US Road Trip Day 15 – Hoodoos, Dinos and Bat Attacks

Follow the trip from the beginning here.

There was a whirl of activity outside our motel room when we woke up. We’d slept late and two girls were doing housekeeping, working their way towards our room. Out on the deck a kitten was holding court; he’d been abandoned at the motel the previous night. This is apparently par for the course in Utah; the campsite we’d stayed at in Moab also doubled as a kitty refuge, accepting unwanted cats and trying to find homes for them. We were planning on visiting Best Friends Animal Society in Kanab later that day, so Jill suggested we take the little guy along with us, but the girls doing the housekeeping assured us they would find a good home for him, like they had done with so many kittens before. Jill grabbed a can of tuna from the truck so he would have a hearty breakfast and then we hit the road.

We still had another 60 miles to go on Highway 12 and it didn’t disappoint. Great rocky plateaus in grey and yellow drifted by on either side of us as we wound our way out of Escalante. Out the back window I noticed an ominous-looking black cloud that seemed to be following us. Jill cheekily suggested that the reason we were being plagued by bad weather was because I was from Ireland and attracted the rain. I countered by saying the Seattlite should shoulder at least half of the blame.

highway 12 utah escalante

highway 12 utah

Then the greys and yellows gave way to the palest of rosy pink as we neared Bryce Canyon. We were supposed to be in Kanab by the early afternoon to take a tour of Best Friends, so weren’t going to have enough time to visit Bryce.

red river bed bryce canyon national park utah road trip

I tried to suppress my disappointment as we whizzed by tantalising glimpses of blush canyons that I longed to see up close. The scenery was whipping by so quickly the best I could manage were a few photos of speeding trees on a blurry pink background. A rocky red arch spanned the highway and on the other side we stopped in Red Canyon for a quick look around. Butch Cassidy grew up not too far from here, in a little town called Circleville. The home and stables of his childhood still exist today and are open to the public. A trail called the Cassidy Trail starts at Red Rock Canyon and allegedly follows a route he once used to escape an angry posse. The canyon was almost empty; most visitors drive straight past and make a beeline for Bryce, so we had the place to ourselves. Towering rocks glowed reddish-orange in the early afternoon sun.

red canyon utah road trip

We needed to get going if we were going to reach Kanab by 2pm. Jill said we’d be pushing it to arrive in time and called to change our appointment with Best Friends to the following day. Truth be told, we could have made it in time, but I suspect Jill didn’t want me to miss out on seeing Bryce Canyon. She got off the phone and said “Hey, why don’t we go see Bryce after all?” So we got back in the pickup and travelled back the way we came, under the red archway towards Bryce Canyon.

red arch canyon utah bryce

Bryce Canyon was named after an early settler, Ebenezer Bryce. I can’t help wishing they’d used his first name for the canyon instead. It isn’t really a canyon, actually, but a series of ravines that are awash with marvellous and fragile stone structures in delicate hues of pink, yellow and white. There are numerous trails you can hike if you have time on your hands, but even if you’re on a tight schedule, a drive along the park’s main roadway is well worth the time. There are pullouts all along the way that afford you the most magnificent views of the hoodoos.

bryce pink hoodoos hoodoo canyon national park utah road trip

bryce pink hoodoos hoodoo canyon national park utah road trip

bryce pink hoodoos hoodoo canyon national park utah road trip

I’d never heard the term hoodoo until I visited Bryce Canyon but now it is one of my favourite words. It smacks irresistibly of magic, reminiscent of the word voodoo although unrelated in origin. A hoodoo, in geological terms, is to all intents and purposes a poorly formed pinnacle or spire, uneven in thickness from top to bottom. Other terms for them include fairy chimneys and, in French, ‘demoiselles coiffées’ – damsels with posh hairdos.

bryce pink hoodoos hoodoo canyon national park utah road trip

We stopped to look out over the Silent City, a vast expanse of densely packed hoodoos spreading out as far as the eye can see. Utah doesn’t seem to care too much for guard rails; the canyon edge was cheerfully barricade-free with just a diminutive sign that whispered in tiny letters ‘Don’t go any further’. The sign was so small I assume there wasn’t enough room for the ‘or you will die’ part.

