We learned that you could camp for free in national forests when we had traveled through the pacific northwest. But we hadn’t realised just how useful this would be to us while visiting national parks. Dixie National Forest borders Bryce Canyon National Park, and when we raced into Bryce to catch sunset, we learned that there were forest roads not 100m from the park boundary. We turned back to the forest roads, pulled off the main road, and set up camp, opting for the winter tent because the forecast was for 18˚F.
A free home for the night, and we set off again for the sunset. At Sunset Point, we raced up and onto the edge of the great hoodoo canyon, and a fantasy world unfolded below us. Something totally unreal to my own experiences and perceptions of the world. Limestone hoodoos rose high in striations of orange and white. They filled the void before us, snow in their shadows, trees spotted throughout anywhere they could get purchase on the ground.
I sat in a stunned silence, walked in an eager excitement to find more angles for my camera, and sat still longer in soft euphoria. It is truly spectacular, the many creations of Earth. I understood deeply that day why some would believe there were a divine creator that took their heavenly tools and crafted these works of art. But yet I find the dance of water so much more satisfying, captivating, and interesting. I imagine the gentle passage of time, snow fall settling into crevices and blanketing the land, melting, freezing, expanding, melting, running into the rivulets and streams, freezing and melting.
Over time, the dance of the water turns a hidden landscape into a gallery of statues and sculptures. And, what is it about our own make up that means we perceive this as beautiful? That is one question I don’t yet feign to understand, but the answer to me seems necessarily to rely on our own wild nature, the part of us that remembers life under the stars, remembers waking up to sunrise and sleeping at sunset, remembers sitting around the fire, cradled by trees, nestled by mountains, lulled to sleep by ocean waves, or perhaps cushioned by the desert sand. We find this beautiful because it wakes up that part of us that knows that we are of the land, and that the land is itself wild, and part of us. And that, is beautiful.
When we returned to our camp in the national forest it was cold. We had already chopped vegetables for dinner in the fading light by the canyon, and now we had only to cook and eat our poached egg pasta, but it was cold. We moved quickly, and when dinner was ready we sat in the car to eat and retain some of our warmth. We heated water for the dishes so our hands didn’t freeze to the dish sponge, and we brushed our teeth as soon as the dishes were away in the car. Climbing into the tent was a welcome relief. We had borrowed an extra winter sleeping bag, and it was tucked inside our sleeping bags, already zipped to one another, as an extra layer of insulation. We made one giant sleeping bag of soft incubating down, and in the 2-man winter tent, it took up the entire floor space. I loved it. It was a soft restful sleep, and in the morning the dirt and the pine needles all sparkled in the soft morning light as a million tiny ice crystals caught the sun.
We raced back to the canyon to make breakfast there with the rising sun, drinking our hot drinks cuddled into down jackets. We hiked down into the hoodoos, walking along their sides, looking up to their tops from a different angle, and eventually we said our farewells to Bryce Canyon, for there is a place that I have dreamed about visiting for some time now. One of natural sculptures that capture my imagination and set it alight with enchantment. That entice me to follow their curves and sit in silence for a while in their company. And it was time to visit this place.