AZT Approach Day 1: Lee’s Ferry and Entering Paria Canyon

Panorama of lower Paría Canyon as it cuts through the Vermilion Cliffs in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
The Vermilion Cliff walls of Paría Canyon in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument glow in the evening light.

It’s a gorgeous sunny day in Northern Arizona, although still pretty hot with a hot in the mid/upper 90s. I packed up this morning and took a brief wander down to the Colorado River beach to see how the river looked and hunt for a sign that Steve, a national park traveler friend who stopped by the Canyon and who I’d advised to stop by Lee’s Ferry had told me about. It marks the northern border of Grand Canyon National Park. I found it, on the beach where river trips launch to raft down the Colorado through the canyon. The last time I was here, the Paría River was flowing much stronger and you could see the two rivers flow side by side between the beach and the Navajo Bridge. But given how dry it has been recently that was not the case today, just the blue Colorado water. Seeing that deep blue water against the red cliffs of Marble Canyon is always beautiful, but it also breaks my heart a bit, because the river should be a muddy brown with sediment. In fact, literally the name Colorado River means “colored river” or “red river” in Spanish, and received that name due to the color in it from the sediment it carries. But Glen Canyon Dam now traps all that sediment, so it only turns its natural color after rains. The river now also runs about 40-50 degrees rather than its natural 85. Feel free to ask if you have more questions about the river, one of my favorite features of the Southwest and one I could write about in depth. What features do you have that you connect to where you live?

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Grand Canyon National Park entry sign on beach at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona

View down the Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry, into Grand Canyon National Park and toward the Navajo Bridge at Marble Canyon. This marks the official start of the Grand Canyon, which runs 277 miles to the Grand Wash Cliffs east of Las Vegas.

Colorado River upstream view from the beach at Lee’s Ferry, into Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, an adjacent national park to Grand Canyon

I then headed over to Lonely Dell Ranch at the mouth of Paría Canyon and enjoyed a ranger program there about the prior occupants of the ranch including John D. Lee, the namesake of Lee’s Ferry and someone perhaps best known for his role in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, for which he was executed in 1877. The orchards at the ranch also have free fruit to pick, and I enjoyed some fresh pears before heading up Paría Canyon.

The entrance to Lonely Dell Ranch at Lee’s Ferry in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Interpretive sign about Lonely Dell Ranch at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
Orchards at Lonely Dell Ranch in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Lonely Dell Ranch buildings at Glen Canyon NRA. The National Park Service protects natural as well as cultural landscapes at all its parks regardless of designation.
Lonely Dell Ranch buildings at Lee’s Ferry in Glen Canyon NRA
Lonely Dell Ranch buildings at Lee’s Ferry, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area

The Canyon was pretty wide today, but I’m not expecting that to remain the case moving forward. I have two weeks of supplies on me to get back to the South Rim. It’s also 15 miles to the first source of water at the top of the Chinle Formation, so I’m pretty loaded down with water today given that and the heat, can’t wait to drink down some of that weight and start eating my way through my pack. There’s a trail from Lee’s Ferry through the portion of Paría Canyon that is within Glen Canyon NRA, but after crossing the border into the Paría Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness the river is the trail. I’m essentially doing the lower portion of the Hayduke Trail to get to the start of the Arizona Trail, and the landscape soon proves diverse and stunning, with old historic features at first, followed by spectacular colors and light in the canyon.

(Please note that a permit is required from the US Bureau of Land Management for all overnight stays in the Paría Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness. Permits are limited to 20 people/night and can be reserved online. Adequate preparation is essential before undertaking a trip through a wilderness area; one must be prepared to be self sufficient and away from all services and assistance. If you are interested, let me know and I can help and provide you with more information on the matter.)

Multicolored layers line the walls of Paría Canyon as it cuts through the Vermilion Cliffs in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Reminders of the active days of Lonely Dell Ranch sit in lower Paría Canyon in the form of such items as cars rusting away in the desert sun
The Lee’s Ferry cemetery sits in lower Paría Canyon as the trail winds toward the border of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the Bureau of Land Management’s Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
The Paría River flowing through Paría Canyon and the Vermilion Cliffs, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Old cattle pens from the active period of Lonely Dell Ranch near Lee’s Ferry in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
As you head up canyon, the trail starts to cross and recross the river continuously.
Paria Canyon, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
Paria Canyon, near the border of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and BLM’s Vermilion Cliffs National Monument and Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Canyon tree frogs in Paria Canyon. I used to do my wildlife program at Grand Canyon on these animals.
The Paría River flowing in Paria Canyon. Water in the desert is always a magical thing
Wildflowers bloom in Paria Canyon In Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. It’s not just about the light and rock colors here.
Paria Canyon in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in evening light.
Paria Canyon flowing through the Vermilion Cliffs in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in evening light
The Vermilion Cliff walls of Paría Canyon in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument glow in the evening light.
Peds (clumps of sediment) in the riverbed show just how dry the summer monsoon was here.
The Vermilion Cliff walls of Paría Canyon in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument glow in the evening light
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