bryce pink hoodoos hoodoo canyon national park utah road trip silent city

Just as we reached the end of the road and Bryce’s highest elevation, Rainbow Point, the dark cloud that had been skulking behind us all morning finally caught up with us, and a great streak of lightning tore across the sky. A lone raven landed nearby and gazed disconcertingly at us until we moved. Apparently we were encroaching on its territory.

bryce pink hoodoos hoodoo canyon national park utah road trip rainbow point road trip

raven bryce canyon national park utah road trip

Heavy raindrops started to thud on the ground so we hopped in the pickup and drove back to Highway 12, stopping briefly to watch some adorable pronghorns grazing near the park entrance.

pronghorn pronghorned antelope bryce national park utah

pronghorn pronghorned antelope bryce national park utah

A small plane came in to land at Bryce Canyon Airport as we passed by. I watched as it touched down and wondered how on earth I had failed to notice the airport when we had passed by earlier. It was quite possibly the smallest airport I’ve ever seen; it was really just a concrete path and a wooden hut with the words ‘Bryce Canyon Airport’ emblazoned on top in massive bright yellow letters.

bryce canyon airport utah road trip

Mindful of the thunderstorm that was hot on our heels, we decided to head straight for our campground to get set up for the night, but our good intentions were thwarted when we spotted a Flintstonesque store called the Rock Stop just outside of Orderville. It was a big pink blob with a green dinosaur peering over the wall; how could we resist?

rock stop utah road trip

rock stop weather forecast utah road trip

Inside, Jill went rooting through an array of rocks and glass while I explored the oddities that filled the grounds, birds made out of trowels and horseshoes, donkeys made of logs and of course, that strange green dinosaur.

tin bird rock stop utah road trip

utah rock stop dinosaur road trip

Intrigued, I chatted to the owners, Mickey and Don, about the history of the place. The original owner was one Elbert H. Porter who had a thing for dinosaurs and sculpted “life-sized” dino statues out of fiberglass. 14 of his sculptures are now housed in the Utah Field House of Natural History; the little green dinosaur is all that remains of Porter’s dino legacy at the Rock Stop. Across the road was another rock store, equally eccentric, boasting a huge yellow alligator head, but we didn’t tarry long there.


We were now driving along Highway 89 which connects Bryce Canyon with Zion National Park and the Grand Canyon. It is also the road for Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, which was where we were camping this evening. The drive along 89 was quick and painless, but we turned off onto a county road when we saw the sign for the dunes, and that seemed to go on for ever. Our progress was impeded even further by two stubborn cows blocking the roadway.

black cows coral pink sand dunes utah state park road trip

We waited patiently, but they hung around with no apparent desire to go anywhere else, so we went off-road a little and drove around them. They didn’t seem too impressed with our impatience, gazing balefully after us as we motored off into the distance.

cows black coral pink sand dunes state park utah road trip

Somewhere shortly after this point we considered turning around, convinced we had taken a wrong turn. We were miles into the desert brush with no sign of civilization, we hadn’t passed a single car since turning onto the road and now the light was fading fast. Just as we were debating whether to turn round or not, we saw another sign and ten minutes later found the Ranger Station and the entrance to the campsite.

Out the window, I could see the dunes glowing pink under the setting sun, deep shadows creeping across the sands, so when we found our site, I whipped the tent up in a matter of nanoseconds while Jill got started on dinner, then slipped away to catch a few photos of the dunes before the light was gone.

coral pink sand dunes state park utah road trip

Chances are you’ve probably seen these dunes before. They are a go-to location for Hollywood when filming desert scenes. “The Greatest Story Ever Told” was told right here, with the Coral Pink Sand Dunes masquerading as Egypt. It didn’t look much like ancient Egypt right now with all the dune buggy tracks streaked across the sands.

coral pink sand dunes state park utah sunset road trip

I stopped by the restrooms on my way back and when I was leaving, I felt a shot of air and my hair flew about like crazy for a moment. I couldn’t figure out where it came from, because the air was perfectly still. Then I spotted Jill sitting on a rock nearby, staring intently at something. I wandered over and asked what she was looking at. “Bats” she said and pointed. The bathroom lights were attracting moths and an ingenious bat had cottoned onto this. It was circling the facilities building continuously, picking off a moth each time it circled. That was what had whipped by me on the way out.

