Up a Creek

Backpacking Paria Canyon, Arizona/Utah - October 2003

Setting Sail into the Canyon
Todd, Steph, Kim and myself (and briefly Tran and Shelly) started off on a four-day trip through the famous Paria slot canyon on the Arizona-Utah border. Recent rains had flash-flooded the canyon the previous night and we initially debated about going in at all. Normally the upper stretch of Paria Canyon is mostly dry, but now it was knee-deep from wall to wall and flowing fast. The muddy water made it impossible to see the streambed. To avoid pits and quicksand, we had to feel ahead with our trekking poles like a blind man with a cane.

Deep and Narrow
After four or five miles, the canyon narrows to little more than a winding slot through the rock. Here the water gets deeper and the quicksand more frequent. At one spot, I stepped into a patch of quicksand where I was quickly up to my thigh and still sinking. I twisted around and threw myself face forward into the muddy water grasping for the mostly-solid submerged shelf that I had been standing on a moment before. I managed to crawl my way back onto the shelf again, but it was pretty scary there for a few seconds.

Glad I was not standing there when...
'Slide Rock' is a famous landmark near the junction with Buckskin Gulch. Long ago a huge section of the cliff wall broke off and slid into the canyon.

Buckskin Gulch
Buckskin Gulch is a major tributary to Paria and one of the longest slot canyons in the world. Paria and Buckskin meet in the heart of the narrows. The cliff walls are straight, high, and often little more than 50 or 60 feet across. It is like wandering among the skyscrapers of a petrified city. We spent our first night on a rare patch of high ground near here.

Sandstone Cathedral
Beyond Buckskin Gulch, the canyon opens up a little, but the scenery is no less dramatic.

Towering Cliffs
In many places, the sandstone cliffs are so high that it is difficult to see their tops from the bottom of the canyon. The reddish cliffs are often streaked black with desert varnish as with this rock face near Big Spring.

The Hole
'The Hole' is a narrow side canyon that ends in a sudden cliff wall. The bottom of the canyon is wider than the top, creating a cave-like atmosphere. Small springs in the back wall have created a thin trickle of water and some deep patches of quicksand (as Todd discovered).

Cliff-Side Camp
We spent our second night beneath a cliff opposite the 'The Hole'. The canyon had started to open up by this time. It was nice to be out of the narrows, where everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) had to be packed out.

The Home Stretch
As the Paria River approaches Lee's Ferry, the canyon turns into a wide valley broken by boulders and rocky outcrops.

Trail Guide of the First Hikers
Ancient Ancestral Puebloan travelers (AKA: Anasazi) left their mark here as they passed through the canyon a thousand years ago. The meaning of these petroglyphs roughly translates as 'Geez, my feet hurt... thank goodness we are almost to the trailhead!'

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