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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Exploring Buckskin Gulch and The Paria River

Buckskin Gulch is a slot canyon that is located on the Arizona and Utah border between Page Arizona and Kanab Utah it is located south of Highway 89A. This canyon is considered to be one of the longest continual slot canyon in the world at a length of close to 14 miles. And in that fourteen miles there is really only one exit. Exploring the interior of the canyon is an amazing adventure but but it does not stop there because the surrounding area up on the canyons rim is also worth seeing.
Buckskin Gulch runs from west to east and is a tributary of the Paria River. There are three entrances to the canyon. You can enter from the west end at Wire Pass Trail Head, or you can enter from the east end by coming down the Paria River from the Whitehouse Trailhead, or you can access the canyon in the middle from the Middle Trail.
This slot canyon in some locations has cliffs as high as 500 feet high and and in places the walls are only around 10 feet apart.
Because you are in a tight narrow crack that drains a large are a flash flood could cause water to rise rapidly in just a few minutes it is very important to check weather reports before entering this canyon. There are some obstacles in the lower half of the canyon that may require a rope and some limited rock climbing ability. Sometimes there are pools of water you must swim or wade through to travel down this canyon so packing your gear in water proof bags is a good idea. Since flash floods can change the obstacles in the canyon you should check with the BLM for conditions before doing any hiking in this canyon.
I have entered this canyon from the Wire Pass trailhead, the Middle Trail, and from the Paria River, but have never traveled the entire length. To travel the entire length from Wire Pass to The Whitehouse trailhead is around 21 miles total and would require a car shuttle. Pretty much an overnighter for sure. From Wire Pass trailhead to the Buckskin Gulch is around 1.75 miles. From Wire Pass trailhead down Buckskin Gulch to the Middle Trail is around 8 miles. From Whitehouse trailhead to the Paria River and Buckskin Gulch confluence is around 7 miles.
There are three day hike possibilities as I see it. First is hiking from Whithouse trailhead down The Paria River canyon to the confluence of Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River. The second one is a day hike in through the tight slot of Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch and down Buckskin Gulch a ways and then back. And the third day hike is rim walking and exploring at the Middle Trail with a trip to Cobra Arch and then going into Buckskin Gulch from the middle Trail and explore up or down a ways.
A day hike from Whitehouse down the Paria River Canyon to the confluence and back is an easy but long 14 mile hike on a flat and sandy wash bottom with a little splashing through ankle deep water that is sometimes required. It starts off in a sandy wash just west of the parking area.
As you travel downstream sandstone rocks start appearing on both sides of the wash. Some are pretty interesting beehive or tee pee shaped formations.

Soon the rocks get larger and larger and then start slowly closing in closer and closer. Eventually the cliffs reach epic heights of around 500 feet and the canyon is less that 20 feet across in some places. This alone would be well worth the visit with these red smooth massive cliffs but seeing Buckskin Gulch at the confluence with the same tall cliffs with walls even closer together is really impressive. If you can do the whole 14 mile round trip it is well worth it.
To do the of the second day hikes from the Wire Pass trailhead, you walk east from the parking lot, across the road, and follow the "trail" to the register. You then continue east, following the wash. After a short distance there is a sign directing hikers to the right toward the "Wave" another great destination, but ignore this and stay in the wash At around 1.3 miles, sandstone cliffs will rise up on both sides of the wash and enclose around it forming a narrow section.This Wire Pass slot is not very long but is very tight and deep. This is what the entrance looks like. The narrows will then open up again as you travel farther down to Buckskin Gulch. I have climbed up out of the wash at this location and there is some beautiful sandstone formations, but not near as nice as the Coyote Buttes and wave area. Here is what the begining of the Wire Pass slot looks like from up on the rim just as you enter the first narrow section. As you are heading down the wash the canyon walls soon close in again this time creating a very tight and dark narrow section. Here you can barely slip through with a pack to get through. After this the walls open up a little once again slightly and by now the cliffs on both sides are very tall and impressive and stay that way until you get to the intersection with Buckskin Gulch. When you reach this confluence with Buckskin Gulch (1.75 miles)look for the Wire Pass petroglyphs at the base of the large cliff on the right.Then head down Buckskin Gulch to explore the slot canyon.
The third day hike in the area is the Middle Trail area. To hike to the Cobra Arch from the Middle Trail is around 3.5 miles. Many people hike east along the rim from where you park and then descend down to the arch. I have just hiked down the trail to the Middle Trail entrance to Buckskin Gulch but instead just traveled east picking my way through all the amazing sandstone formations. And eventually I reached the arch (there appears to some paths this way as well). The surrounding area is full of tee pee or beehive shaped rocks and all sorts of fantastic sandstone shapes. And even without the arch it would be fun to expolre this area.

