THE WAVE (in the vicinity of Paria Canyon)
This ultra popular sandstone country near the Utah and Arizona border is aptly named. The sandstone foundation of its spellbinding setting is formed like a congealed wave frozen in time, complete with deformed pillars, cones, mushrooms, among other odd shaped natural creations. Deposits of iron are responsible for the unique blending of colors swirled into the rock surface, somewhat like taffy. The visual effect instantly creates a dramatic array of yellows, pinks, reds and orange. These are the predominant tinctures. The first visceral reaction upon seeing this backdrop is usually open-mouthed, as in disbelief the scenery is even real.
This is Paria Canyon country which contains the awesome Coyote Buttes Special Management Area. An assortment of sandstone buttes sit at the bottom of Utah’s famed Grand Staircase-Escalante NM and the upper section of Arizona’s Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness area. 5.5 miles (8.8 km) marks the hiking distance to The Wave and back. Another option is the 8-mile (12.8 km) roundtrip hike from the Wire Pass parking lot. This route takes hikers to the famed Top Rock Arch alcove and Melody Arch sector. Allow at least a day’s hike for the trip to and from the Wave, with an additional couple hours to the arches, alcove, and dinosaur tracks imprinted in the sandstone in that region. Sticky, rubberized hiking shoes are necessary for hiking here; also lots of water (at least four liters per person in the hotter months). A permit is required because the trail is limited to just twenty people per day in the North Coyote Buttes region. Good navigation skills are also a necessity.
The Wire Pass trailhead via House Rock Road is about 35 miles (57 km) west of Page, Arizona and some 40 miles (64 km) east of Kanab, Utah. The elevation gain is 325 feet (99 m) with a starting elevation of 4,875 feet (1,486 m). Consult regional topographical maps before entering this sector of the canyon country (and of course always check the weather before venturing into any canyon country sector). Permits are absolutely required. Only twenty hikers per day, in fact, are permitted to hike here. Routing can be tricky for novices. The important landmark en route to The Wave is the Vertical Crack (aka “the Notch”). The Wave formation is located beneath this conspicuous crack in the backdrop (between this wall of rock and the telltale fracture). It’s best to hike on the high route which, in some obvious sectors, requires wall hugging sandstone slabs. Twin Buttes is the next featured landmark. Look for two noticeable and large butte formations about halfway through the hike. From there, and just across the wash, multicolored domes appear. To the right is The Wave sector. The area called Top Rock (toward the south end) is Navajo Sandstone, the prominent white-tinctured formation. This landmark (also conspicuous) divides North and South Coyote Buttes. On the northwest edge of Top Rock is a chasm. This marks the entryway leading to The Wave (about 0.4 mile (0.6 km) south).
For most hikers, The Wave is the final destination. However, Top Arch is another local spectacle to see. It also requires rock scrambling ability to get there (and can be approached from the backside of the mountain flank). Once there the red cones of South Coyote Butte are visible. Look for pinkish dinosaur tracks on the other side of the wash and just opposite The Wave. The tracks were likely made by a common carnivore dinosaur that once roamed this regional territory, coelophysis (about 10 feet/3 meters long). Perhaps it was a species called grallator (Megapnosaurus, meaning “big dead lizard”) from the Early Jurassic.
DELICATE ARCH (Arches National Park)
The trail to this remote sector of the park departs from the Wolfe Ranch parking area. The first .5 mile (.8 km) is relatively easy and traverses over flat to gently inclined terrain, which marks the Morrison Formation overlying the Entrada Sandstone. The somewhat strenuous 3-mile (4.8 km) roundtrip to this aptly named arch is perhaps the most photographed backdrop on the Colorado Plateau; certainly here in Arches NP. The caveat, however, is this particular icon is for hikers only. Although its iconic shape can be viewed from far away, it’s simply too far from any nearby road or walkway to do the camera lens any good in capturing the majesty of its formation as well as the engaging background of the La Sal Mountains. Note that there’s hardly any shade in this part of the park. Thus, it’s advisable to have plenty of water, a decent pair of hiking shoes, and of course a broad-brimmed hat. Some hikers even prefer carrying an umbrella for added shade.
