Getting the Last Laugh at Bryce Canyon

Iyanla Vanzant famously said that if you want to hear God laugh, then you only need to tell Him your plans. Within hours of announcing that we would be leaving Minnesota for Mexico at the end of the week, foreboding weather forecasts inundated the local tv stations, heralding a winter apocalypse that would be sweeping...

Iyanla Vanzant famously said that if you want to hear God laugh, then you only need to tell Him your plans.

Within hours of announcing that we would be leaving Minnesota for Mexico at the end of the week, foreboding weather forecasts inundated the local tv stations, heralding a winter apocalypse that would be sweeping across the U.S. and directly into our projected path.

Just as we had decided it was time to leave, it seemed the universe was telling us otherwise.

Cabin in Utah

Deciding that after so much dawdling on our parts (we had only intended to be in Minnesota for a month!) that another few days wouldn’t kill us, we agreed that it was better to be safe than sorry and postponed our departure by a few days in order to avoid getting stranded out on the road. We were eager to start our travels and, having created a plan that we were legitimately excited for, it was frustrating to see our adventure delayed. The fact that not a single flurry fell upon Minnesota and when we finally did set out it was on smooth, clear roads only added insult to injury.

Driving through Nebraska, Colorado, and northern Utah, the only snow we spotted was on the hills and mountains out in the distance and we began to wonder if we had been foolish for being so cautious. The weather was beautiful and balmy in mindblowing Moab, and winter seemed nothing but a distant memory. As we plotted our route south, we anticipated the weather would only improve.

Larb Hollow

Leaving Moab, we decided to include Scenic Byway 12, purportedly one of the country’s most spectacular stretches of road, in our route down to Bryce Canyon situated in southern Utah. Not long after turning onto the road, the arid, sandy desertscapes that we had come to associate with Utah thus far faded into thick pine forests and deep drifts of snow. When we hopped out at a scenic overlook named Larb Hollow, the icy accumulations came up to our shins as we crunched through the parking lot in search of a favorable vantage point. During inclement weather, parts of the Byway are closed; we both agreed this snow was only a few days old and that if we had left Minnesota when we had originally planned, we likely wouldn’t have been able to drive the Byway.

Views from Scenic Byway 12

What a shame that would have been, as Route 12 really is a roadtripper’s delight. Taking you through national forests, along narrow mountain ridges and through desert plains, the drive showcases the stunning diversity of Utah’s gorgeous and incredibly varied landscape, uniform only with regards to how stunning it all is. At one point, we crossed a stretch of two-lane road carved high up in the mountains that was so slender we felt like we were balancing our car on a tightrope; exhilarated by the death-defying views and the extra surge of adrenaline, we cranked the radio up and followed the serpentine curve of the road through the most incredible vistas.

Views from Scenic Byway 12
Scenic Byway 12 Panorama
Utah Countryside

With the goal of reaching Bryce Canyon a few hours before sunset and as many of the scenic offshoots from Route 12 were closed for the winter, we didn’t meander or stray quite as much as we otherwise might have, but the few hours we spent wending our way south were ones we savored nevertheless.

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Despite many stops for photos, we managed to make it to Bryce Canyon National Park just as the day was sliding into late afternoon giving us a couple of hours to explore the park before sunset and still make it to our hotel at a respectable hour.

Lo and behold, as we passed into the park, towering pillars of snow along the road rivaled the stone structures in the canyons, and the road to Fairyland point was gated and locked shut. It was evident that Bryce had recently been hit by a fairly monumental snow storm and several parts of the park were impassable as a result. Not wanting to squander the opportunity to walk our dogs in the notoriously pet-unfriendly national parks, we set off from Sunset point on the only dog-approved trail leading to Sunrise point. The first five-minutes of the walk, the path was shoveled and clear, but we soon found ourselves trudging through foot-high drifts of snow glazed with slippery ice, attempting to stumble through and stick to the tracks of other would-be hikers. By the time we reached Sunrise point, we were exhausted and decided to walk back along the plowed main road to reach our car again. It was clear the park had not been prepared for this massive snow dump and was still struggling to respond… once again, we remarked that if we had arrived any earlier, who knows how much of the park would have actually been available to us? How would it have felt if impatience and a refusal to be flexible had caused us to miss out on this?

