Breathtaking Bryce

Our waitress, Kimberley, is in overdrive. It’s awesome that I’ve ordered the pulled pork and equally awesome that I’m from Wales. 'It's near Yurp, right?' She repeats the exclamation moments later at the next table (two cheeseburgers, Seattle). We soon discover this high-octane enthusiasm does not extend to her surroundings. We’re in Panguitch, Utah, less than twenty five miles from the geological wonder of Bryce Canyon; Kimberley, a local girl, has never been tempted to visit but she guesses we’ll find ‘a whole buncha rocks’.
We have come to Utah to explore the red-rock landscapes of its National Parks; the weather, however, has other ideas. TV reports warn that the violent storms, which have already claimed several lives in Colorado and have now moved south and west, show little sign of abating. Zion and Bryce have been closed for three days, their normally dusty tracks now swirling rivers of rust. As we huddle in the steamy diner, hail and thunder warring overhead, I can’t help feeling frustrated
A bruised and bloodshot evening sky gives way to a morning bandaged in mist. The good news is that Bryce has re-opened so we head off, windscreen wipers ineffectually trying to rub a hole in the clinging mizzle. We may as well be in a Lincolnshire cabbage field than within yodelling distance of the iconic wind-sculpted hoodoos. According to Native American legend these totem-pole-like formations were originally a local tribe, turned to stone by the coyote god in punishment for their mistreatment of the land. Inching forward in blind hope, we finally reach the park entrance.
On our walk across the plateau we see that little by little, the mist is thinning; pale green shrubs poke defiantly through its weakening tendrils. Soon it seems I can almost hear the last remaining shreds sigh as they dissolve in the rapidly warming air. And then, as we approach the canyon rim, a shaft of sunlight, biblical in its intensity and suddenness reveals a vista of staggering beauty. Mile upon mile of magically fashioned rocks stretch out in a glowing spectrum: from ochre through cinnamon, coral and apricot to dried putty.
My first, shimmery impression is of a petrified forest, autumnal foliage blazing. My husband, on the other hand, sees a vast, roofless cave, studded with stalagmites. When we zoom in on detail the imagery becomes increasingly fanciful: over there, we decide, is the Great Wall of China flanked by a platoon of terracotta warriors. Here, between that trio of gossiping, white-wimpled nuns and Gothic cathedral windows, are giant strawberry ice lollies, topped with whipped cream. Surely that pale hoodoo in the middle distance bears more than a passing resemblance to Queen Victoria in un-amused profile? Eventually though, we realise that the panorama before us defies comparison. We can find no better word than Kimberley’s: it is simply awesome.

Moira Ashley

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