Las Vegas To Bryce Canyon

Two days 250 miles

From Las Vegas, we head northeast on Interstate 15, making a brief stop to view Zion National Park's Kolob Canyons. At Parowan we break away onto the two-lane roads that are to be the essence of this journey. Cottonwood seeds drift through the truck's windows as we head up the 13 percent grade on Utah 143 toward Brian Head. Aspen trees, green with their new spring leaves, marble the spruce forest. Atop 11,307-foot Brian Head Peak, we look southeast over the Colorado Plateau. The torn cliffs of Cedar Breaks National Monument create a splash of red in the foreground. The Paunsaugunt Plateau stretches to the horizon, its most famous landmark, Bryce Canyon National Park, concealed to the east.

At Bryce, Tom and I take the 8-mile hike that starts from Sunrise Point. While the Grand Canyon and Zion have an almost divine grandeur, Bryce feels more mercurial. Instead of formal, templelike bluffs, the forces of erosion have produced a complex of towers and turrets. The Paiute Indians thought that these hoodoos were humanlike creatures turned to stone by an angry coyote god. Despite the fierceness of its creation legend, Bryce is burdened with cutesy place names more appropriate to Disneyland: the hike we're taking is the Fairyland Loop.

To be fair, this dreamlike labyrinth of color and shape is not the easiest place to put into words. When asked what Bryce was like, early settler Claude Sudweeks kept it simple: "Oh, just a hole in the ground ― but you should see it."