On the Trail: Dawn patrol
BRYCE CANYON, Utah Growing up in Southern California, we used the term “dawn patrol” to describe early-morning surf excursions. We’d rise before dawn and get to the beach early because the conditions were best then – no wind, glassy waters and hollow waves.Last weekend “dawn patrol” took on a slightly different meaning for me; I was down in Bryce Canyon, Utah, for my dad’s 80th birthday, and getting up before dawn was the only way to interrupt the stream of family activities and get out for some serious hiking/biking time. Fortunately, dawn was the perfect time anyway.One morning, my brother and I rose at 5:30 or so to catch the sunrise and watch the light hit the otherworldly orange and pink cliffs and spires of Bryce. We got to the parking lot in the gray dawn and descended into a gaping amphitheater, passing five or six photographers at the canyon rim. Down, down we went, walking mostly in deep shade and utter silence beneath the towering formations and ponderosa pines. By the time we reached the bottom, light was striking the upper rim, but we were still in shade with nobody in sight; we took a breakfast break in a zone called the Queen’s Garden as the sunlight crept downward, illuminating new features as we munched our bagels.All of this occurred before most of the family – not to mention the hordes of other weekend visitors – had even unzipped their sleeping bags.The next morning I set my watch alarm for the same time but headed outside the national park for a mountain bike ride on some sweet high-desert singletrack. I parked at a BLM lot in the cool of predawn and paid my dues with about seven miles of climbing on pavement and dirt road in order to enjoy eight miles of righteous singletrack, first winding through shady woods and then descending steeply through red badlands peppered with Bryce-like walls, fins and columns.When I rolled back into the parking lot just after 8 a.m., my car was still the only one in the lot. I drove back and met the family for French toast, bacon and coffee.
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