Arizona Trail Approach Day 3: Paría Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Vermilion Cliffs National Monument)

Moon above Paria Canyon’s Wingate Sandstone walls in the morning
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

Slow start this morning. The spring that I reached yesterday, the first on the trail, is little more than a trickle, and I have a lot of water to fill. It marks the border between the Chinle Formation and the Wingate Sandstone.

Panorama of the moon above the walls of Paría Canyon in the morning light
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

As I begin to wind my way further up Paria Canyon, deeper and deeper into the wilderness, the gorgeous weather and cool breeze continues.

Hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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I pass a great gallery of petroglyphs, one of the largest I’ve ever seen. Every time I thought that I’d documented all of them I spotted more and had to go back up again. Just incredible. Canyon perils exist, too – I narrowly avoided injuring myself trying to (successfully) avoid stepping on a canyon tree frog. But after doing my program on those this summer at Grand Canyon, I couldn’t harm one here.

Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Petroglyphs spotted hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

As the canyon rises, the Wingate Formation gives way to the Kayenta Formation and the canyon enters a wider and more heavily vegetated stretch, where sediment has clearly been both deposited and eroded by severe flash flooding – the vegetation growing is evidence of the amount of water provided by the river and the thick rich silt it has deposited, but the current river channel is also in places feet below the level of the vegetation, with a bank that just drops off, evidence of the power of the floods that can sweep through here.

Backpacking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Hiking through Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Backpacking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Hiking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Backpacking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

But not today, thankfully.

I ultimately make it to just above Wrather Arch – a cave-type arch in Wrather Canyon. Beautiful regardless of the technical terminology involved. Hopefully I have time to hit it quickly in the morning before continuing upcanyon. The red rock is simply magnificent as it glows in the evening light.

Hiking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Backpacking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Hiking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Backpacking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Hiking Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon transition between Wingate Sandstone and Kayenta Formation
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Transition between Wingate Sandstone and Kayenta Formation in Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Transition between Wingate Sandstone and Kayenta Formation in Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon, wide angle panorama
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Swiss cheese-style erosion in the Navajo Sandstone in Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

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To Thruhike or Section Hike, That is the Question

When many individuals are first looking at getting into thruhiking, they face one crucial decision after trail selection – to section hike, or thruhike. Each has different advantages and challenges, and may be better suited for one trail than another. Today, we’re going to discuss these. First, we need to define each. For our purposes, … Continue reading To Thruhike or Section Hike, That is the Question

National Park Quest: Tonto National Monument

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Inspiration Point to Roosevelt Cemetery (Passages 20 & 19, Four Peaks to Superstition Mountains)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

Arizona Trail Backpacking Logistics – AZT Gateway Communities: Tonto Basin

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Four Peaks South (Passage 20)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Saddle Mountain Passage from near Saddle Mountain to Sycamore Creek at the start of the Pine Mountain passage. More magnificent Arizona mountain views of the central Mazatzal peaks and ridgelines, and a gorgeous Arizona sunset.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Four Peaks North (Passage 20)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail’s Four Peaks Passage to just south of Pigeon Spring. The terrain is incredibly precipitous – in places the trail seems to occupy the only level ground around. Fire impacts are present throughout as well, a legacy of the 1996 Lone Fire. Magnificent views of Roosevelt Lake, the southern Mazatzal foothills, and the Sierra Ancha across Tonto Basin.

Logistics, trail journal, and magnificent mountain scenery.

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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 51: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23), Part II

Disruptive event today, an F-16 that flew over while I was packing. It flew extremely low and around a mountain – possibly North Peak – and made me think very seriously about why that would be allowed over a designated wilderness area. Still, I manage to knock out a few miles to Chilson Spring before dark, with spectacular views of Deadman’s Canyon, the Verde Valley, and the western Mazatzal foothills along the way. The mountains are jagged and rugged and the trail traces steep slopes nearly the whole way across precipitous terrain.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

It’s here. The Mazatzal Divide represents the heart of the longest stretch of the Arizona Trail within a designated wilderness area. To that end, a reminder on the meaning of wilderness. Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, wilderness is “an area where man is but a visitor and does not remain.” Consequently, motorized access as … Continue reading Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 50, Part II: Mazatzal Divide (Passage 23)

Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 47: Red Hills, Part II/II

Second day hiking through the Red Hills toward the Mazatzal Mountains. Earning their name through the red rock colors, the Hills also provide hikers with wildflowers and diverse vegetation, in addition to showing the scars of recent wildfires and spectacular views of the range north toward the Mogollon Rim.

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Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Trail SurfaceRustic (the river is the trail)
Length (Mi)45 (Lee’s Ferry to Wire Pass via Buckskin Gulch)
38 (Paria Canyon, Lee’s Ferry to White House)
20 (Wire Pass to White House via Buckskin Gulch)
22, approx. (Buckskin Gulch to White House)
1.8 (Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch)
SeasonFall-Spring. Brutally hot in summer.
Potential Water SourcesSprings. Unless informed otherwise by a BLM ranger, there is likely no water in Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River should be considered undrinkable even when filtered. Know how to recognize desert springs.
TrailheadsParia Canyon North: White House
Paria Canyon South: Lee’s Ferry
Buckskin Gulch Middle Exit
Buckskin Gulch West
Wire Pass
Trailhead AccessVehicular access to all trailheads
WildernessYes
Possible resupply pointsNone
DifficultyStrenuous
Potential campsites (mileages S to N)Best near springs. Some higher-water campsites in north, south of Buckskin Gulch-Paria Canyon confluence.
ThreatsFlash flooding – Extreme hazard here. Know the forecast daily (an inReach or other satellite communicator helps with this). Know how to recognize the signs of a flash flood and how to react. You cannot outrun a flash flood; you must climb above it. This is not possible in Buckskin Gulch – do not enter it if storms threaten.

Heat – wear a cotton shirt so you can soak it. Synthetics aren’t great in the desert.

Hyponatremia – “drunk on water.” To avoid, ensure adequate salt & electrolyte intake and ensure you eat as well as drink water. Symptoms are almost identical to dehydration, but drinking more makes it worse. Prevention is by far the best solution.

Dehydration

Because there is no trail, there are places where boulders must be climbed around or over and at least one spot where your pack must be hauled over a boulder jab. Flash floods change the trail, shifting obstacles around, removing some and adding others. Expect the unexpected.
Permits Required? Yes. 20 people max per night issued on BLM website.
Miscellaneous Leave No Trace is different in the desert. Know desert principles and carry wag bags. One will be provided with your permit.
Cell service?Nonexistent
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