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Ravell Call, Deseret Morning News
Bryce Canyon's Navajo Loop Trail is the most popular below-the-rim hiking route.

BRYCE CANYON NATIONAL PARK — The mysterious hoodoos and fantastic colored shapes of Bryce Canyon are more accessible again — weather permitting — with the recent reopening of the Navajo Loop Trail.

This path, Bryce's most popular below-the-rim route is hikeable following a 14-month closure due to significant rockfall.

The 1.5-mile-long Navajo Trail closed on May 23, 2006, when about 500 tons of rock fell in the narrow Wall Street section.

After reconstruction and improvements, the trail reopened in August.

The National Park Service made a new trail over the rock fall, with steps leading out of Wall Street on the steeper lower side.

"Navajo is our most popular trail, our flagship trail," Brent McGinn, spokesman for Bryce Canyon National Park, said, explaining that's why the park worked long and hard to reopen it.

Not all the rockfall could be cost-effectively removed, and so Bryce officials made some of the path right over the rockfall.

"Bryce is an erosion park," McGinn said.

He stressed that park officials have no safety concerns about any impending new rockfall along the Navajo Loop, but they advise all visitors always to be cautious wherever they go in Bryce.

"We always caution visitors," he said.

The primary weathering force in Bryce is frost wedging, where the park has an average of 200 freeze-thaw cycles each year. When water freezes, it expands by about 10 percent and bit-by-bit opens cracks.

There were hikers on the trail when the rockfall happened, but no one was injured. The largest single rocks were as large as a midsize car.

During the trail's closure, the Wall Street section of the trail was blocked off and there was only access along the north section of the trail to Thor's Hammer and Two Bridges. Hikers completed a loop then by connecting with the Queen's Garden trail through Sunrise Point.

McGinn said rangers joked it was only the "Navajo Arc" trail during the closure.

Comment on this story

The recent closure of the Navajo Trail wasn't its first ever. The heavy winter of 1992-93 dumped 170 inches of snow on the plateau (vs. an average of 95 inches), and that resulted in the closure of the Navajo Trail in the spring of 1993 for the first time in decades. Portions of the Navajo Trail were eroded away and had to be rebuilt then.

McGinn also said Bryce has 1.5 million visitors a year, and he estimates that half of those walk at least some portion of the Navajo Trail. He also said overall park visitation during 2007 is definitely up, though no exact figures are available yet to declare it is a record season at Bryce.

Also, because of significant moisture recently, the Bryce Connector Trail to the Under the Rim Trail is currently closed.

For more information on Bryce, go to: www.nps.gov/brca

E-mail: lynn@desnews.com