Bryce, Zion & the Mystery of Earthquake Hill

25 May

From Jackson, Wyoming I made my way through Salt Lake City, down to Bryce Canyon National Park with its iconic Hoodoo formations, then through the Narrows in Zion National Park.

Both parks were stunning, and on a tip from a local in the Bryce area, I took the less-frequented Bryce Point Loop and connected it with the more traversed Navajo Loop to see the Hoodoos. As promised, I didn’t see a soul until I got to the Navajo.

Me holding up my backpack in the Narrows.

Zion was a different story. The Narrows, where the river is the trail visitors hike along below towering canyon walls, was packed.

Everyone had the same thing in mind that blistering hot day: cool water. The crowds left me craving something…less obvious.

Two young rangers at the Visitor Center recommended the Bit and Spur Restaurant & Saloon in Springdale, a little town adjacent to the park, for post-hike sustenance.

I was feeling a little tourist-ed out, so I welcomed the chance to be alone, and enjoyed some baked polenta with sautéed mushrooms and an icy pint of Zion Canyon Brewing Company’s Jamaican Style Lager at the n0-frills watering hole.

“There’s only one thing left for you to do,” my waitress, Alicia, said. “Go see Earthquake Hill.”

“Just remember to look out for rattlesnakes — they’re all over the place right now.”

“So what is this place, exactly?,” I asked.

“There’s four mansions up against the canyon wall that got screwed in an earthquake back in ’92,” she said. “I remember the year, cause I’d just moved here from California, and I wondered if I’d brought the earthquakes with me.”

She described how she and her friends would walk up the mansions’ still-intact stairs and sit out on the edge of the buildings with a cold beer, soaking in the unadulterated views.

I liked the sound of that, so I jotted down her directions — drive back towards the park, turn left after the Spotted Dog Café, look for a dirt road off to the right, and hike up the hill — and took off.

I parked and, ignoring the “No Trespassing” sign, hopped over the chain barrier. An older woman who was watering her garden eyed me suspiciously, but I just made my way up the hill until I was out of her line of sight.

As the “road” melted into the natural landscape of brush and poky shrubs, I took slow, deliberate steps, looking and listening for rattlers. No mansions yet.

My friend and tour guide up on “Earthquake Hill.”

I came up over a small hill, hoping they would appear.

Instead I saw a deer.

She stared at me with her big doe eyes, then calmly turned and walked to the right. My instincts told me to follow her.

That’s when I saw the remnants of a stone fireplace.

But, there were no intact mansions inviting me to alight on their frame and enjoy a desert sunset. Just rubble and debris.

The sun was hanging lower in the sky, and I still had a three-hour drive to Las Vegas, so I stopped by the Bit and Spur on my way out of town.

“Hmmm. I guess I haven’t been up there in a while,” Alicia said. “I can’t believe they’re not standing anymore.”

I thanked her for the unexpected mini-adventure, and snickered to myself when I realized that sometimes it takes a curious outsider to update insider knowledge.

Bryce, Zion & the Mystery of Earthquake Hill


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