Backpacking Paría Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness (Arizona Trail Approach Day 5, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument)

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Big Springs
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

Dawn finds me encamped at Big Springs. I get another slow start than I’d like, this time due to weather. Expecting potential rain and knowing about remnants of Tropical Storm Lorena in area, and in relatively safe spot with gear prepped for rain, I opt to wait. Flash floods are the top weather-related killer in the country, and people die every year in the Southwest due to them, where the terrain is particularly friendly to such events. The ground can’t absorb the intense rainfall that comes with monsoons and tropical storm remnants here, so the vast majority runs off. In narrow canyons, inches of water become feet, which quickly become less like a wall of water and more like a churning mudslide carrying boulders and trees. Flash floods in the Southwest can’t be outrun; the best way to deal with them is to avoid them to begin with and to always be aware of an exit route. They can strike even when the weather is good at your location if drainages upstream are experiencing precipitation.

In this case, though, none comes.

Sacred datura blooming
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

So with a sunny blue sky I pack up and head out to cut off some miles to Wire Pass or White House (where a contact has been pressuring me to go). So far, seems like a sound choice.

The Parìa follows a narrow winding course westward through narrow canyons.

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Big Springs
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument

Around 1 PM, clouds start moving in and humidity builds, but still no sign of rain. The trail passes gorgeous red rocks and geological features like some of the most obvious fault lines that I’ve ever seen.

I make it about 5 miles up canyon and camp near the confluence of Buckskin Gulch and Paria at a high water site just in case anything comes down. Across the river I meet Raj and Philip and we talk under the stars for several hours. Raj loans me a power bank, as my batteries are starting to run low in the shady canyons with highly limited solar charging. No rain or water comes tonight either, and we head to bed.

The light today wasn’t great for photos in the afternoon, so I kind of had to make the best of it.

In places, the artistic flow of the River has carved out some incredible forms in the Kayenta Formation around it.
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Springs are not uncommon…if you know where to look and what to look for.
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
The gently (for now) flowing Paria carves out graceful arches in the Kayenta wall above it.
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
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Backpacking the Amazing Arizona Trail – Pine Mountain (Passage 21), FR 422 to Pigeon Spring Trailhead

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 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.

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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 50: 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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Backpacking the Arizona Trail, Day 49: Whiterock Mesa, Part III

Departing Polk Spring, the trail continues to provide magnificent views of the northern Mazatzal Mountains and the neighboring Red Hills as it descends to the East Verde River. The trail will pass through both mountain ranges – first the Red Hills, then the Mazatzals. The origin of the name “Mazatzal” is unclear, though one possible meaning is a Nahuatl term meaning “place of the deer.” The Mazatzal Wilderness, which the trail will remain within now until just shy of Strawberry in the central Mazatzals, is about 390 square miles in size. It was one of the original Wilderness Areas designated upon the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964.

Backpacking the Arizona Trail – FR 194 to Pine Spring (Passage 45, Whiterock Mesa)

I got started around 10, heading down Passage 25 toward the East Verde River.
I hike through a gate and enter the Mazatzal Wilderness. Following cairns, the surface alternates between the basalt and more dirt – like walking through a wash. As the trail skirts the rim briefly, a magnificent view of the Mazatzal Mountains and Red Hills opens up to the hiker, then the trail experiences yet another spectacular sunset as it and the backpacker fall off the Mesa to Polk Spring near the East Verde River.

Pink ribbons spread across the bluish/purple sky at sunset

Fossil Springs Wilderness – FR 708

Take a virtual hike through the Fossil Creek Wilderness! Fossil Creek Wilderness is one of the most spectacular areas in Arizona – so much so that permits are required from April 1-October 1. From the Fossil Creek Bridge trailhead, FR 708 begins to climb the wall of Fossil Canyon. A short distance up, the road is gated. Just on the other side is the trailhead for the Waterfall Trail, one of the most popular spots in the wilderness.

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Fossil Springs Wilderness – Waterfall Trail

Take a virtual hike through the Fossil Creek Wilderness! Fossil Creek Wilderness is one of the most spectacular areas in Arizona – so much so that permits are required from April 1-October 1. From the Fossil Creek Bridge trailhead, FR 708 begins to climb the wall of Fossil Canyon. A short distance up, the road is gated. Just on the other side is the trailhead for the Waterfall Trail, one of the most popular spots in the wilderness.

Fossil Springs Wilderness – Fossil Springs Trail

Take a virtual hike through the Fossil Creek Wilderness! Fossil Creek Wilderness is one of the most spectacular areas in Arizona – so much so that permits are required from April 1-October 1. The Wilderness has 11,550 acres with 30 species of trees and shrubs and over 100 species of birds. Fossil Creek itself is one of two Wild & Scenic Rivers in Arizona as well, designated by Congress in 2009 after the Fossil Springs Dam was decommissioned by Arizona in 2005. Fossil Springs, the source of the creek, release 30 million gallons of water per day, incredibly prolific for its location in Arizona.

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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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