In Praise of Photo Tours: Zion and Bryce Canyons in One Glorious Day

categories: USA Travel

Zion National Park

I listen to many travel shows and podcasts, read blogs and magazines, and watch television shows and videos. Yes, I am a travel enthusiast.  I love travel and find everything about it infinitely fascinating and rewarding.  I also know that there are many opinions on what is high and low quality travel.  There is definitely a trend among experienced travel experts to favor independent travel and to often downplay commercial travel tours.  I understand this and do agree, that when possible, it is best to arrange your own tours and travel at your own pace.  I also agree that it is advantageous to immerse yourself in a place and fully experience everything it has to offer.  But I, like many travelers, often find that I have a very limited amount of time and money to travel.  Sometimes, I only have a day or a few hours – what should I do when faced with limited time and opportunity?

Zion National Park

I confronted this dilemma recently when I was visiting Las Vegas.  I had one extra day with no commitments, and I wanted to see some area of the country I had never seen before.  I searched online for options and one tour really caught my attention.  It was a one day photo tour to Zion and Bryce Canyons.  Yes, both canyons in one day.  I know what you are thinking – impossible!  People normally spend a few days to a week at each location.  You could rightly question, wouldn’t it be a total waste of effort trying to see so much in such a little amount of time?   Realistically, these national parks are each many hours away from Las Vegas and each other.  Needless to say, I signed up for the tour, and I can honestly report that it turned out to be a great experience.

Zion National Park

My journey began at the break of dawn at 5:45 AM as the first hotel pick-up of the day.  After about 45 minutes of stops at other hotels along the Las Vegas Strip and downtown, our group of twelve headed north of Las Vegas to Utah.  Our guide, Dennis, was very professional, knowledgeable, accommodating, and patient.  We were greeted with a morning snack and written background information about the trip.  The van was comfortable, the lunch and snacks tasted good, and we made frequent bathroom and convenience stops.  Our guide really wanted us to have a great experience and went out of his way to make us feel comfortable.  The group traveling this day was a mix of domestic and international travelers.  Everyone interacted with each other, discussed travel, and helped each other take photographs.

Zion National Park

It took about three hours to get to Zion Canyon National Park.  At the canyon, we made four photo stops as we ascended the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway to the tunnel which leads out of the park.  Each stop revealed more and more beauty of the park.  The colors of the rock and the land formations were a visual treat that I had never seen before.  I took many photographs, but I also found that I had time to contemplate the forces that formed this canyon.  It was simply amazing to me.  Outside the canyon, we made another photo stop at the Checkerboard Mesa area.  At this point, I had already felt that the trip was well worth my time and effort.  My senses were alive with color and pure scenic beauty.  We kept a good pace, but were never rushed or hurried.

Zion National Park

Our drive continued to a local roadside convenience store in Mt. Carmel Junction for drinks, souvenirs, and stretching our legs.  In order to maximize our time at Bryce Canyon, we ate lunch in our van.  It was good that we did, because it took another hour and a half to get from Zion to Bryce Canyon by way of Route 89.  Our approach to Bryce National Park included passing through Red Canyon State Park where we got our first glimpse of the hoodoo rock towers we would see abundantly in Bryce Canyon.  Our anticipation was building as we drove up to the park, because as we entered, we could see dark thunderhead clouds looming above the trees.  We were worried that they might have the potential to end our day of sightseeing.   At our first stop it did begin to rain, but fortunately the thunderstorms were short lived and as the clouds moved away from the rim and over the canyon, they created a dramatic contrast with the colors of the hoodoos.  Lighting far in the distance made the experience seem even more theatrical. 

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon National Park

Inside Bryce Canyon National Park, we made three photo stops of about 35 minutes each at Sunset, Inspiration, and Bryce Point Lookouts.   As we ascended in elevation, each location revealed more of the canyon than the previous one.  Even thought the purpose of this tour was to provide us with ample photo opportunities, we were also given the opportunity to walk the Rim Trail and meet the group at the last stop.  Some of the members of our group did choose this option.  Overall, I took about 300 photographs on this day tour.  Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks are uniquely scenic, and the beauty of the colorful rock formations made this trip well worth it.  I couldn’t begin to describe the sense of awe I had at the scenic beauty I saw this day.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Over the years, I have come to love photo tours.  I don’t exclusively take tours like this, but when I have an extra day at a location or just a few hours – I look for an interesting day tour.  I know that there are many critics of commercial day tours, but I have found that the opportunity to just see an area can be enough to whet my appetite and often is immensely rewarding.  I also really enjoy meeting people from different parts of the world who are on the tours.  I talk with them, ask them about their travels, and generally try to learn a little about their part of our planet.  I also ask them to take photographs of me, and I offer to do the same for them.  This exchange of friendly tasks often goes a long way to helping to develop a travel camaraderie.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Overall, my tour lasted about 15 hours because there were so many sights to see.  The drive from Bryce Canyon back to Las Vegas alone took almost four hours.  It was a long and tiring day, but well worth the investment of time and cost.  I do not know if I will every get back to Zion and Bryce Canyons.  I doubt that I will be hiking extensively through the wilderness of these two areas.  But, I do know that the few glorious hours I spent at these two National Parks will forever be imprinted in my memory, and for that I am extremely grateful.  So go ahead and take that day tour.  Don’t feel guilty and enjoy it for everything it has to offer.  You will be a better person for seeing a part of the world you have never experienced before.

Bryce Canyon National Park

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by Barry Kramer

Barry S. Kramer is an elementary educator who developed a love of travel after attending an educational technology conference in Beijing in the year 2000. Since then he has returned to China eight times to experience many popular attractions, national parks, and out of the way places often not visited by Westerners. He has also traveled to Russia, Japan, Tibet, northern Africa, Europe, the Middle East, as well as many places in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. His travel partners are his wife, Liping, and his daughters, Liz and Jessica.



One Response to “In Praise of Photo Tours: Zion and Bryce Canyons in One Glorious Day”

chris2x

Says:

As I told Barry, I was both happy that he got to see these amazing places and sad he didn’t get to experience two of my favorite hikes: hiking the Virgin River in Zion and the Navajo trail in Bryce

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