The arresting thing about seeing this rare spectacle of nature is the suspense in getting there. It simply builds because Delicate Arch doesnʼt come into view until the very end of the hike. Its freestanding sandstone sculpture clings precariously to the sloping edge of a large stone amphitheater. Like other arches in the park, this famed arch is constructed in the striking wind-blown layers of the Entrada Sandstone (Jurassic Period). Yet Delicate Arch stands alone: there are no flanking fins to protect it. This geologic fact also means it’s lifespan compared to other protected arches is relatively ephemeral.
Situated high above Cache Valley––a collapsed salt anticline––and set against a picturesque background of the La Sal Mountains (meaning “the salt” in Spanish), the panorama here is nothing less than an outdoor shrine of sandstone beauty. That towering mountain landmark may appear like a mountain, but in actuality it’s a laccolith––formed by magma and domed like a mountain. In this vicinity of the park the strata of formations were broken and tilted by down-faulting along the margin of Cache Creek Valley. The valley is actually a graben (a depressed block of land bordered by parallel faults) that formed when the Cache Creek salt anticline collapsed millions of years ago.
What a splendid place to learn about geology. In this case, the aforementioned graben is the German word for ditch and can be singular or plural. A single or multiple graben can produce a rift valley. Grabens are produced from parallel (normal) faults, meaning compressional. Thus, the hanging wall is downthrown and the footwall is the opposite, upthrown. Typically, the faults dip toward the center of the graben from both sides (hence, compressional). In short, the geologic result here reveals a huge block of land that’s literally downthrown which then produced a valley with a distinct scarp on each side. (A scarp is a steep slope or long cliff that results from erosion or faulting and separates two relatively level areas of differing elevations.) Graben often occur side-by-side with horsts which typifies the raised fault block bounded by normal faults or graben. Horst and graben structures are important to take note of, because they can indicate tensional forces including crustal stretching. Think of horsts as parallel blocks that remain between grabens. The bounding faults of a horst typically dip away from the center line of the horst.
Continuing the trail description, it passes the historic Wolfe Ranch cabin (on the left), then crosses a bridge over Salt Wash. The pastel- colored green and purple shale visible in the slope on the right represents mud that accumulated in the floodplain next to the Morrison streams (an ancient channel of some 151-million years ago). Beyond the bridge, at about the .4 mile (.6 km) point, the trail connects to a switchback up through the sandstone and shale layers, then levels out before winding down again. The large, irregular boulders along the trail are blocks of chert (a micro-crystalline variety of quartz). These vivid rocks called agate are weathered out of conglomerate layers in the Morrison Formation. The trail soon begins a precipitous climb to a slickrock surface in the Entrada Sandstone.
For about the next .5 mile (.8 km) watch for rock cairns that mark the route. After the steep climb the trail eventually levels out where it crosses sand and sandstone pavement of the ancient Entrada sand dunes (long since petrified). Along the way twisting trunks of piñon pine and juniper trees accent the sandstone garden in this sector. When the trail begins its traverse along a narrow rock ledge the arch is close. Ultimately, the trail ends at the top of the ridge. Seeing Delicate Arch defines one of those special Ooo-ahhhh moments. It’s that breathtaking! The arch, which some think looks like a pair of legs minus the torso and head, artistically frames the symmetrical peaks of the mountainous backdrop appearing like a towering black boil raised on the skin of landscape.
The Wonder of an Arch
Delicate Arch is a marvel of erosion. It originally formed in a continuous sandstone fin. Gradually over time, the sandstone on either side fell away until only the arch remained. What keeps it standing, like a frozen monument? It’s the harder rock layer that caps the arch which is more resistant to erosion than the layers below. It’s also the hardness that keeps this arch from washing away, as in disintegrating this sublime spectacle. Of course, nothing lives forever––not even rocks, especially arches. Notice that the left leg of this majestic arch is thinner where it is weathering more rapidly than compared to the other side. As mentioned earlier, the leg will become thinner through time and ultimately Delicate Arch will catastrophically collapse in a heap of rubble, leaving only memories and pictures behind.
