Brittany Fair: Hiking among the Hoodoos

I traveled to southern Utah during July 29th- August 5th as part of a Partners in the Parks program. Eleven honors students from around the country and two Southern Utah University (SUU) leaders met to “rough it” in Bryce Canyon National park. We camped in Cedar City at Three Peaks the first night. The second day we drove two hours to the park, set up camp, and hiked to the amphitheater rim. The view will forever be engraved in my memory. Neither words nor pictures do it justice. Bryce’s hoodoos, or spires of rock, develop after years of being chipped away by wind and weather. They are unusual and spectacular. At the end of each day, we told the group a rose, bud, and thorn. A rose was something you enjoyed, a bud something you looked forward to, and a thorn something that troubled you. That first view remained my true rose throughout the trip. On day three, artist Arlene Braithwaite inspired us to find a solitude location and use watercolor to paint a depiction of Bryce. I’m not ashamed to admit that a fourth grader could give me a run for my money in a painting contest. That afternoon included a beautiful, informative, and exhausting hike of Navajo Loop with Biologist Sam Wells from SUU. I already know I am out of shape, but hiking 8,000 feet above sea level is no joke! On the plus side, I can pick out some edible plants now and got great pictures. Sam also taught us about Utah’s native Ponderosa Pine and the effect of fire on the tree. The thick bark of older trees is relatively fire resistant and the base of a burnt pine puts off a vanilla fragrance. The fourth day marked the beginning of our backpacking adventure. We hiked with National Park Service employee Eric Vasquez to Riggs Spring Group Site in the back-country. As part of our service project, Eric asked us to recommend a better tent site at a campsite along the way. The original spot was beside a trail with high animal traffic. It was evident that a bear had been scratching on a tree about 10 feet away. Furthermore, the site was less than 20 feet from a lightning scarred tree. At our group site, Eric explained the negative effects of an invasive plant called Bull Thistle and provided us with tools to remove it. The rest of the afternoon was spent waiting on storms to pass and learning how to cook beans/rice and brownies on WhisperLite Stoves. Our excellent group leader Kelly Goonan taught us the importance of maintaining waste in the back-country. Bodily waste should be expelled about 200 feet from the campsite and any natural water source. You must dig a cat hole that is at least 4 inches deep, cover it up, and leave no paper behind. Before leaving the campsite, we searched for trash left behind by previous backpackers. Always leave a place better than you found it! Unfortunately, a campfire escaped several years ago at the site and killed much of the plant life in the area. It is actually against the rules to start a campfire in the back-country. We hiked back out the next morning. Once again, the high elevation gave me a reality check. It rained the rest of the day and we missed our scheduled astronomy program. The next highlight of my trip occurred on the sixth day. Moe the mule carried me several thousand feet to the bottom of the amphitheater. I’m very proud of Moe, but I’m not proud that he probably smelled better than I did. (Hey, don’t worry, I took my shower the next day at my hotel.) After the horseback ride, we traveled back to Cedar City and set up our tents for the last time. Before calling it a night we each shared our favorite part of the trip, what we would take away, and how we would share our experience with others. It was physically and mentally challenging. It rained each day. I did not shower all week. I developed blisters on my feet. I got much colder at night than I came prepared for. However, the number of thorns could not compare to the beauty of my roses. I gained knowledge about the outdoors. I’m more confident about hiking and backpacking. I developed friendships that I hope last a lifetime. It is a trip I will never forget. If you get the chance, take Dr. Allison Wallace’s National Parks seminar and then go hike among the hoodoos.