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Winter Bryce

Traveling the Snowy Deserts

January 2019, Day One

Julia and I began our drive from Oakland, CA to Tropic, UT and back on this cold winter’s day. This was a nearly 2,000-mile round trip the furthest we have gone in “Tess of the Drivervilles” our Tesla Model X. We took great pleasure of gliding on electrons to cover this vast distance.

We drove south on Highway 5 for what seemed forever. Then turned east at Bakersfield to cross the southernmost part of the mighty Sierra Nevada.

Our first overnight stop was in Ridgecrest, CA which is located at the very end of the enormous Sierra Nevada. Beyond this small military-base town is the vast Mojave Desert. The granite peaks of the Sierra crumble into the flat sandy expanse of the California desert here. To see these enormous mountains, dissipate into the desert is really something emotional. The area is stark and dry, but with a beauty of its own that is worth experiencing.

To get to this remote place we drove one of the greatest and stunning roads through these mountains: Highway 178. You can read about our many traverses of the mighty Sierra Nevada here.

Day Two

We drove on into the vast expanse that is the Mojave Desert. We past many solar generation plants and untold tumbleweeds. The sky was clear and blue, but a storm was blowing in and was stirring the air. The desert sands blew up into many turbulent tall and sandy dust-devils. An amazing vision to behold.

We stopped in Las Vegas to fill Tess’s belly with electrons and then drove on to what was planned to be our second stop at the snow-capped Mt. Charleston just outside of Sin City. But our efforts to ascend this lonely peak in the vast flat plains surrounding were thwarted. One of the worst storms in the area’s history had arrived and covered most of the Westcoast with heavy rains and snow, bucket-loads of snow. The twisting thin road climbing up the side of this mountain soon became unpassable. We turned around and descended back into the flat and now very wet desert.

We soon reorganized our trip and drove on to St. George, UT. This unplanned diversion pushed Tess’s range and our driving endurance to the limits, but both prevailed. We spent that night in the bustling, but small town of St. George. We did not see any dragons there, but winter had surely come.

Day Three

Highway 5 crosses the flat high deserts of Utah and Arizona. Normally this smooth an extremely straight road would be simple to navigate, but on this day, it was covered with a fresh coating of snow and ice. These treacherous conditions caused many accidents and terrified Julia and I, causing us to slow down to a crawl until we cleared the worst of it.

The good news was the feeling from the beauty we absorbed from a vast snow-covered desert surrounding us and engulfing us. To see the sandy plains and the rocky desert mountains covered in snow, changed everything about this part of our trip and made the driving condition bearable.

We were further rewarded this day as we took our first glimpse of the orange, yellow, red, and brown Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon. These rugged sandstone features are other-worldly, and with their covering of snow set against, once again, a bright blue sky made us feel unworthy of such a site.

The name Hoodoo uncontrollably reminded me of a film I had seen long ago as a kid. In the film Magic Dance Cary Grant and Shirley Temple recite an unforgettable dialogue:

“You remind me of a man.”

“What man?”

“A man with the power.”

“What power?”

“The power of Hoodoo.”

“Hoodoo?”

“You do.”

“What?”

“Remind me of a man.”

“What man?”

“A man with the power.”

“What power?”

“The power of Hoodoo.”

“Hoodoo?”

And so on, and so on. Once this powerful remembrance had been regurgitated from the dustbin of my memory, poor Julia was tortured constantly and relentlessly with this verse for the rest of our time In Bryce.

We drove on to our accommodation for the next few days in: Tropic, UT. This oddly named farming village sits center of a flat snow covered plain surrounded by the sandstone features, of the multicolored mountains all around.

Our small cottage was very clean and surprisingly modern. And above all it kept us warm and insulated from the -18 Fahrenheit temperatures of the dark cold nights to come.

Day Four

On to the rim of Bryce Canyon to absorb the vistas and colors of this amazing National Park. We joined a ranger led snow-hiking tour, which I would highly recommend you do if you ever find yourself at this stupendous place. The ranger gave a sense of the geology and history of this ancient canyon and made us confident that we could go off on our own into the vast snowy plain of the upper rim. All the lower canyon trails were closed due to the high risk of avalanche. But being limited to the rim was certainly not a hinderance. The views and ambiance of this place ensured maximum stimulation to our senses. What a wonderful place.

Day Five

Once again, we donned our snowshoes and snow-hiked the rim of the magnificent Bryce Canyon. With our confidence boosted from our snow-hike yesterday, this time Julia and I went off on our own. We were awestruck by the snow-covered Hoodoos and unexplained yellow midday skies of the canyon. We walked for hours and only returned as the weather turned for the worst. We made it back before the snow began to fall again but snow it surely did.

Day Five

Given the unexpected turn in the weather we decided to cut our trip short and not make our planned visit to Escalante State Park. We’ll come back to this place in the summer and I’m sure we’ll see this other park then.

We drove the scenic Highway 89 during a rainy, sleety, and very snowy day. We stopped at Zion National Park, for a short time to eat our plant-based lunch. The memories of our visit here a few years ago made Zion seem like an old friend. Read about our visit to Zion here.

Eventually we returned to St. George. Still we did not encounter any dragons.

Day Six

On our way back to Sin City we made an unplanned stop at the Valley of Fire State Park. This incredible park with its red rocks and indigenous hieroglyph covered rock faces is amazing and worth a visit. It is surprisingly close to Las Vegas and the contrast between the two places could not be starker.

A day and a night in Sin City had us partake of the Michael Jackson ONE show staged by Cirque du Soleil. It was extremely loud and extremely American, but beyond this I cannot say any more.

Day Seven

Back through the desert and a final stop at Ridgecrest, CA were we once again enjoyed the meeting of the mountains with the desert.

Day Eight

After a few short stops along the way to fill Tess’s belly with electrons and ours with plant-based food, we eventually made it back to home sweet, home. What an amazing and pleasurable trip.


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