BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK — On the morning of June 2 I found myself looking at what seemed to be a painting, yet it was real. I had been here several times before, but on this day it felt different. It felt special, and it was exactly what my family needed.
What I was gazing upon were the thousands of bright orange hoodoos that make up Bryce Canyon National Park.
While there, my family and I hiked the Navajo Trail that took us on switchbacks down to towering trees. We went on a horseback riding excursion along the rim of the canyon, guided by a young-yet-experienced cowboy who could tell stories for days. That same evening, my family ate a true cowboy meal and discovered that my 12-year-old son can down an entire rack of ribs on his own.
Some might call this type of a trip an escape from reality. After all, in recent days and months, the world has experienced unrest due to the coronavirus pandemic, and now the peace protesting of racial injustices in the wake of an unwarranted death that have in some cases turned destructive and violent.
But going to a place like Bryce Canyon National Park, for my family anyway, wasn't so much an escape as it was a trip to remind us that there is still good in the world.
Watching my older children hold tight to their younger siblings as they made their way down the dirt terrain was heartwarming (not to mention extremely helpful). Hearing a "hello" from a few visitors to the park showed me that strangers are still kind. And casting my eyes upon natural land creations that remain untainted after millions of years gave me hope that we, as a human race, can take measures to preserve the things we hold sacred.
Although our visit served as a reminder of goodness, even a place as far off the beaten path as this has not gone unaffected by the current world conditions. After all, it was early on in the days of the COVID-19 pandemic that national parks like Bryce Canyon were closed and international travel shut down. This was to slow the spread of the virus, but doing so greatly affected the livelihoods of the people of Garfield County who rely on revenue from visitors both locally and internationally.
While there, I connected with the general manager at Ruby's Inn, Lance Syrett, who noted that when the park shut down the hotel went from 600 visitors a day to only a few.
"We have had an increase in local visitors as many local restrictions have been lifted, but nowhere near normal levels," Syrett said in a text message. "We are also having some staffing issues due to COVID restrictions, but we are just grateful to have some business."
That gratitude was very evident in a young cowboy guide when I handed over a tip as an added thank-you for an unforgettable experience on horseback. "Thank you, this is very much appreciated," he said with a smile and an invitation to come back again soon.
That humble small-town feel has always been evident in the people my family has met over the years visiting while Bryce Canyon. It has saddened me to see an area normally filled with people eager to see and experience the wondrous splendor of the canyon unable to do so. More than that, it hurt me to know of the economic impact it has had on the area.
The world is changing. But you'll find that those who are prepared and able to adapt will land on their feet eventually.
–Ruby's Inn cowboy
Yet, as I teeter between my feelings of hopelessness and faith, even in a place of picturesque beauty, the words of that same young and wise-beyond-his-years cowboy put things in perspective.
"The world is changing," he said. "But you'll find that those who are prepared and able to adapt will land on their feet eventually."
I have a feeling that Bryce Canyon and all our other national parks will come back from this better than they've ever been.
While social distancing still remains important to hinder the spread of COVID-19 at this time — and my family found that there are still ways to enjoy the parks while in observance of those restrictions — I know from this past week's experience that regardless of what is happening in the world, that our national parks will always serve as a reminder of the goodness the world and the people in it have to offer.
How have your national park experiences been since the parks’ reopening? Let us know in the comments.