Back at the campsite, Jill rustled up a cracking good veggie chili while I got a fire started. We sat around the fire eating chili, sipping wine and listening to the crickets chirp. A massive thunderstorm was kicking off down south of where we were, so while Jill got out her laptop and worked some more on her resume, I took some video of the storm in the distance, and hoped it stayed very much in the distance.

I grabbed my shower bag and wandered over to take a shower before turning in for the night, completely forgetting about the bat. It nearly took my head off on the way in, sending me running for the door. Through the frosted glass window in the door, I could see it zip by at regular intervals, so when I was done showering, I stood in the doorway counting so that I could time my exit to avoid the bat. 1,2,3, bat 1,2,3, bat 1,2,3, bat and GO. I timed it perfectly, but the little bugger pulled a u-turn and came back in the other direction headed right for my face. It swerved up at the last minute, but not before I’d decided my only escape was to throw myself backwards onto the ground. I don’t know who got the bigger fright, but I made the most noise, first screaming in shock, then cursing as I picked sand and ants out of my hair.

On the positive side, the bat encounter had made me forget all about the rattlesnakes, cougars and scorpions that roam the Utah night. I snuggled into my sleeping bag just happy to be away from the bat, read another chapter of Travels with Charley as thunder rumbled away in the distance, and then drifted off to sleep.

(Continued here.)

Here’s a short video of today’s adventures, including the crazy storm:


About ailsapm

Hi there! I’m Ailsa Prideaux-Mooney. I’ve lived in many places, and travelled to many more. I had a lot of fun getting there and being there, wherever there happened to be at the time. I climbed a castle wall in Czesky Krumlov, abseiled down cliffs to go caving in the west of Ireland, slept on the beach in Paros, got chased by a swarm of bees in Vourvourou (ok that wasn’t fun, but it was exciting), learned flower arranging in Tokyo, found myself in the middle of a riot in Seoul, learned to snowboard in Salzburg, got lost in a labyrinth in Budapest and had my ice cream stolen by a gull in Cornwall. And I’m just getting started. If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far, I’d love you to follow my travelogue - - and remember, anyone who tries to tell you it’s a small world hasn’t tried to see it all.
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116 Responses to US Road Trip Day 15 – Hoodoos, Dinos and Bat Attacks

  1. nuvofelt says:

    What glorious pictures. Dramatic and personal. Thanks for sharing.

  2. arnoldthearmadillo says:

    Like the youtube, the storm at the end goes well with the music 🙂

  3. Ailsa – Excellent job of capturing Bryce Canyon – stills and video – in all her rugged beauty. Where to next?

  4. amazing…I’ll be checking back

  5. ledrakenoir says:

    Wonderful photos – when I was child I was a great Fred Flintstone supporter… 🙂

  6. fgassette says:

    My grandson’s name is Bryce. Bryce Canyon is on my list to visit this year. Your beautiful photos has encouraged and excited me to continue with my plans to visit there.


  7. Wonderful photos – I want to go there now and see all those beautiful colours!

  8. Thanks for this very entertaining post!

  9. pommepal says:

    So pleased we are back on board with your road trip Ailsa, I missed you through the Christmas break. The colour of those interestingly named hoodoos is such a delicate shade of pink. Gorgeous photos, loved the bird sculpture using the shovel and horse shoe, good idea when I find an old shovel…
    Happy and safe travelling for 2013, and looking forward to many more interesting travel themes

  10. Travelbunny says:

    Glorious photos of somewhere I’d love to visit. I stayed in a Fairy Chimney in Turkey last year – one of the most unusual hotel rooms I’ve frequented!

