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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Arizona Trail, Day 36 – Passage 29 (Happy Jack)

The low last night was projected to be 12º, the coldest night yet on the trail, and I would say that may well have been accurate. Fortunately I came prepared for such conditions. Today I will be one of the first to walk the full new Happy Jack passage routing south of Shuff Tank.

Arizona Trail, Day 35 – Passage 29 (Happy Jack)

It is brutally cold this morning, making it hard to even move much before 11. I believe it was around 20 at 9:00. Packing is a slow process in these temperatures. But, I pick up a few things that might make future packings faster in these temperatures, like doing most of it inside the tent at first and having a solid plan in advance to minimize time spent debating with oneself in the cold. Once packed, I head east along the forest road until coming to a trail crossing. There is a problem; the trail crosses on both sides. Clearly I missed a turnoff in the twilight yesterday evening. In both my purist nature and out of curiosity to see just where I made a wrong turn, I take the trail to the right, and it winds through the ponderosas back to Shuff Tank. It is clearly new, so this must be part of the new reroute, which has gone around the road stretch that I walked to get to the junction earlier. Instead of following the road on the north side of the tank, the trail now follows a singletrack around the west and south sides of the tank, then crosses the road on the east.

Arizona Trail, Day 34 – Passage 30 (Mormon Lake), Day 3

It’s brutally cold this morning, notably because of the strong wind that whips across the clearing to the west. Not setting up the tent last night was a mistake. I ultimately fill up for the last time at Navajo Spring and run into a few dayhikers who have completed over 300 miles of the trail themselves. Two of them are the Grouper and the Oracle. I continue south, aiming for Gooseberry Springs TH and Passage 29, Happy Jack.

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Arizona Trail, Day 40 – Passage 28 (Blue Ridge)

Managed to push through the entire Blue Ridge Passage today, one of my best days on the trail. I left the Blue Ridge Ranger Station this morning and headed south for the Rim. Saw a herd of elk near the Blue Ridge Campground and Elk Tank while climbing Blue Ridge itself. The trail also passed through an active prescribed burn, though it was low intensity so probably not considered a public hazard at this point. I’m familiar with them anyway, having worked as a PIO (public informations officer) on one over the summer at Grand Canyon. The trail crossed Blue Ridge and dipped across the steep valley of East Clear Creek, dry at the crossing.

Arizona Trail, Day 33 – Mormon Lake Zero

It’s cold and raw after the rain the night before. I walk about 3 miles up the road to Double Springs and then use the AZT to get back to my prior campsite to grab the sleeping pad, then retrace my steps again. Did it hail up here?

Arizona Trail, Day 32 – Double Springs to Mormon Lake (Passage 30, Mormon Lake)

Heading south the trail passes an overlook of the ridges and of Mormon Lake itself, Arizona’s largest natural lake. It’s low (it often dries up under drought conditions to become Mormon Meadow) but the spring was wet enough that it hasn’t disappeared. It’s so windy that I’m almost blown off the overlook and my glasses ARE blown off (thankfully I catch them before they fall).

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Arizona Trail, Day 31 – Anderson Mesa to Double Springs (Passages 30, Mormon Lake)

There is a lot of cool railroad history west of Lake Mary Road, the trail follows an old logging railroad grade for much of the route and in places the ties are still visible. Very cool. The forest turns into a dense mixed conifer and I have a chance encounter with a mountain biker named Chris who recently moved here from Idaho. We talk about the trail ahead and some I’m looking at doing in Idaho.

Coronavirus and National Parks: All COVID-19 Impacts and Park Reopenings

Another period of big updates across the National Park System.

Here we will look at the status of all 500+ national parks and affiliates, see which have changed status or will soon, and look at the details of what is or is not currently available at each park.

Disclaimer: please observe all CDC recommendations for the safety of staff and visitors alike. They are there to help and serve you, please do them the courtesy of helping keep them safe.

Arizona Trail, Day 30 – Anderson Mesa (Passages 31 and 30, Walnut Canyon and Mormon Lake)

The trail reaches Lowell Observatory’s Navy Precision Optical Interferometer (NPOI). The NPOI measures precise relative positions of stars in the sky for the Naval Observatory to use as reference when determining geographic positions of locations on both Earth and in space, as well as for use in timekeeping. Over four football fields long, it uses a six-mirror array directing multiple light beams from a star to a single point, enhancing image detail and separating stars that are so close that even the largest conventional telescopes cannot separate them visually. Near the NPOI is an excellent view of Upper Lake Mary in the valley of Walnut Creek below, after which the trail continues across Anderson Mesa.

After reaching Horse Lake, I make camp for the night. The sky is black as coal and the night is filled with coyotes howling.

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Arizona Trail Thruhike, Day 26: Passage 31 (Walnut Canyon), Part 2 (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon.

Arizona Trail, Day 26: Passage 31 – Walnut Canyon (Arizona/Utah Day 33)

The trail crosses FR 303, Old Walnut Canyon Road, and heads west toward Flagstaff. Rolling in and out of drainages, It traces the rim of Walnut Canyon in places, and veers away into the woods in others. Heading west, the forest transitions back to the ponderosas, rolling up and down through drainages. The ponderosas are dense throughout, and their reddish bark glows in the light that filters through the green needles. The gambel oaks continue to impress along the route as well, adding splashes of yellow, red, and orange to the green ponderosa woodlands. The trail crosses two spur trails leading to overlooks with more magnificent views of the canyon. Both well worth the minor extra mileage and time.

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