Bryce Canyon, Utah
Bryce Canyon, Utah
Bryce Canyon, Utah

Making our way along the 19 miles of road through Bryce Canyon, stopping at every view point to gaze out on the beautiful burnt orange crags and crevices forming teetering towers and majestic arches, the likes of which easily rival the whimsical fairytale hoodoos of Capadoccia, Turkey, I thought about all the things that had gone “wrong” or that we had had to compromise on that had ultimately led us to this point. Traveling with the dogs wasn’t always easy and meant making certain sacrifices, but if not for them, we likely would have hopped a plane to our next destination, meaning we would have skipped over—and missed out on—this incredible destination entirely. We had originally hoped to be in Mexico before winter set in, but if that had happened, even if we had made it Bryce, we wouldn’t be seeing its stone formations the way we were now (and the way that so few pictures ever show it), dusted with snow like pastries sprinkled with icing sugar. The snow somehow managed to make our surroundings more beautiful, more magnificent, as it provided a nice contrast to the copper-hued rock and gave the grooves an added sense of depth. I always feel like the world feels so much quieter when there’s snow on the ground as it muffles ambient sounds, and the thick hush that pervaded Bryce only augmented the surreal, dreamlike atmosphere of the park that day.

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Contrary to our plans we had somehow managed to visit Bryce Canyon right in its wintery sweet spot: enough snow to make it magical, but not so much to make it unmanageable. And all in spite of our best efforts! It just goes to show that things ALWAYS work out, exactly as they should, even if it’s in unexpected or unanticipated ways.

After 2.5 years of traveling and a lot of personal growth, I know that on some level I’ll always be a planner. I take joy in researching and fantasizing about future adventures, but I’ve also learned not to cleave to those plans too tightly, and have discovered the freedom of trusting that when life goes off script, it’s because something even better is in store, something I couldn’t have had the foresight to dream up.

Maybe making plans means I’ll continue to hear the sound of God’s laughter, but as we stood in Bryce Canyon and heard our own gleeful giggles echo out over the countryside and deep in my bones, another quote sprung to mind.

He who laughs last laughs longest.

To the many laughs to come!

Steph & Tony at Bryce Canyon

Tell Us: Have you ever had travel plans derailed only to have the alternative work out way better? Or do you eschew travel plans altogether? Also, what do you think of Bryce Canyon? Would you brave the cold and the snow to see it in the winter?

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12 comments Leave a comment

  1. I am definitely a planner too – it’s all part of the fun of travel! I generally don’t book too much these days unless I am on a short trip with a tight schedule. I will usually plan a rough itinerary for bigger, more flexible trips but won’t book much or anything so I can change my plans at the last minute. During our 7 months in Latin America in 2012/2013 we only really planned two things – 1) to meet my brother in Colombia on the 5th Jan and 2) to hike the Inca Trail which we had to book months in advance to guarantee a spot. My passport was stolen and we ended up being stuck in Guatemala and were three weeks late to meet my brother and then we were stuck in a small town in Colombia for 10 days which nearly made us miss getting to Peru to do the Inca trail on time. They were literally my only plans with a date on them and they both went awry!

    Apr. 23 2015 @ 2:10 am
    1. Katie author

      Ha! That’s so funny that your only hard dates on your trip were the ones that you had the hardest time actually meeting, but isn’t that always the way?

      We rarely did more than prebook our first night in a new country during our travels, though we had to plan and book ahead when visiting Europe at the end of our trip because we were traveling during high season and waiting meant paying much higher prices. We wound up being a lot less happy traveling that way, however, as if we didn’t click with a place, there wasn’t much we could do as we’d already paid for a set number of days and couldn’t afford to change our plans. Now that we’re traveling with the dogs, we’re also finding that it’s important to plan and book ahead because the number of pet-friendly lodging options is much smaller and generally not as cheap… this paired with the fact that the dogs do better with consistency and a routine means we’re spending no less than a week anywhere, and are spending more like a month in most places. It’s an adjustment to be sure, but we’re making it work as best we can!

      Apr. 24 2015 @ 12:13 pm
  2. Oh Bryce canyon is beautiful! I was there about two years ago but it looks awesome with the snow. That area of the states is just stupidly beautiful. It is funny about travel plans and how they don’t ever seem to happen the way we think they will.

