By: Steve Smith
Paria Canyon is cut through massive sandstone formations deposited 60 million to 200 million years ago. Starting in southern Utah and ending at Lee's Ferry on the Colorado River in Arizona, Paria Canyon is on the southwest side of the Four Corner's Canyonland Country. Cut by the little Paria River, the canyon is very colorful and in some parts very narrow. Buckskin Gulch is spectacularly narrow. Spring and Fall are the most popular times for hiking through the canyon but occasional thunderstorms can temporarily make it too dangerous to enter.
Paria Canyon is a designated wilderness area managed by the Cedar City and St. George BLM District Offices. There are 3 standard entrances to the Canyon. White House is the primary and most open access. Buckskin Gulch and Wire Pass are two tributaries with extremely narrow entrances which add a day's hiking time to the average 4 days required for the White House route Buckskin Gulch has no water fit to drink.
Ron Jones, Don Weiss, Dean and Pat Acheson (after setting up a Wire Pass - Lee's Ferry car shuttle) used the Wire Pass entrance while Debbie and I started a day later via the White House route. We all then met on day two at a campsite 2 miles below the confluence of the two routes at the first good spring either party saw enroute. The Jones' party carried water for two days. We obtained the necessary wilderness permit at the BLM ranger station at the White House entrance road. There is a permit requirement and details can be obtained by writing to the BLM. At the ranger station additional information on weather, water sources, route conditions, etc. is available and the BLM ranger working there was very helpful in answering other questions.
Ron's group had a series of adventures coming down the Buckskin Gulch route. Much of it was very narrow with some steep pitches - a rope was used in Wire Pass to lower packs as the canyon is only 2-3 feet wide, too narrow to climb with packs on. They also used a rope (in place in '87) for the rock jam at mile 16 in the Buckskin. It was so dark that they could not take photos the first day and stagnant water pockets were frequently encountered which added to the trip's atmosphere. The "Cesspool" at mile 11 1/4 had mice and lizards mired in it and nearby a deer lost its life when it fell to the bottom of the narrow canyon from three hundred feet above. The muck was often more than knee deep and sometimes crotch deep for a six footer. The White House route was more open and gradual which enabled Debbie and I to meet up with the group on our first night out. Our route did close in after the first few miles but stays easily passable with continual stream crossings.
On Monday night we all rendevoued at a point 9 miles into the Paria Canyon or 21 miles into Buckskin, and about 2 miles below the confluence of the Buckskin Gulch and White House routes. There were high benches alongside the eastside of the stream with cottonwood trees and water seeps which were ideal for camping along the upper 2/3's of the canyon. The next day we covered another 10 miles and camped 1/3 mile into Wrather Canyon. This tributary has a large natural arch about 1/2 mile up the canyon. Wrather Arch was explored and photographed until the setting sun chased us back to our campsite.
The next day, the canyon began widening with broader vistas of the colorful, rugged canyon walls. Continual stream crossings in silt laden waters lasted most of the day and we camped in an open valley about 6 miles from Lee's Ferry. Usually the stream crossings were easy but occasionally some potholes or water saturated mud would trip you up. With Don in the lead at one point, a pothole caused him to go into the "quick-mud" chest deep. Ron grabbed Don to keep him from going under and he sank in thigh deep. I caught Ron and they both ended up ruining the optical equipment around their necks. They were not in the water long enough to get the rest of their gear soaked but it only took a second for the water to reach and ruin their cameras and binoculars. On Thursday, it was a pleasant 6 mile hike on out to the historic Lee's Ferry area and roadhead. We passed several old abandoned homesteads and other artifacts along the lower end of the 36 miles of canyon which everyone enjoyed seeing along with the outstanding wilderness scenery. (The Buckskin Gulch route adds 9 1/2 miles to this distance).
The group had a pleasant late lunch at the Marble Canyon Lodge and restaurant where we learned about the severe Whittier Fault earthquake. A few phone calls were made by Dean & Pat and then everyone headed back to California.
This is a beautiful scenic adventure which all Canyon and Desert Lovers should do. The book, UTAH MOUNTAINEERING GUIDE by Michael Kelsey is a good access and route guide.
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