Incidentally, an arch is often mistaken for a natural window, yet they’re really not the same. Equally, natural bridges are not arches. Albeit both are geological formations involving sedimentary rocks, usually sandstone, arches are formed as a narrow ridge and walled by cliffs. What is more important is that they are formed by erosion, where a softer rock stratum beneath a cliff-forming stratum gradually erodes OUT to the point a freestanding arch forms. Arches commonly form where cliffs are prone to erosion. In this typically dry region, rivers and streams provide ideal and natural weathering processes to do the job. Elements of erosion simply work on inherent weaknesses in rocks and make them larger until their solid foundations are breached. Thus, from a small opening to a gargantuan aperture.
GRAND VIEW TRAIL (South Rim, Grand Canyon)
There are a plethora of hiking opportunities in the Grand Canyon on both rims. The two main South Rim corridor trails are the Bright Angel and South Kaibab trails, while the North Kaibab Trail on the North Rim is the only main trail into the center corridor which eventually hooks up with both corridor trails. Even the rim-to- rim trail is a popular hike. Apart from these trails all others are considered backcountry. The Grand View Trail is not essentially a backcountry trail if only going down to Horseshoe Mesa. However, hiking below the mesa does constitute such arduous terrain where orienteering by map and compass is necessary.
The hike to Horseshoe mesa is arguably challenging for some hikers. Viewed from Grandview Point, the colossal arms of Horseshoe Mesa reach outward toward the middle of the inner canyon gorge. In places, it seems like a backcountry trail along its 3 mile (4.8 km) stretch. The trail is steep and connected by a series of switchbacks toward the upper layers of the canyon’s walls, then gradually settles into longer ladders that hug the walls all the way down to the mesa. The Grandview Trail is located along the Desert View Drive (Hwy. 64) and is about 10 miles (16 km) east of Grand Canyon Village.
At this sector of the canyon the rim is about 7,400 feet (2,255 m). Horseshoe Mesa is 4,800 feet (1,463 m). The trail is discernible and well traveled. Below the Toroweap Formation (the second major layer below the rim) the trail paces itself beneath an overhanging ledge, then connects to a less steeper segment headed east. At this juncture the trail approaches the Coconino Sandstone (the third major formation below the rim). This cliff-forming and cross-bedded formation is highly fractured due to faulting. As the trail drops down a fairly long switchback look for slickensides which are polished or striated surfaces caused by friction along the fault. Another series of steep and tight switchbacks complete the descent to the Coconino saddle which is a popular rest stop about 1 mile (1.6 km) below the rim. Below this layer is the Hermit Shale Formation where the canyon layers puts on its makeup (the red tincture begins here). Below are the four distinct red and maroon layers of the Supai Group Formation, which also requires traversing a series of ladders as opposed to the steeper and shorter switchbacks. Here the trail begins to contour more gently to Horseshoe Mesa.
On the mesa the terrain is flat and easy to walk. The colorful mineral specimens (brilliant green and blue) are copper ore (malachite and azurite) which are not canyon booty for those who find these scattered remains. Kindly leave these rocks for others to see and enjoy!
Like all the other Grand Canyon trails, the canyon formations can be read like an open geologic textbook the farther one travels down the trail. It’s virtually a time machine effect, where each average step takes the hiker back some 2,000 years. Thus, starting from the Kaibab Limestone capping the rim, which is about 251-million years old, each succeeding layer gets older. The upper layers of the Paleozoic Era entail the first five major formations leading down to the mesa (Kaibab, Toroweap, Coconino, Hermit and Supai Group having four distinct formations in its makeup). Horseshoe Mesa sits on top of the massively thick Redwall Limestone.
On the mesa is the historic ruins of the Last Chance Mine. The trail was (mainly) constructed by Pete Berry, one of the more famous late Nineteenth Century prospectors-turned-canyon entrepreneurs. Berry mined his claim into the early 20th Century. Like all the others of his ilk, he came to the Grand Canyon seeking and hoping to find precious ore. But he and all the other prospectors came to realize the canyon’s lithology (the study of rock formations) does not favor precious minerals or gem stones much less gold. True, there was a modicum of silver mined in Havasu Canyon (the South Rim’s Havasupai Village region in the western ramparts), yet the vein was quickly mined out. About the only thing prospectors found worthwhile was copper, asbestos and lead. Even then the production was marginal at best. What Berry, et al., ended up mining after they closed their mines was gold in tourist pockets. Tourism had come to the South Rim late around 1901 when the Santa Fe Railroad laid tracks to the South Rim. Consequently, Grand Canyon Village was on the map.
