Paria Canyon -- May, 2012

Paria (rhymes with Maria) Canyon in southern Utah is a unique place, a slot canyon where you can walk for miles through canyons hundreds of feet deep which are sometimes so narrow you can touch both sides at once.

The environment is very restricted. There is no way in or out except along the river bed. Flash floods are a hazard, but at this time of year rain is at a minimum, and the forecasts were excellent. Only 20 permits are granted each day. One does meet other people but not many. Campsites are sparse. Water is available in a few springs and must be filtered.

The party was college friends Alan and Ray, my son Peter and myself. Alan and Ray had been in Grand Canyon for a few days. They met us at the airport in Page, Arizona. The only commercial air service there is Great Lakes Air, which flies 19-seat Beechcraft twin turbos.

After a quick stop to get fuel, food and water, we went to pick up our camp permits and go to the Whitehouse trailhead. I had very stupidly left the shoulder straps for my pack at home. I was able to rig some nylon straps to serve, and they were usable if not comfortable.

The trail begins where the river valley is shallow. The Paria flows south from Bryce National Park. It is very silty and at this time of year, only a few inches deep. (Save for the quicksand. More on that later.)

The entire hike is along the river, in fact, in the river. To the question, how do you keep your feet dry? the answer is, you don't. I had some Keen's, a waterproof cross between a boot and a sandal. With a light poly sock they were perfect for this trip.

As you go south the stream drops very gradually and the walls rise around you. The entire area is red sandstone. It is not a tough material and is eroded in a huge variety of shapes.

We started about 3 pm. Ray and Peter quickly stepped ahead. Alan and I thought we would eventually find them at a campsite, but by 6 it was getting dark, and we decided to pitch camp rather than wind up in darkness, hungry, unsettled and still separated.

Half awake the next morning, for some reason I imagined that Samuel Beckett would have appreciated this place for its silence and stony enclosure. So I put him there.

Next morning Ray appeared, sans pack, and said they were only ten minutes downstream. Alan and I finished breakfast, packed up and started out. After 40 minutes we decided we had missed the junction with Buckskin Creek where the others had camped. We stopped and waited and after a while they showed up.

We had a thrill when Alan stepped into quicksand. He was instantly up to his knees. He probably would not have gone deeper, but he could not get out. I was able to help him. It was a powerful argument (among many) for not going alone into such places.

Our goal was Big Spring, a source of water. It doesn't look like much, but in this area it is truly a big spring. We filtered all the water or treated it with chlorine. The Paria is very silty and may have some undesirable minerals that cannot be filtered. The BLM cautions against drinking it.

A panorama nearby

Camp the second night. All together at last. Campsites are few. When full, the river fills the canyon side to side and scours everything away. The few spots high enough to be dry (and have trees) are sought by hikers, one of the reasons the BLM issues only 20 permits per day.

Looking straight up in the morning. Camp 2

The next day we started back upstream but went up the side canyon cut by Buckskin Creek. Erosion can create amazing shapes.

Looking up. There seemed to be a lot of air traffic in the morning.


Peter and me.

The light comes in mostly by reflection.

There is a barrier simply called The Rockfall. You get around or through or beneath it. Every year it changes because of the flow during the rainy season.

Peter managed to walk much of Buckskin barefoot. The soil is usually very soft sand, but he abandoned the idea later that day.

More Buckskin.

Next morning. The rising sun casts shadows of trees on the cliff overhead onto the opposite face. We left camp to do some exploring without packs. Two ravens showed up and waited until we left to see what they could ransack.

I went down the Paria a short way, then up, then back into Buckskin.

Here is a short video giving an active impression of being in the canyon.

There is little life down there. We did see and hear a family of falcons. The ravens were obvious. We saw this, and wondered where it came from. The silence is notable, but also the echoes. At night frogs would chorus for an hour or so. Each one sounded like three because of the bouncing sound.

At the rockfall again. Someone carved hand/foot holds, but the better way was going under a rock to the left.

We began to hike out about 3 pm. The river's level seemed to change by the hour. It declined to almost nothing that afternoon and left mud drying in the sun.

After a night in a lovely Travelodge with its lovely shower and lovely bed, plus a lovely dinner, we had a day to tour the area. We drove south from Page, across Navajo Bridge over Marble Gorge,

and along Vermilion Cliffs. Then we turned north on a dirt road that went past an area where condors have been reintroduced. We did see some, but they were too far away to photograph. The clouds in that dry country can be very striking.

Not far west of Page is a small but very interesting dinosaur museum. The Kaiparowits Plateau to the north has recently been discovered to be the most fruitful ground for dinosaur fossils in North America. This is a painting representing what is now known. The most interesting conclusion is that carnivorous dinosaurs were warm blooded and had feathers.

Page was created to support the building of Glen Canyon Dam. Since 9/11 security has been tight, but you can now tour the dam, even down to the turbine room.

Next day Peter and I flew home - Page to Phoenix to Oakland. The dam and the bridge are to the left. The hotel where we spent the last night, the Courtyard Marriott (very nice) is below that. The town of Page is just off the bottom of the photo.

David Rowland