  11. markd60 says:

    When I was in the US Navy there was a ship named the USS Bryce Canyon. It was a big tender and we took our test equipment on board to get calibrated. But I think this is the first pictures I’ve ever seen of Bryce Canyon. I’m pretty sure the ship was named after the man, not the canyon…

  12. elizz says:

    what an adventure! your backpack is sure busy travelling from one place to another.. looking forward to your next adventure 🙂 p.s. love the pink dunes

    • ailsapm says:

      It has been quite an adventure, elizz, been having WAY too much fun. Gosh, I wish everyone could do a road trip like this at least once! xxx

  13. travelphilia says:

    The nicest bit of the USA, in my opinion! Beautiful photos, I’m jealous! Keep it going!

  14. Fantastic post. I love the image of the dunes lit with pinky-orange light. It’s a beautiful shot.

  15. What a fun day–and such great pictures. I loved Bryce and really wish we had more time to explore its surroundings. I look forward to hearing what you thought about the Best Friends Animal Society. I will definitely visit them next time we are in the area.

    • ailsapm says:

      Bryce was amazing, transplatedtatar, although we didn’t have that much time to explore either, I will have to return at some point and take some of the trails around the park. Working on the next chapter now 🙂

  16. Sas says:

    Stunning photos again Ailsa. I’ve never hear of a hoodoo before either, but that’s going to be my new word:) And I know what you mean about the bats. People always say they are really good at navigating using their radar, but they always seem to fly into things. We used to have loads of them where I grew up near Blackpool, and they were forever flying into trees, us and the house!

    • ailsapm says:

      Thanks, Sas, hoodoo is such a fun word to say! Yeah, I’m with you on the bat thing, they’re not the best navigators at all, are they? 🙂

  17. buckylb says:

    loved the weather forecast picture!!! what a hoot – but not a hoodoo 🙂

  18. nice report and amazing place!

  19. EhkStream says:

    Great account of a beautiful region! Several photos are exact matches in my memory, Bryce, the Rock Stop, and Coral Pink Sand Dunes which is truly a magical mystery spot. Thanks!

  20. Beautiful shots. I was in Bryce Canyon a couple of Octobers ago with my sister, and it was really stunning. I enjoy hiking in the autumn, when it’s not too hot. Loved the road stops too.

    • ailsapm says:

      Thanks, Naomi. Yes, I think it best to avoid the summer – although I have to say monsoon season provided quite a few adventures that we weren’t expecting! 🙂

  21. rimassolosailingaroundtheworldm says:

    It’s beautiful pictures.I’m jealous.Good luck in your travels.Thank you so much for sharing.I am so impressed your achievements continue to inspire me too.

  22. djdfr says:

    A coiffe is also a headdress.

  23. Gracie says:

    Another beautiful story, Ailsa! The photos are amazing too!

  24. lasesana says:

    Hi there! Love your blog, I nominated you for the Beautiful Blogger Award. Check it out:

  25. Amy says:

    Thank you for taking us there! Awesome shots!

  26. Pingback: US Road Trip Day 15 – Hoodoos, Dinos and Bat Attacks – Where’s my backpack? « johndwmacdonald

  27. johndwm says:

    Beutifully written and photographed. Ive posted the link on

  28. now you know why a bathroom is often known as a bathroom! Gorgeous photos of Bryce canyon and hoodoos (what a lovely word).

  29. I must get to the hoodoos and other Parks of Utah! Loved the narrative and images (I could feel the whir of the bat as it went by, reminds me of summer evenings on the dock at the cabin!) ~ Kat

  30. nothando says:

    Your photos are fresh and unexpected. Even the more dusty scenery really popped!

    • ailsapm says:

      Thanks for the compliments, nothando, I was thinking the light was too far gone to get any decent shots of the dunes, but I’m very happy a couple of them turned out ok. xxx

  31. lylekrahn says:

    Bryce canyon is just a marvelous place. Beautiful,

  32. Love that pink light on the side of the dunes – beautiful image. Your choice of music was perfect for the video – spectacular storm, well captured! We have hoodoos in Alberta too. This is one I captured a few years ago. I really want to take a trip to Writing on Stone Provincial Park in the SE corner of the province where they are more prevalent.