    Apr. 23 2015 @ 7:32 am
    1. Rebekah author

      Tony had been to Bryce before and raved about it, but it was my first time visiting and he hadn’t seen it in winter either, so it really was a treat (even if it was also a bit tricky because of the snow!). I was so bowled over by how beautiful that region of the U.S. is… I can’t believe it took me so long to visit!

      Apr. 24 2015 @ 12:15 pm
  3. My first trip (and flight) anywhere was to Italy when I graduated from college. I went by myself, too, which, looking back, was pretty bold since I had never really been anywhere outside of Texas.

    I booked cheap places along the way and, like you, I’m definitely a planner. I had not wanted to go to Venice. I thought – too touristy. But when my place in Capri got cancelled because of a local festival, I decided to go for the day. Found a hostel, and my roommate and I hit it off. I ended up spending three days in Venice and then following her to Cortona. We had such an amazing time, and I never would have found such a great little place without her. (We stayed in an old monastery in Cortona.) We kept in touch for a while, but it is such a great memory for me.

    Apr. 23 2015 @ 9:06 am
    1. jenn aka the picky girl author

      It’s so nice that you were able to be so flexible during your first overseas trip. When I visited Europe for the first time, I had my entire itinerary planned and booked with military precision and had no room to dither or make changes, save for one day when my travel buddy and I did a day trip from Prague that we hadn’t planned in advance. It worked well for us at the time, but I don’t think I could ever travel like that again! I much prefer to leave plenty of room in our schedule so that we can adapt as we go along… inevitably you always discover neat things on the ground that you had never heard of despite all your research!

      Apr. 24 2015 @ 12:17 pm
  4. Love that last pic of you two 🙂 What great shots of Bryce in the snow! We’ve only been in summer which, obviously, makes getting around much easier, but how nice to have it seem so wild and deserted. I am a planner at heart, as well, but have learned over the years to make plans.. but then not be upset if they change.. often leading to the most magical moments.

    Apr. 23 2015 @ 7:00 pm
    1. Rhonda author

      I was actually really pleased with the timing of our trip to this part of the country. There were a few National Parks in other states that I had originally included in my itinerary that we wound up scrapping because we suspected snow would make much of them impassable (plus, having the dogs, we knew our options of what we could reasonably see/do would be really limited), but it was actually really nice visiting the parks in Utah and Arizona in early March as the weather was really nice and the crowds so much smaller. We were also drive the entire way through Zion in our own car, whereas if we had arrived a few weeks later, would not have been an option as we’d have to have taken the (not dog-friendly) shuttle instead. So everything really did work out in the very best possible way!

      Apr. 24 2015 @ 12:20 pm
  5. “things ALWAYS work out, exactly as they should, even if it’s in unexpected or unanticipated ways”

    Ahh, the story of my life!! Great post, and lovely thoughts. And a really nice pic of you guys at the end – keep smiling 🙂

    Apr. 25 2015 @ 3:03 am
    1. Tim UrbanDuniya author

      Thanks, Tim! I think anyone who has done any extensive traveling has realized that most things are out of our control and the more you can embrace that, the better your trip will be!

      Apr. 27 2015 @ 9:12 am
  6. The snow looks like frosting on a cake! I used to be an extreme type-A planner, even going so far as to write detailed daily itineraries for my trips. This almost always led to me being disappointed when the plans inevitably had to be changed on the spur of the moment. But I’ve been trying to be more “go with the flow” and so far it’s working out well! I still do a lot of research beforehand, and have a general idea of the things I’d like to see and eat, but no longer freak out if we don’t get to everything. That’s what return trips are for 🙂

    May. 1 2015 @ 2:14 am
    1. Heather author

      The snow was so pretty at Bryce! It made certain things really inconvenient, but in the end, we really appreciated getting to see the park in such an unusual way.

      I think our travel planning styles are very similar—I am open to being surprised and being flexible, but I still take a lot of joy out of daydreaming about things we might do and coming up with activities and sights that are important for me. And, of course, if we don’t get to them all, then that’s just another reason to go back to a place!

      May. 3 2015 @ 12:28 pm

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