Teardrops formed at the corner of my eyes as my body shivered – not from the freezing temperature, but with goosebumps...
Here's the thing about Bryce Canyon National Park, or any other canyon for that matter: once you have seen the Grand Canyon, you would feel other canyons would pale in comparison. I almost committed that same mistake. One of my quests is to cover all 59 national parks of the Unites States. Bryce was on that list.
I crossed into Utah, opened another bar of chocolate, and sped toward Bryce Canyon National Park. I came to a junction where I made a right after "keeping a stone on my heart" (English translation of a popular Hindi idiom meaning 'with a heavy heart'). Why? Just to my left was the way to Zion National Park; a place that has been sitting on top of my list! But Zion demanded at least a couple of nights. So, I continued on and entered Red Canyon as I took a road off the main highway. Red Canyon lead into Bryce. The moment I entered, I realized how mistaken I was to think of other canyons in light of the Grand Canyon!
The crimson-orange hoodoos decorated in patches of snow against the blue sky - a rather unique sight! The national park itself is small, the spinal road taking around 25 minutes end-to-end. I had enough time to stop at all pull-outs before returning to the Bryce Amphitheater for sunset. The sun arched toward the western sky as I sat atop a rock, looking into the distance.
I made conversation with a fellow traveler and her cute dog. I also comforted a worried wife whose husband had gone to retrieve the remnants of his expensive camera that fell off his tripod, hundreds of feet below into the canyon. By the way, her predicament made an indelible impression to never risk camera equipment and always ensure safety.
Soon, the visitors went back to their cars. I was by myself. Why? Let me tell you the biggest reason why I was so excited about Bryce Canyon National Park. Bryce Canyon has one of the best night skies of the world. That night, I was in for something unforgettable.
The temperature was dipping quickly with at least an hour to go until the last light from the western sky faded. I took forty winks inside the Fiat to keep myself warm and wait until complete darkness. 9 pm. I inhaled deeply as I stepped outside and wore my backpack. I avoided looking up. My first vision of the stars was to be from Bryce Point – not the parking lot. I reached the 360 degree panorama point of Bryce Canyon. I set my equipment down. Finally, I looked up.
Teardrops formed at the corner of my eyes as my body shivered – not from the freezing temperature, but with goosebumps. Every inch of cosmos was covered by a celestial object. The best night sky I had ever witnessed! I was in awe, I was feeling emotional, and I felt so tiny and insignificant below the heavens. As my vision adjusted further, I recognized the Milky way arched right above. It was unreal!
I started taking long exposures. I reviewed my shots immediately as I continued to survey the night sky. Then, I saw it. I did not believe my eyes at first but there was no mistaking the perfect spiral – Andromeda.
I fell to my knees in sheer wonder! Present under the most brilliant night sky all by myself in the heart of Bryce Canyon - I thanked the stars (pun intended)! Reluctantly, I walked back to the car. I hit the highway back to Page as the golden moon rise reflected on the rear view mirror. Some moments you cannot capture; you treasure. A grand finale to my first solo excursion! My experiences from the past few days whetted my appetite to explore!