Earlier this year during our planning phases, we had a conversation with my parents in which we discussed the possibility of attending the Astronomy Festival at Bryce Canyon the last week of June. My dad has been a member of the Salt Lake Astronomy Society (SLAS) for as long as I can remember and many of our camping trips included my dad pulling out his telescope and showing us the stars and telling stories. SLAS partners with Bryce Canyon to bring in volunteers and their telescopes for this free event for the public, and my dad goes to help out every couple of years. Every night during the weekend, the parking lot fills up with volunteer astronomers and their telescopes and anyone can come look at the stars. We attended the festival back in 2008 when Rachel wasn’t quite yet a year old so we were pretty excited hat my parents invited us to go back with them. This trip also became the milestone for us leaving the house in Utah permanently.
When We Visited: Late June 2014
Ages of Kids: 8, 6, 4
Favorite Part: Night Sky Viewing & Hiking Into the Valley
Although the festival ran Thur-Sat we picked only one night for the kids to stay up late (it wasn’t even really dark until about 10pm) to look through the telescopes. The kids had fun helping grandpa set up his telescope, and I enjoyed watching my dad do his thing. It was so fun to watch his whole countenance light up and get excited when he talked to visitors. Cara only lasted about 30 minutes, but the older two kids really enjoyed it and stayed up almost until 11:30pm. We saw Saturn, star clusters, nebulae, listened to the Dark Ranger’s constellation stories, and viewed what is now my favorite constellation: The Stargate.
In addition to the night sky viewing, the Astronomy Festival also included some solar viewing (looking at the sun through a special telescope), rocket launching, a planet walk, and other ranger talks in the evenings. We didn’t participate much in this due to either the length (the planet walk was an hour) or the time (after the kids should have been in bed). We were honestly also still recovering from selling everything and moving out and were just plain tired.
In addition to the Astronomy Festival, there is plenty to do in Bryce Canyon! We found a few shorter hikes that we all really enjoyed doing together. Definitely hike down in as the views are incredible and its really not that difficult. We hiked the Queen’s Loop up through Wall Street with the kids and back along the rim for a total of about 3.5 miles. Just bring plenty of water as it really does get HOT down there. Hiking down the Navajo Loop to see the arch is also a quick and easy trek and we spontaneously decided to do that one without even any water (we were location scouting for star photos later that night). Bristlecone Pine Loop near the end of the park is also a beautiful hike especially in the evening.
The Astronomy Festival is a great time to visit Bryce Canyon National Park. With some of the darkest skies in the nation, you can really SEE the stars. Even without a telescope. Sam and I managed to sneak out a few nights as hike down in for some night sky photography as well. I never knew the Milky Way was so bright or had so many colors. Its definitely worth seeing!
Just for fun I thought I’d post the time lapse of the event that one of the volunteers set up and put together. I love watching the Milky Way rise up over the horizon!