Backpacking Paría Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Arizona Trail Approach Day 4)

I got an early start this morning but it took me a while to find the side trail that leads up to Wrather Arch. As I noted in the prior post, Wrather is not a true arch as we may think of, but is rather a cave-type arch. Located within the Paría Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs wilderness, it is the least accessible natural bridge or arch in the southwestern United States, requiring an 18 mile round trip hike. So of course, having hiked so far to get to this point, I had to make sure that I made it to the Arch.

I did eventually find my way up to it, but it’s status as an arch is not obvious immediately. Shifting perspectives on the trail eventually makes this more obvious.

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Hiking up Wrather Canyon
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Wrather Arch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Wrather Arch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Wrather Arch
Note the slight visibility through to the other side on the right side of the arch
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

After making my way back down from Wrather to the main body of Paría Canyon, the journey continues upstream. This entire area of the canyon traverses the Kayenta Formation, with its distinctive red rock. Part of the Glen Canyon Group, the red color is formed by oxidized iron in the rock. The black spots, known to some as “rock varnish,” or “desert varnish,” caused by oxidized manganese staining on surface of the rock.

Joints in the Kayenta Formation in Paria Canyon
Joint cracks in the Kayenta Formation

The canyon briefly widens slightly in the vicinity of the junction of Wrather Canyon and Paria Canyon as the river bends – clearly a spot where flooding has both widened the canyon and both eroded and deposited sediment on both banks.It allows the sun to paint the walls and bring out that ethereal glow.

Paria Canyon panorama near Wrather Canyon
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon
Paria Canyon

The canyon, which had widened in the area around Wrather Canyon, soon narrows again, with towering Kayenta spires above.

Kayenta Formation spires and walls in Paria Canyon
Kayenta Formation spires and walls in Paria Canyon
Kayenta Formation spires and walls in Paria Canyon
Kayenta Formation spires and walls in Paria Canyon
Canyon treefrogs in Paria Canyon
Trees grow in the cooler, shaded side drainages within Paria Canyon
Water finds a way.
Water finds a way.
In some places, the River has eroded small caves on the rock, probably in locations where joints or cracks in the rock made it susceptible to such action
More “Swiss cheese” erosion of the rocks. Note also the white rock here – flash flooding on the river has removed the natural iron and manganese staining and bleached the rock white instead. Similar effects happen elsewhere such as reservoirs when the rock is submerged for extended periods of time.

Heading upstream, more of the geologic history of the area becomes obvious. Eroded fault cracks, some of the largest that I’ve ever seen, emerge in the Kayenta Formation. I make it to Big Spring for the night and set up camp in a sheltered location with my rain gear set up, knowing that there is the potential for rain overnight or in the morning.

Fault crack (left) in the Kayenta Formation, the first of four that can be seen in Paria Canyon.
Second fault crack in the Kayenta Formation
Second fault crack in the Kayenta Formation
Paría River flowing under the cliffs of the Kayenta Formation
Joints in the Kayenta Formation
View up the third fault crack along the route in the Kayenta Formation
Sacred datura around Big Springs

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