At, Bryce we walked into a great visitor center. Not all of the centers in all the national parks have enough staff. Some have lesser information displays or outdated intelligence. The one at Bryce had staff, a geological display, a history of the local tribes, and an additional story on the current re-settlement of the area. The themes of the displays flowed into one another on a rough timeline. Their material all seemed up to date, including the references to the Latter Day Saints and the hints about local water politics.
The only uncomfortable part was making our way through the throngs of people. Lots of folks are interested in hiking around Bryce Canyon. The park staff at the information desk moved the lines in a snappy fashion, though, and we got to the front in reasonable time. There, a park ranger gave us advice on trails.
"But I'm interested in stargazing," Diane said.
"I do that, too," the ranger replied. So we earned another round of advice.
Following his guidance, we drove to where we could try a steep climb to get away from nearby town lights. This was still in the middle of the afternoon. We regarded it as practice for the midnight walk.
Under the harsh gaze of the sun, while covered in SPF 70, long sleeves, and wearing hats, we stopped to look around from the vantages offered by several trail locations. There are strategic views available during the ascent up to Inspiration Point. One of them is a fenced platform at the edge of a mountain cliff. We decided this would be a great place to look at stars because it was so nice and probably safe when stumbling around in the dark, too.
We continued our hike to the peak. To our surprise, the top of Inspiration Point seemed even better for a midnight walk. We could see farther. We overlooked a range of hoodoos and mesas. The tree cover was beneath us.
"Let's try the trail at the end of the park," Diane said. Her sight of the Milky Way in the sky a few nights earlier provided her with motivation.
"That's twenty minutes more," I complained. Of course, we made the drive to the north end of the park and got out near the Yovimpe trail head. The Yovimpe provided a walk in the shade, something rare in the national parks of Utah, so it was worth the drive for that alone.
Amidst the path of greenery, I puzzled over the insects and flowers. A hundred yards in, I scooped up a fallen bud with spikes all over it. The base shimmered in a deep, purple color. It turned out to be the seed from a young, bristlecone pine. I'd had no idea their pinecones started out looking different from others. I'd never thought much about the name before.
Later that night, Diane woke us before midnight to see the stars. But our timing turned out to be a mistake.
"You won't see much with the full moon," the ranger had warned us. We were new to the idea and I, at least, didn't really believe it. After all, we could simply look into some other part of the sky. But the moonlight is sunlight, after all. As we marched to Inspiration Point, we cast deep shadows behind us. We needed no flashlights. As we could see in the sky above, most of the stars had faded out of existence, overwhelmed by the moon. Yet somehow we hoped it would be different from a better, higher place.
The sky is the sky everywhere. Inspiration Point provided no relief from the moon. When the orb is full and bright, it drowns out everything, everywhere but Venus, Sirius, Antares, and maybe a dozen other, less impressive dots.
We couldn’t stay up all night. The top of the mountain was 48 Fahrenheit and dropping fast. Winds cut through us and drove away the only other hikers on the mountain. Well, the cold drove them all to their cars except one. As we stood there, wrapped in a blanket, we studied the lights of a hiker below. He or she ventured down a cliff face. The descent seemed to be going off the trail. A half-minute later, in an awkward, deadly-looking fissure, the light disappeared.
"Fallen to his death?" I ventured.
"Maybe it was a couple. They got where they wanted to be and turned off the light," Diane suggested.
"That's a happier thought."
"Too cold, though." She shook her head.