Visiting Bryce Canyon, August 2017
In 2017, I moved from my longtime home in Western Massachusetts to the San Francisco Bay Area. I managed to free up a lot of time and took advantage to see a bunch of things I had wanted to see. This article is about one of those places.
I arrived in Bryce Canyon in August, several months into my solo cross country drive. One of my problems with being alone for so long and with no radio, cell signal, or podcasts, is the introspection that I end up doing. Or, you know, thinking about existential crises. Swirling through my head were questions on what I was doing with my life, if my photos were any good, and how I could improve things going forward. So, with all that percolating in the brewer, you can probably tell that I was a bit burned out of being alone in parks and hiking.
Bryce Canyon, unfortunately, didn't help with that. During the summer, the park can fall to sudden and dangerous thunderstorms at any time. Check here for more info on that: https://www.nps.gov/brca/planyourvisit/lightning-safety.htm
Because of that, the park rangers warn that when you see storm clouds on the horizon, you should not be out and exposed and definitely not on the rim or right around it. What does that have to do with being in my own head? Well, if I couldn’t focus on getting one foot in front of the other or how to compose a scene, I would inevitably end up thinking about those existential crises.
Based off of my visit, I want to share some advice on how to make the most of a visit to Bryce Canyon and the surrounding areas. These tips should help you get better photos and not get in your own head too much, haha.
Study the historical weather patterns and always be aware of the weather forecast!
If you can help it, don't visit the park in the summer. Partly for the thunderstorms but also because of the crowds and temperature fluctuations.
Speaking of temperature fluctuations, you need to prepare adequately for a visit, no matter the season. One thing to be particularly aware of is the high altitude! Don't let the red rocks and trees deceive you as Bryce Canyon's rim is at 8 to 9,000 feet above sea level!
Prepare for potentially dangerous conditions depending on your fitness and desired activity level.
For example, if you do visit in the summer and only want to be out during the day, bring lots of water, wear sunscreen, and know where your safe areas are in case of thunderstorms.
If you're camping, bring layers for the overnight cold. August, when I visited, is usually hot, but the nights were freezing! Hell, if you're doing astrophotography, remember to bring warm clothes and ways to keep your batteries alive.
Tip Three (a photo tip!):
If you want good pictures, you must go outside of the typical viewing points and be prepared to face some less than comfortable weather conditions.
I have two photos that I really like, and I had to leave the popular and busy viewpoints and go below the rim into the amphitheater.
What do I mean by less than comfortable weather? Well, for this second shot from below the rim:
I had to hike alone, in the dark, below the rim with only my headlamps to light the way into Wall Street. That mean wearing layers to keep warm on the way down and while getting photos done, but getting rid of the layers while hiking back up out of the amphitheater.
If you don't feel like going out late at night, which you should reconsider because of the amazing skies and stars, know that daylight hours can result in somewhat flat photos. The structures in the hoodoos will not stand out as much when the light is even, such as in normal hours. Also, due to the topography, sunset is almost entirely useless for photos here as the rim will put the amphitheater into shadow well before the sun actually sets!
Tip Four (a photo tip!):
Plan on how you’ll be spending non-photo opportunity time.
There’s going to be a lot of time where photo taking is less than ideal. What will you do with your time? Well, I’ve got some suggestions. If you're backpacking, make time to head to your next spot and make camp! Relax and ready yourself for the next photo opportunity. If you're not heading deeper into the wilderness, keep in mind that there are not a lot of amenities in the park. If you want to edit photos with wifi and coffee, the places in the park don't have the best coffee and the wifi they have is spotty and slow. There's a big gas station outside of the park with shops and a café and that might work better, but you’ll have to add in time getting there and back.
Do not spend too much time visiting Bryce Canyon.
Wait what? Yes! The viewpoints are pretty but they're honestly pretty similar to each other. I actually had another existential crisis while trying to edit photos and use wifi in a hotel in the park and started wondering if the visit and whole trip were worth it. I chatted with a volunteer ranger and remarked that there weren't that many trails and I was getting a bit bored with sunrises, short trails, followed by slow wifi after 3 days. She, a ranger, said "You're visiting Bryce Canyon wrong!" She said the best way to spend time in and near Bryce is to only spend one or two days in the park and then going out to Grand Staircase-Escalante for a week! That last one is definitely a tip I'll use on my next visit to Bryce.
So that sums up my visit to Bryce Canyon and my tips for getting the most out of a visit there! If you want to see a workflow as to how I plan for a visit to a park, let me know! And I'd love to hear about if y'all are planning on visiting Bryce or if you've been there before so feel free to talk in the comments or send me a message! And it's YouTube so you know the drill: if you liked this video, please give me a thumbs up. If you really like the video and think it can help others, share it with them. And if you want to see more, consider subscribing! Until next time, go out and make some photographs!
Weather. Weather. Weather. Prepare for it.
Only spend a day or two in Bryce, then visit nearby Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument for a few days, especially before it gets shrunk again
Plan your time in Bryce to be productive!
The viewpoints are beautiful, but they honestly are quite similar to each other.
Hike below the rim if weather and your health allow and to get better photos!