "reverse" view of what visitors see looking east from the popular Inspiration and Sunset rim-top viewpoints.




Before the loop descends a final time, there are a few wonderful Bristlecone Pine trees perched along the trail.  These trees are some of the oldest on earth and noted for their long, droopy branches and gnarled, twisted trunks and roots.



Peek-a-Boo is rated as a "Difficult" in the Park brochure, but I honestly don't find it any more strenuous than the Navajo Loop or the Queen's Garden trail.  Bring plenty of water and salty snacks, a good hat and proper footwear, and take your time.  You'll have a wonderful hike! 







5 comments:

  1. Beautiful pics, great directions and info- thanks for sharing! Hope you're doing well!

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    1. You're welcome! I'm feeling better and stronger every day-- fingers crossed the chemo is working!

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  2. Love this Lynne! Bryce is definitely on our must see list. It was one of my mom's favorite places. Hope you are finding joy. I think about you often.

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  3. Love, love this park! One of our favorites. Thanks for sharing the beautiful photos:) Sending prayers your way daily.

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  4. Thanks for the tour, I'll have to remember this trail head. I;ve been to Bryce 2x, love it. I am going to the GC in May and just may have to stop at Bryce and do this hike.

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