A desert night guide takes on the most beautiful part of the day in Bryce and Zion National Parks.
Posted by Austin Adventures’ guide Emily Todd.
For the last five years, I’ve been lucky enough to serve as a guide in my favorite place in the world, the American Southwest. And after a hot summer day of playing in the desert, there is nothing I enjoy more than a cool, quiet walk on a crisp evening and in the night. National Parks are more popular than ever, with many parks seeing several million visitors a year in the course of a few short months it’s easy to become overwhelmed in popular spots during the day. But all of that changes at night. When the sun goes down, even the busiest areas quickly transform back into the wilderness.
In Zion National Park, the moonlight illuminates the canyon walls as frogs and crickets bring the space alive with melody. In Arizona, gray foxes and ring-tails slink through the darkness looking for their next meal, and the wind gently moves through the incomprehensible void that is the Grand Canyon. The space is so vast and humbling that looking out into this beautiful basin can best be compared to looking out on the ocean.
Bryce area could arguably take the cake for the best place to night stroll. Bryce prides itself on its dark skies. Hundreds of miles from any major city, Bryce National Park is one of the darkest places in the lower 48 states and the National Park Service states that 7,500 stars can be seen on a moonless night. Most nights, the Park Service also hosts ranger talks held in an outdoor amphitheater near the rim of the Bryce badlands. They say it takes three hours for your eyes to fully adjust to the darkness, now obviously most of us don’t have that kind of time, but it is important while star gazing to let your eyes adjust with as little light as possible for a good ten minutes. It’s also important to remember safety—Grand Canyon and Bryce both have abrupt, deadly drop-offs—and it’s very important to navigate your way safely to a good hang out spot. Also, keep in mind that I am making these recommendations for Southern Utah and Arizona. Parks up North such as Yellowstone and Glacier have different animals to consider that could make it less safe to walk in certain areas in the desert at night.
The stars and moon shadow views alone are reason enough to take a post-dinner stroll, but I do it for the energy and wonder. The American Southwest is rich with legends of ghosts, UFOs, and unknown entities. Native American legend states that the hoodoos in Bryce were once living beings turned to stone for their evil doings by the coyote god Sinawava. They say when you stand on the rim at night you can still hear the cries of the legendary people frozen in stone for eternity.
So, if you’re brave enough to embrace the folklore, take a short walk, and enjoy the quiet. Go outside and be still. Let the wind and the darkness envelope you and truly connect with the outdoors. Be apart of the bigger picture and let yourself feel small on a crisp desert night.