*This post was written in one hour for the first #NatureWritingChallenge.
The most memorable travel moments I have tend to revolve around National Parks. Winter in Utah's National Parks is something I will never forget. It was March of 2010 and my best bud and I were on our last leg of a ten day trip encompassing Death Valley, Arches, (what's now) Bears Ears, Bryce Canyon, and Zion with Las Vegas as our home base. We had just left Arches, found our hotel in Monticello, Utah for the night, and the snow started to blanket the ground. We woke up, another foot of snow had fallen overnight, and our original plans of going to the Grand Canyon were looking dim due to closed roads and more snow for the south rim so we opted for a more clear route to Bryce Canyon. The route to Bryce was paved with over a foot of snow and we apparently drove through one of the most dangerous roads in Utah which is now encompassed in Bears Ears on Utah 261 called the Moki Dugway. At the time, we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into as we didn't really have smartphones or much information for the trip.
It took all day to get to Bryce Canyon, but we arrived and checked in to the Bryce Canyon Lodge. It was night, but we wanted to drive to the parts of the park that were open to do some stargazing. The crisp snow and clear sky is something I'll never forget. We drove out to the parking lot at Inspiration Point and let our eyes adjust to the pure darkness of the park. After some stargazing in one of the darkest skies in the country, we went back to the hotel to enjoy some time in the hot tub. It was freezing, snow was blowing and drifting, but the hot tub was open and it was one of the most amazing feelings in the world. We had a few drinks, watched the snow blow across the iced-over pool, and planned our attack for the next day. After a good sleep, we went back to Inspiration Point and walked through the deep snow along the edge to Upper Inspiration Point. This was our first time seeing Bryce Canyon in person and seeing the hoodoos covered in snow was magical. When you look out and over the edge and see a vast valley of hoodoos with snowdrifts in between, you just lose yourself for a minute or two. We got back to the rental car and drove up to Bryce Point to get another view of bright pinkish orange hoodoos poking through fresh snow.
We didn't spend a lot of time at Bryce Canyon, but it was one of the most memorable trips of my life to a National Park. We had been to Death Valley and Arches earlier in the week and experienced new views and hikes at each of them, but nothing like snow covered hoodoos. Our next stop was Zion which also had fresh snow and the hike there on the Emerald Pools Trail was nothing less than beautiful. We hiked to Emerald Pools and the Upper Emerald Pool. The waterfalls were unlike anything we'd seen, and the Upper Emerald Pool had fresh snow to add to the scenic beauty. I had been camping on BLM land in the winter the year prior, and been to various national forest land in the winter but nothing compared to the beauty of Utah's National parks with a blanket of snow.