    • ailsapm says:

      Wow, that’s beautiful, Photos, it looks like a giant mushroom! Let me know if you ever visit the Writing on Stone Park, it sounds amazing. xxx

  33. Mickey’s forecasting stone!!! OMG! That’s hysterical. These photos are fabulous. 😉

  34. Pat . says:

    I always thought a “hoodoo” was a voodoo curse of some sort – but now I have another use for it!
    Fabulous post and a great video.
    We have some hoodoos in the Wairarapa, but not nearly so extensive (of course) – still fun to walk through, if a little messy.

    • ailsapm says:

      I think at some point the word hoodoo acquired the meaning of ‘a jinx’ and according to legend, fur trappers passed the word on to Native American Indians in the Utah area, who then applied it to the huge rocky structures, because they looked ominous enough to put a jinx on someone! xxx

  35. kristc99 says:

    I’m planning an early March trip to Bryce Canyon as we speak. Now I am even more excited! Thanks for the great photos and your story.

  36. Wow! Some amazing photos! Happy New Year love, and I’m loving your posts
    Sent from my BlackBerry® wireless device

  37. rowena says:

    Now I want a forecasting stone too!

  38. Gunta says:

    Truly fantastic video….. I remember camping about the same place in a VW hippy van many, many years ago. I think that entire SW section of the country has to be one of the most unique and beautiful places on earth.

    • ailsapm says:

      Yaay, thanks for the video love, Gunta, I had far too much fun making it, those lightning crashes were so dramatic I had to include some suitable dramatic music to go along with it. You’re right, the SW is stunning, I can’t wait to explore more. I’ve heard New Mexico is off the charts beautiful.

  39. petit4chocolatier says:

    Stunning photos!!

  40. Thats a beautiful video, I love the place.:) I’ll do some research about this canyon looks interesting and beautiful.:)

  41. Simply awesome photos and I so love your stories! Thank you!

  42. K2 in Canada says:

    Great pictures, great writing. Looking forward to day 16

  43. Great photos! You are tougher than I am to be camping this time of year. We just arrived in Kanab on 1/4 to rent a place for the next 3 months – it’s cold!!!

    • ailsapm says:

      Oh, but I’m not, virtuallynomadic, I’m totally cheating because I visited in August and am still playing catch up writing about it. I’m a total wussy camper, I am the first to admit it. Stay warm and have an amazing time in Kanab. Check out Rocking V – tell Victor hello from the Irish girl who got a joyride in his electric car! 🙂

  44. ginadennett says:

    Hi Ailsa,
    These pictures are totally fab, and I have never read a post that feels more like i’ve experienced the journey, just a little bit, myself!

    • ailsapm says:

      Wow, Gina, that’s a really wonderful comment, you just put a huge big smile on my face. Thank you so much, so glad you’re along for the adventure! xxx Ailsa

  45. Pamela says:

    Love Mickey’s forecasting stone..adore his sense of humour and as for Elbert’s sculptures, well! ….it seems even the cows join in for a laugh!

  46. bluebrightly says:

    Thank you for all of this. I would just GO NUTS there! I love that raven – great shot. The pink sands – what gorgeous colors. Great photos and travelogue.

    • ailsapm says:

      Thanks, bluebrightly, so glad you’re following along on the adventure, and I hope you get to see it for yourself sometime, it’s spectacular! xxx Ailsa

  47. kiwidutch says:

    What an amazing place…I see my travel “to see” list getting longer!

    • ailsapm says:

      Haha, that keeps happening to me all the time, kiwidutch, so many places to see! So glad you’re enjoying the trip so far. xxx Ailsa

  48. I think everything has already been said but your photos of Bruce Canyon are wonderful. The colours and forms are amazing – one day hopefully I’ll get to see it myself!

    • ailsapm says:

      Oh Noeline, I do so hope that you get to visit Bryce Canyon for yourself, and the rest of Utah too, its stunning. I’m so glad you’re following my journey! xxx Ailsa

  49. Bron says:

    Love the dino. ^_^

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