Allow for plenty of time, also plenty of water while visiting the mesa. Take time to walk around, exercise leg muscles that need stretching, and see some of mining artifacts left over from Berry’s copper mining days. There’s even a fairly large cave to explore, called Cave of the Domes. It’s also the only cave people are allowed to explore on their own when visiting the park. Be sure to bring a flashlight; a headlamp is much better. The entry is on the western tip of the mesa’s arm. For the most part the cave is dark, dank and claustrophobic. Still, if one is up for spelunking (caving), this cave poses no real danger.
Other notable places to see are the mine shafts, remains of a roofless stone structure and sleeping shanty, other leftover rock footers of a bygone era, and some mining machinery. Namely, an ore crusher and ore carts, a rusted metal wheelbarrow, picks, shovels and drills, though most of these artifacts steadily disappeared by 1965 due to inconsiderate people who pillaged these historic artifacts.
While viewing the mine site imagine a so-called jack train of eight to ten burros steadily making a trip to the mine toting food, lumber (for shoring the mine) and sundry supplies down the steep, winding trail. Then they patiently waited for the ore to pile up. Once the ore was packed on their sturdy backs up the trail they’d go again. Each of these steadfast critters hauled some 200 pounds (90.7 kilograms) of sorted copper ore. The ore was about seventy percent pure. However, due to the high cost of transporting the raw material the mine was closed in 1907.
Geologically, the mine was formed in a formation called a breccia pipe. Breccia are unique features exposed in the Grand Canyon and surrounding region. Breccia pipes often start out as a cave void that collapses to form a sinkhole full of broken rock (breccia). The sinkhole then acts as a natural drain collecting minerals transported by water which concentrate at the bottom of the pipe. This is precisely where the miners find their highest concentration of ore.
This Italian word “breccia” means broken rock, specifically where rocks deep underground collapsed in on themselves. The collapses probably initiated where rocks started falling into caves dissolved in the Redwall Limestone. While still buried deep underground the rocks continued to collapse, originating from younger rock layers above. The result is a collection of large, angular broken rocks that act as a conduit––a pipe––for fluids. Over time, the fluids left behind rich mineral deposits. On Horseshoe Mesa, it was copper (discovered in 1890). Other minerals in other places and pipes also resulted. For example, uranium was discovered to the west, at Maricopa Point (the next prominent locale west of Grand Canyon Village). This was Dan Hogan’s Orphan Mine. Initially, it was a copper strike. However, after some sixty years of owning the mine and one day kicking away, what he thought were nuisance black rocks, he later sold his claim to a new owner, who in turn had the material assayed. Then he sold it to a new consortium that realized the seeming valueless material was none other than uranium. The mining claim was worth a fortune!
Of course, mining and caving isn’t all there is to see and know about Horseshoe Mesa. The views are nothing less than spectacular. Hance Creek and Cottonwood Creek, both off-trail routes to the river, are part of the adventure once backcountry hikers manage the 3,000-foot (914 m) descent. Remember: if planning to stay overnight in the canyon permits are necessary.
ZION NARROWS (Zion National Park)
This diverse trek through Zion's premier canyon is one of the most touted and astonishing adventures in the Southwest. Extraordinary beauty and pinched canyon walls describes this unique gorge-turned-slot canyon (that is, a slot canyon effect profiled in places).
Hanging gardens burst from dramatically colored perpendicular heights while trickling water threads its way through moss covered boulders. Sound, sight and sensation, this setting has it all! Gentle slopes give way to sheer walls funneling streams of water into fluted slides and twisting channels, each cutting deeper as the trek continues its aquatic course southward. Along the sandy perches of the banks, towering ponderosa trees tap their roots downward, hungry for nutrients and water. The entire trip is wondrous. The Zion Narrows deserves its reputation as one of the best, if not the most tourist-safe hike in the national park system. The hike can be done as a long day adventure, or a more relaxed overnight backpacking trip (with a permit, of course). The distance (one way) to the end is 16 miles (25 km). Dry bags, sturdy water shoes, neoprene socks, a pair of trekking poles, emergency supplies, overnight gear and plenty of drinking water––a must. Go prepared! Hiking with just a single pole is not recommended.
