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HIKING

In a majestic Utah park, a royal visage

August 10, 2003|John McKinney | Special to The Times

Sunset is what often dazzles travelers to Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah, but sunrise there is equally spectacular. Early-morning hikers at the canyon rim often are rewarded with stunning colors.

You can spend the night at the comfortable Bryce Canyon Lodge or at the North or Sunset campgrounds, all in the heart of the park. As night gives way to day, you have a short trip to the rim.

In fall, the darkness of the cold, early mornings here can be eerie. Your breath is visible, but Bryce Canyon is not. The walk to Sunrise Point leads to the rim of a great black hole. But at last the sun arcs into the sky and lights the altar fires in the ancient rock cathedral below. Purple shadows fade, and miles of pink, red and yellow emerge.

Bryce isn't a true canyon but a series of breaks in a gigantic geologic amphitheater. Pioneer Ebenezer Bryce, for whom the park is named, described the confusing, horseshoe-shaped formations as a heck of a place to lose a cow.

Hikes from the Sunrise Point and Sunset Point trail heads provide great views of pink and white pillars of rock called hoodoos. You'll descend past fantastically eroded limestone formations, see weathered ponderosa pine and Douglas fir and meander among a jumble of pillars topped with gray cap rock referred to as "hats."

The Queens Garden Trail is one of the easiest routes to the canyon floor. From Sunrise Point, the trail passes incredible rock formations, including one said to resemble Queen Victoria in profile. The hike from Sunrise Point to the Queen is about 1 3/4 miles round trip.

Sunset Point is half a mile from Sunrise by way of a rim trail. From Sunset Point, switchbacks lead down to Navajo Loop Trail. The left fork delivers close-up views of a formation called Two Bridges and Thor's Hammer, an orange pinnacle capped by hammer-shaped stone. Finish the Navajo Loop, passing through narrow passageways known as Wall Street, for about 1 1/4 miles round trip. Or, midway along the loop, join a connector trail to reach the Queens Garden Trail and Victoria's rocky profile; this route is three miles round trip.

John McKinney offers other tips at www.thetrailmaster.com.

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