Canyonlands: Tales from Narrow Places

The subterranean world of Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River

Posted in Northern Arizona & the Mogollon Rim, Utah by canyoneering on June 18, 2009

The subterranean world of Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River

Buckskin Gulch – Paria River, 2BV
30 miles
Vermillion Cliff Wilderness Area
06/14/09 – 06/15/09


David and I along with John and Kim backpacked the incredible Buckskin Gulch and upper portion of the Paria River.  We drove up late Saturday night getting into camp at the White House trail head around 1am. David and I crashed under the stars as my sleep was disturbed with dreams of midget rattlesnakes (beta we had read suggested that a rare species of midget rattlesnakes lives in Buckskin Gulch). Sunday morning we got a shuttle from Paria Outfitters to the Wire Pass trail head. After about 15-20 minutes of hiking, the narrows in Wire Pass began. Though short, Wire Pass is a fantastic canyon in it’s own right with a couple of down climbs and wavy sandstone walls. Where Wire Pass opens up it converges with Buckskin Gulch. The sandstone is so soft under a large arch at the intersection of Wire Pass and Buckskin that people have carved out Moqui steps to a bench under the arch. Many people have also carved their names and various faux pictographs in the sandstone.

Once in Buckskin the walls extend overhead continuing to grow deeper with every step. The most amazing aspect of Buckskin Gulch is its length. Buckskin is about thirteen miles of subterranean and sometimes dark hiking.  Buckskin is directly under a flight pattern so throughout the day we were constantly hearing airplanes overhead. Although we had dutifully checked the weather many times before leaving, with each airplane rumble our thoughts turned to flash floods. It is easy to start getting paranoid when you are 8 miles in and hundreds of feet from any direct sunlight. Needless to say with some clouds in the sky, a few minutes of the lightest drizzle and one real clap of thunder in the distance we ate our lunch at lightning speed.

Although many people do the entire trip in one day we took our time taking lots of pictures and soaking in the unique scenery. There were a number of places in Buckskin Gulch where the canyon would make a sharp turn so as we approached it would look like a dead end up ahead. Often times these sharp turns would lead into a chocolaty pool of indiscernible depth.

Sunday night we camped along the Paria River about three miles downstream of its confluence with Buckskin. We rested on our small beach sharing with each other what animals and figures we saw in the endless patterns in the 800-foot sandstone walls that surrounded us; the Colorado Plateau version of seeing faces in the clouds. As the light faded in the canyon we cooked our Mountain House meals and relaxed under the massive walls.

Monday morning we hiked to Big Spring further down the Paria encountering knee-deep quicksand and a lot of slippery mud. After filling our water bottles we turned around and made the 12-mile hike back to the White House trail head, taking pleasure in the dried mud crunching under our feet like bubble wrap.



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