The arch is a strange shaped arch that is around 35 feet long and is around 30 feet tall. To enter Buckskin Gulch at the Middle Trail you have to scramble down some steep ledges and then climb down a steep section along a crack in the rock.

Here is what that exit point looks like from down in the canyon. The next photo is what the canyon looks like from. the rim at the Middle Trail. A little wider than in other locations but still impressive just the same.
This entry and exit can be a little much if you have a fear of heights. The cliff walls are only 100 feet or so at this location but get taller as you go in either direction.

Then once in the slot you can explore up or down the canyon.
I have heard that there are some pictographs or petroglyphs in this area of the canyon both up stream and downstream from the entrance but I have never seen them. Buckskin Gulch and the Paria Canyon is a popular, and potentially hazardous part of the Paria Canyon - Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness area and to hike in and around Buckskin Gulch requires a permit and there are some rules regarding access and travel, so here is some permit information. A fee is required for all visits (see https://www.blm.gov/) for details. Advance permits are required for overnight use. There is a limit on overnight use in the canyon to 20 persons per day. Paria Canyon day use permits are available via self-serve envelopes at each trailhead. There are no visitor use limits for day use for the Paria Canyon. Day use is $5, camping overnight is $10 (last time I checked).
Trailhead directions:
Middle Trail: Take Highway 89 4.3 miles east of House Rock Valley Road. Where just prior to crossing the Paria River you will see the Outpost Restaurant on the right side of the highway. Turn right at this dirt road soon you will see sign tha labels this road Kane County Road 6020 (BLM Road 750) which is the more heavily traveled dirt road you began on. There are some intersections, but ignore them. The main road runs up Long Canyon, to the southeast for a couple of miles and then climbs just south of it. The road will top out on a plateau and arrive at a fork 4.2 miles from Highway 89. Stay left, keeping on the main road, doing the same (stay left)at the next intersection at 4.4 miles. A third fork is at 4.6 miles and once again continue left on the main road. At 5.1 miles two roads appear, one to the right and one to the left, but continue straight. The path becomes sandy with small ups and downs. It passes one deep wash at 6.4 miles. At 7.8 miles the road passes a barbed wire fence and just past this is a large juniper tree and a pull-out where you will see a register box. I advise having a high clearance 4 wheel drive for this road, for the sand and washes and if wet weather the clay.
Whitehouse trailhead from Highway 89 1/2 mile east of where the highway crosses the Paria river, turn south, heading toward the BLM Paria River Contact Station. Follow this dirt road 2.25 miles to the Whitehouse Campground and parking area.
WirePass Trailhead take Highway 89 about 4 miles west of where the highway crosses the Paria River, to milepost 26 looking for the House Rock Valley Road turnoff. It is on the left at the end of a long guard rail. Turn south onto this dirt road and drive 8.5 miles to the Wire Pass Trailhead parking area.

For more information about the Coyote Buttes and the wave that are near Buckskin Gulch go to this post http://arizjones.blogspot.com/2010/07/coyote-buttes-north-section.html

For mor information and photos of The Paria River Canyon and it's tributary Buckskin Gulch go to this post http://arizjones.blogspot.com/2010/11/paria-river-canyon.html

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