We'd been avoiding hiking down into Bryce Canyon, for fear that we'd be turning blue trying to make even a short climb back out at 8,000 feet. But we figured even our old lungs could handle the Queen's Garden Trail, which only drops about 300 feet from the rim.
As usual, we tried to get an early start; and as usual, the light at an early hour was challenging for photos. We also had scattered clouds casting shadows and hiding the beautiful colors. The winds were moving the clouds swiftly along, and sometimes I'd stand in a spot for several minutes snapping the same photo, waiting for the shadows to pass and reveal the subtle orange streaking in the hillsides.
While it's awe-inspiring just to take in the view from the canyon rim, it's a whole nother thing to hike down among the hoodoos and the rainbow dunes. Walking in the canyon, looking up and around instead of down, was magical. I think my mouth was open the whole time; there was a new wonder around every bend in the trail. It seemed we were in a fantasy, exploring some surreal landscape crafted by Disney imagineers.
Queen's Garden is a pretty easy trail, so we opted to extend our hike to part of the Navajo Loop; this would take us further down into the canyon and then we'd have to climb higher at the end.
When we reached the valley, we found a bizarre garden of small cairns that had been built by hikers who passed before us. Even the tree branches were littered with these little towers of stones. Several other hikers were around admiring the collection ("Cool!"), but I had a different reaction, finding it offensive that so many human visitors felt a need to demonstrate their own self-importance instead of simply enjoying the beauty of this incomparable spot and leaving it as they found it. Seriously. Mike dragged me away before I could charge in and kick every annoying pile to smithereens.
When we came to the fork in Navajo Loop, we discovered that the Wall Street side -- so named, I'm guessing, because it's a rather narrow and twisting route just like its New York namesake -- was closed for repairs because of a rock slide. So we turned back to climb out the other side of the loop, 550 feet up on a series of steep switchbacks. To my surprise and delight, I made it up and out in pretty good time, with minimal huffing and puffing.
Although a bit crowded with other hikers, it was a very worthwhile walk. I felt as if I'd visited Middle Earth.