Bryce 100 | Utah | June 14, 2014
By Gary Dudney
Hoodoos, high altitude, and heartache turned out to be the story for a good half of the field at this year’s running of the Bryce 100 near Bryce Canyon, Utah.
What’s a hoodoo? It’s a very unique geological feature formed by the eroding away of softer material from underneath harder stone which leaves a spire of variable thickness that looks something like a totem pole or several snowmen piled on top of each other. The hoodoo can be small, no taller than a human being, or as lofty as a ten story building. The varying minerals within the layers of the hoodoo make for an array of different colors, and the hoodoos form in massive numbers, sometimes covering whole cliff sides. The most abundant collection of hoodoos in the entire world is found in Bryce Canyon.
The canyon was named after an early Mormon homesteader, Ebenezer Bryce, around 1874. In 1923, Bryce Canyon was designated a National Monument and then upgraded to a National Park in 1928. But wouldn’t you know it, the whole area sits at about 8,000 feet, well up in the zone where the air gets thin and the running consequently gets tough. And with nineteen thousand feet of elevation gain in the race, you can bet that there is not a lot of flat trail. The scenery was always spectacular, but it involved plenty of steep climbs in narrow canyons or riding a rough trail up, down and all around through the hoodoos, below the hoodoos and above the hoodoos.
Heartache ensued for many who might have come for the pretty vistas but got worn down by the altitude and relentlessly challenging course. For those who made it to the end, great race organization had to have played a part. No one beats Race Director Matt Gunn and his crew in marking a course. The abundant signs, ribbons and “wrong way” markers made the right way clear throughout even in the trickiest parts of the course. The aid stations seemed to be flung out in very difficult locations, but the services were top notch, especially the hot breakfast items which I believe I started sampling shortly after midnight. The eggs and potatoes served at ninety miles at the Thunder Mountain aid station were worthy of a first class restaurant and worked like rocket fuel.
Barrels full of blazing firewood met us as we piled off the bus race morning in the starting area. When the time came, Gunn called us to the starting line and casually mentioned that “if you care about such things” there had been a lot of bears sighted at night on the trails and, oh, yes, a lot of rattlesnakes on the trails during the day. Yikes! The Bryce Canyon Ultras include a 50 mile and a 50K race in addition to the hundred so the 50 milers started with us and made for a great distraction all the way to the turnaround on the out and back course. The 50K runners started an hour later and shared the trail with us for most of their race as well.
Not long after passing the clearly marked junction where the 50K race turned off of our trail to finish, my running buddy happened to mention that the 50K runners were now gone. The runner ahead of us overheard and said, “No, we’re still here.”
“No, you’re not,” we told her and explained she’d missed her turn.
The first and last ten miles of the race traverse Thunder Mountain where the very first hoodoo we encountered stopped the race cold as everyone posed for photos. Thunder Mountain looked strangely familiar to me. I wondered about that for a while and then remembered a roller coaster at Disneyland. Sure enough, Disney’s Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride takes its design directly from this mountain in Bryce, although strangely, the other Disney parks have Big Thunder Mountain rides with the same track layout, but the graphics depict butte areas in Utah and Arizona. Only Disneyland has the hoodoos.
Finishing was a very big thrill at Bryce because you had been so far and endured so much to get there. Not only had I endured the race but I endured the shampoo at the hotel the night before which smelled like someone had dumped my grandmother’s fifty year old perfumed talcum powder into a container of the liquid soap they used in filling station bathrooms in the 60s. Come to Bryce for the scenery, come to Bryce for the challenging course, but don’t come to Bryce for the shampoo.