Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon

Starting from the trailhead, one might wonder where the slot canyon is. At this point Buckskin Gulch is just a wide open valley with cows grazing and low hills in the background. But soon enough the walls steepen up and the canyon begins to take shape.

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It is beginning to look more and more like a slot canyon, although the walls are a bit short at this point. There is also a second trailhead called Wire Pass from where it is easier to get to some of the canyon area, and so there were many day hikers.

Along the canyon there are quite a few places where trunks of trees got jammed high up. They were carried there during a flood and somehow got lodged in between two 2 sides of the canyon. These jammed trunks are creating a notion of how high the water rises during a flash flood. I certainly wouldn’t recommend being here in a flood. The walls are quite high here and one can begin to appreciate the reddish glow of the canyon.

Finally Buckskin Gulch turned into a true slot canon. The light was dim and the reddish glow was dominant. This point is a bit far from the trailhead at Wire Pass, so the number of day hikers was minimal. The canyon continued like this for several miles. Although there was hardly any visible water flowing, where the canyon floor was narrow there was enough water to create small pools, and it was challenging to cross without getting your boots wet. At one point the narrow canyon floor was completely under a foot of thick mud and shear walls on either side. There was no way except to walk right through in the mud.

We started rather late in the day, because we needed to set up the car shuttle and get our permit. The distance from the Buckskin Gulch Trailhead to the confluence with the Paria Canyon (and the first good camping area) is 16 miles – too far for a late start. Luckily we found a sufficiently open area to camp for the night. It was dark and quiet. The last 5 miles are the deepest and narrowest and therefore the most interesting. There were several rock jams along the way. One of them required taking off the backpacks and sliding through a hole in the rocks while holding on to a knotted rope left behind by a previous visitor. 

Just before the confluence with the Paria Canyon, the walls of Buckskin Gulch begin to open up. There is a good place for camping here, but it was too early to stop.

Still a deep canyon, the Paria is quite a bit wider. The Paria river flows strong and it is usually 3-6 inches deep. It winds its way from one side of the canyon to the other, so one has to keep crossing the river. We had lost count as to the number of times we crossed and stopped caring that our boots were filled with water. Unfortunately, the Paria water is silty and cannot be used for drinking or filtering without a time consuming process. There are several springs of good drinking water along the way, but they are located inconveniently in places where we didn’t want to camp. So instead we carried water for each of our camps and for the following morning. We ended up carrying 4-6 liters of water nearly the entire time. At one point we noticed an incredible reddish hue reflected from the rock wall in front of us. The sun was behind the wall, and the wall was illuminated by light reflected from behind us. So the sunlight was filtered by the red rock twice before reaching our eyes.  

It was nearly 50 miles and we spent 4 days hiking from Buckskin Gulch to Lees Ferry. This hike is in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument and requires a permit. 

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