Buckskin Gulch, 2003
Paria Canyon - Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness

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In June, 2003, Rich Macur and myself, Dave Wyant, took a hike through the Buckskin Gulch, which is a 12-mile long slot canyon that feeds into the Paria River. Located in southern Utah at the Arizona border, Buckskin Gulch is arguably the best, longest, deepest slot canyon in the world. Through most of its 12 mile length, it varies in width from typically 5' to 15' and its walls range from 50' to possibly as much as 500' high. This slot sees intense flash floods at various time of the year and anyone who travels within it is wise to avoid rainy weather during the journey. On our day in this fabulous wonderland, the weather was bright, sunny and warm, with no chance of rain.

We began our journey at Wire Pass Trailhead after having been dropped off there by our wives, Cindy Wyant and Debbie Macur. The girls then shuttled a car to our exit point at White House Trailhead where we were to pick it up later in the day. The two trailheads are 20 miles apart by road and 20 miles apart by trail. Starting at 7am would allow us enough time to explore the length of the Buckskin and walk upstream through the Paria River streambed to our exit point and hopefully still arrive before dark.

The hike begins with a 1.7 mile stroll through a shallow, dry in inconspicuous open desert. The wash eventually entered the narrow slot of aptly named Wire Pass, which provided the tightest, thinnest portion of slot that we would encounter throughout the day, being as narrow as 2-3 feet in one or two places. We squeezed through the shoulder-wide crack to meet the Buckskin, then followed it downstream into the famous 12-mile long section leading to the confluence with the Paria River.

Wire Pass Trailhead
Wire Pass Trailhead
Across the desert
Enter the Buckskin
The upper Buckskin

It had obviously been some time since any significant water had flowed through the Buckskin as the walking was dry and sandy. We plodded through the sand, marvelling at the sights along the way. The canyon was typically about 70 degrees in the shade, but the heat factor soared considerably when walking through the few areas of direct sunshine. After 5 miles of continuous slot, we entered an especially dark and dank area known as the cesspool, so named because of the frequent, dark and oozing pools that are typically present. On previous visits, a group I was with waded numerous (5-20) pools ranging in depth from 1'-3' and having a consistency somewhere between brown water, chocolate milk, and chocolate pudding. Today, there were only 3 or 4 small pools and only one had to be waded.

Shortly after the cesspool, we arrived at the "Middle Trail" and kept on going. The Middle Trail is a scramble at best, but does provide one of very few locations by which this deep slot can be exited if need be. We had no need to climb out so we continued on our way. As lunchtime neared, we found a nice resting point directly below a car-sized boulder that must have dislodged itself from the upper canyon wall and wedged itself high above the canyon floor. It was an eerie site to see such a massive stone hanging in the air 25' above us.

Big Walls
Big walls
Small pool
Beautiful Light
Beautiful light
Boulder Jam
Boulder jam
Dave and Rich
Sculpted walls
Wide Spot
A wide spot
Rock Litter
Rock litter

We continued on our journey and eventually arrived at "the rockjam", a jumble of rocks that has at times required negotiating one's self down a 12' drop with the aid of a rope. In recent years, the rockjam has "evolved" in such a way that it is now possible to scramble down through a hole between large boulders without the use of a rope, which is what we did.

Rock Jam
Rock jam
Rock Jam
Rock jam
Old Barrel
Old barrel

Now less than 2 miles from the confluence, we continued along, marvelling at the lighting provided by the noon day sun. The walls seemed especially warm and aglow with light, and almost cathedral like in their hugeness and magnificence. After 7 hours of walking, we arrived at the confluence and stopped for a snack break. This area was the most crowded that we had seen, having run across 8-10 other hikers in the last 15 minutes. Prior to that, we had seen only 2 others in 6-3/4 hours of walking.

We followed the dry Paria River upstream toward our final destination of White House trailhead. The Paria was completely dry today, a bit of a change from previous visits where 125 wet stream crossing were required during the 7 miles between the confluence and the trailhead. Today, the riverbed was dry and sandy.

Golden Glow
Golden glow
The Confluence
Up the Paria

During our stroll to the trailhead, the Paria slowly became less slot-like and more open. After another 2-1/2 hours, 10 hours overall, we arrived at the trailhead, found our car, and headed for home. It had been a wonderful visit to this unique and beautiful hidden gem of a slot canyon.

Slide Rock Arch
Slide Rock Arch
Sculpted Mounds
Sculpted mounds
White House Trailhead
White House Trailhead

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