Bryce Canyon NP -- Bristlecone Loop (4-20-17)
If Bryce Canyon National Park could be considered the 'bonus stop' of our 2017 Southwest Trip then the hike we discovered at the south end of the park should certainly be considered the 'bonus stop' of our 'bonus stop'. After our magnificent hike around the famous and magnificent Bryce Amphitheater we decided to make the drive south through the park along the 17-mile road to a place called Rainbow Point. Earlier, however, I had made a discovery which gave us an added reason to make the drive. What I had learned was that a little one-mile loop trail extends out from Rainbow Point providing the chance to see a particular natural feature that I didn't think we should miss. It's here, at the highest elevations of Bryce Canyon National Park, that there is found one of the oldest living organisms on the planet...the Bristlecone Pine.
The Bristlecone Pine is, as its name suggests, a member of the Pine family of trees and grows native in some of the harshest climates found in the high deserts and mountains of the Western United States. These hardy trees are magnificent survivors. Using the severe climates they grow in to their advantage by surviving where most other species can't, these ancient trees can grow to astounding old age. In Great Basin National Park in Nevada the oldest Bristlecone Pine yet dated is 5,066 years in age! To provide some perspective, it means that particular pine had already reached the ripe old age of 500 when the Egyptians built the Pyramids of Giza!!! The Bristlecone's of Bryce Canyon are not nearly so aged, however. At around 1,800-years of age, they're barely middle-aged as far as the species goes, but its still hard not to appreciate trees which first germinated during the time of the Roman Empire.
An added bonus to this hike also was the good bit of snow we found still surviving in late April at these 9,000+ foot elevations of the park. It added yet another bit of unique atmosphere to our surroundings. Starting the hike from the aforementioned Rainbow Point we first enjoyed the magnificent panorama north and east from the overlook. The colorful cliffs that Bryce Canyon is so famous for continue to be seen in abundance here as well as the beautiful landscape above and below then cloaked in a dark forest of pine, fir, and spruce. The loop begins just south of the overlook and started out by hugging closely to the cliff tops providing still more fantastic views. The trail then entered the dark high-elevation conifer forest which typifies this area of the park. Winding gently downward the trail eventually broke out of the trees atop yet another spectacular escarpment known as the Pink Cliffs. It's here where the trails ancient namesake resides. Scattered along the cliff edge and back into the forest surrounding them are Bristlecone's of every size. Some are shorter than a man while others approach the heights of most other neighboring trees. Any number of places along this exposed section of trail were perfect for quiet reflection of the majesty, both dramatic and subtle, which surrounded us. The return hike was much like the approach, though this time it involved a gentle climb through the snowy woods.
Though lacking the dizzying assault of colorful natural eye-candy of our earlier hike, this little trail still provided scenery which far outweighed the minuscule effort it took to walk it. The views, as anywhere at Bryce, are fantastic and the opportunity to be accompanied on our walk by 1,800-year old companions was in itself a wonder. So, without further adieu, I invite you along on our bonus hike at Bryce Canyon National Park...as always, please ENJOY!!!
Trailhead GPS Coordinates: 37.475154, -112.240141
Mileage Hiked: 1.0 miles Hike Duration: 0:45
Trailhead Temp: 45'F Trail Traffic: 5-10 people
Min. Elevation: 9,000' Max. Elevation: 9,120'
Total Vertical Gain: 200' Avg. Elevation Gain / Mile: 200'