Monday, November 5, 2012

September 27, 2012 Paria Canyon

"She said, hey babe, take a walk on the wild side
I said, hey honey, take a walk on the wild side
And the colored girls say
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo
Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo"
- Walk On The Wild Side by Lou Reed

Late last night my brother, George, met us in Kanab, UT. The three of us loaded our backpacks for today's overnight hike down Buckskin Gulch to Paria Canyon. We started our day at the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument's Visitor Center in Kanab. We were hoping to win a lottery for permits to hike to the Wave on Friday. It was here that we got conflicting reports about the condition of Buckskin Gulch. There was definitely the worst flooding in ten years recently. Some rangers said it was passable, others warned it was not passable due to heavy debris and mud. We were told Paria Canyon had thigh deep water but was passable. We didn't get permits for the Wave and we decided to hike down Paria Canyon. Now a quick explanation about the Lou Reed song. I've spent most of this week proclaiming that the song on the radio is perfect for this trip, sometimes seriously and other times jokingly. But when 'Walk On The Wild Side' came on, it really was perfect, except we hadn't come across any cross dressing junkies, gay hustlers or colored girls. Actually we did have an African American waitress in a cowboy bar in Escalante...yes it seemed very strange to us too...Utah is a very white state. Anyway, whenever we had nothing to say or wherever there was a good echo, one of us would go "and the colored girls go doo doo doo doo". It seemed funnier while hiking in the fresh air.

So this is how the three of us looked at the beginning of our hike. I guess I should backtrack to 15 minutes earlier, when we were pushing my car out of the ditch to the right of Georgie. It was in the ditch because the road to the trail head was washed out and I ran off the road backing up to the parking spots to Georgie's left. Not a good way to start our hike. Now we have an extra mile to go.

 Finally we are at the trail head. After 47 years, I am about to start the first overnight backpacking  hike of my life. I have to admit I'm pretty jacked about the whole idea...'s a beautiful day... off to the river bed we go.
The canyon starts out wide with the silt filled river meandering back and forth across it. As the canyon gets narrower, the river gets deeper.
I say it now so I don't have to repeat myself. This hike was amazing to me. I loved every minute of it. The colors were incredible, the weather was perfect and I had a blast with Mike & George. That said, I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.
We stopped at anything interesting at first...

...eventually I fell behind. There will be lots of pictures with Mike & Geo ahead of me.

 This canyon was recently flooded and we saw lots of debris. The mud was like concrete, it just stuck to your feet. I'm guessing this ball of mud and stones was created as it rolled down the canyon.
The canyon walls quickly got higher and higher.

Around every bend was something special, when we entered the Narrows the scenery became even more intense.

The rangers warned us about the quicksand...I felt more comfortable walking on the rocks.






After hiking down Paria Canyon about 7 miles, there was some doubt about a whether a side canyon was Buckskin Gulch. I wandered up it and quickly sank in the mud. I was covered in the wet concrete type of mud that I stumbled in. It was Buckskin Gulch. Mike found a suitable campsite just past the confluence.
 After setting up our campsite...
I washed myself and my camera in the silty water of the Paria River as best I could.
Then Mike hiked up Buckskin Gulch...

...which is a very narrow slot canyon...

...that has several new obstacles and this old rock that washed down here years ago to block the trail.
While Mike was in Buckskin Gulch, Geo & I hiked further down Paria Canyon...

...and back to our base camp as the sun began to set.
 We all decided to rest in our own way. George laid on his foam sleeping pad...
 Mike found a pillow to his liking...
...and I just laid down in the sand and enjoyed the views above me.
After dinner which included freeze dried pasta and chicken with wasn't half bad but then all I had eaten today was Cliff bars...we decide to build a fire as the sun set. Our fine planning meant we had to search for dry wood in a dark canyon that was recently flooded...we were smart enough to bring headlamps & flashlights.
I tried to dry my socks on the hot rocks...
...then Mike found a stick that made a good drying rack and added his socks to it.
While Mike & I sat around the fire, Georgie had us laughing our asses off as he read the instructions for our Ranger issued Wilderness Waste Containment Bag. Yes, when they tell you that you must pack out everything...they mean everything. It could have been that we were tired or all that fresh air and fire smoke makes you light headed or that poop jokes always make men laugh or the fact that the instructions seemed geared toward people that had never taken a shit before but I think it was because my little brother is fucking funny and thinking about it now...I still laugh out loud.
"Remove toilet paper and antiseptic wipe. Lay the square bag flat on the ground and form the liner into a basin shape to contain the waste. Position yourself over the widest area of the basin and squat to answer nature's call. For the utmost sanitation, men are advised to urinate first as a seperate function from defecating." That was the line that kept getting repeated as we laughed. Apparently it was OK if women did both functions together but unsanitary if men did.
Then Georgie entertained us with his flashlight while doing Jim Carrey impersonations.
As the moon rose above the canyon, the moonlight lit the wall across the Paria River. It slowly moved down the wall until...
 ...we were able to make petrogylph shadows on the bank of the Paria River.
So that is how one of my favorite days out in the wilderness ended. I've said this so many times after incredible days spent all over the world and I've always meant it...days like make life worth living.


  1. Hey - no fires allowed in Paria Canyon.

  2. I know that now. Obviously didn't know it then.

  3. You're fortunate to have your first overnight backpack be through Paria/Buckskin. It is truly a magical place.

    If you're going to do more overnight backpacking I strongly suggest you take time prior to heading out to clearly understand the area you're hiking, weather conditions and any restrictions/regulations. On the back of your orange Hiking Permit, number 5 states "All campfires/burning is prohibited......".

    I've hiked Paria over 20 times, the first being in 1972. In the past 10-15 years the number of people who hike or backpack has grown exponentially. As expected, this has stressed certain areas of the Canyon, specifically the narrows. The human waste problem got so bad at the camp sites around the confluence that it smelled like you were camping in an outhouse. It was disgusting. In addition, the ashes from campfires resulted in black soot all over my sleeping bag and/or tents. Thank goodness the BLM took steps to help minimize the impact; i.e carry out all waste including human waste and no campsites.

    Fortunately every couple of years there is a large enough flood that reaching the campsite heights to do a decent job of flushing things out, but until that time things can get pretty dicey.

    I hope you're able to try again. Next time try the end to end jaunt from White House to Lee's Ferry