If you do go, trekkers will earn the adventure and allure every step of the way. That’s because the Zion Narrows follows a strenuous route due to the demands of river hiking: slippery rocks and swift water crossings. However, the contour of the terrain is a gentle downhill trek. Swimming- wading is often required for short sections. The elevation loss is about 1,400 feet (426 m). Hikers are also allowed to hike a few miles up the Narrows from the Riverside Walk (the last stop on the free shuttle route) and return without obtaining a permit. Otherwise, a backcountry permit is required to hike from Chamberlain's Ranch to Zion Canyon. Most of the route requires hiking in the water. There are also some sandy paths on the side of the Virgin River that offer a short reprieve. Be sure to check the weather and river flow before starting this hike, as flash floods can, and do, happen. Heavy river flow also makes travel tedious and dangerous. Chamberlain's Ranch is just off North Fork Road on the east side of the park. It's best to have a four-wheel-drive vehicle to navigate the dirt road to the trailhead, but is not required if the road is dry. Commercial shuttles can also be rented that leave from Springdale just outside the park. The route will end at the Temple of Sinawava in Zion Canyon.
If the water is too cold for body comfort, then it’s advised to hike in a wetsuit (short-sleeved).
PEEKABOO GULCH (A Trinity of some of the most famous slot canyons in Southeast Utah)
Peekaboo is a small drainage and for the most part amounts to a sandy wash. It eventually merges with a half mile or so narrows section. This prime sector is also twisting and convoluted, though only a few feet/meters deep. Peekaboo is very popular with hikers because of the last 100 meters (328 feet), where the scenery turns outrageous, almost a sensory overload. This happens just before the junction with the Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch is reached. At this point the ravine cuts deeper into the sandstone and forms a series of interlinked potholes, extravagant swirls and fins of rock, and several arches. It’s these different openings and numerous corners and crevices that account for the curious name of this slot canyon. It takes about an hour to see and experience all the lower narrows.
This locale is the first tributary joining Dry Fork (of Coyote Gulch). It’s just downstream of the usual entrance to this particular canyon nexus. Often, there’s a pool of murky water beneath the end of Peekaboo Gulch. The water may be up to 3 feet (0.9 m) deep, with a near vertical rock wall about 10 feet (3 m) high and beyond. Several notches (footholds) have been cut into this slickrock. The notches are also worn and muddy. Ergo, climbing can be tricky.
Note: Piling small rocks in the pool sometimes helps to gain an advantage. Above is another watery pothole, and beyond that a succession of pools, each a few feet higher up. There’s still more slippery rocks to scramble up and over, and some places are problematic to negotiate (though nonetheless manageable with patience). This lower section of the canyon features the sandstone arches and the best rock formations. This particular stretch of canyon becomes shallower and the route is more straightforward. There are several places where climbing to the plateau at either side is possible.
To mention the point again: when hiking in slot canyons where water is common proper footwear is important. Thus, some types of shoes are simply better than others (to grip the surface rock).
SPOOKY GULCH (the next in this three-part slot canyon series)
This slot is well-deserving of its name. It’s a dark and mysterious abode, measuring about a half mile of truly serpentine and tight (narrow) passages. Often, it’s only possible to see a few feet ahead. The canyon twists and turns through a series of one hundred eighty degree bends and it’s not the place to be during flash flood season, neither is any slot canyon during even a minimal amount of rainfall. (Why?) The colors and patterns of the cross-bedded Navajo Sandstone makes the intrigue of hiking here worth the suspense. The walls also have an unusual knobby texture which is similar to other regional (Escalante) slot canyons. The erosion of the walls adds to the eerie atmosphere. The only downside to such endorsement is that Spooky is quite popular with hikers. Hence, it’s all about timing, the season and not having to wait too long to experience this exceptional and relatively easy slot canyon. Fit hikers can easily explore all the narrows in about twenty minutes, though of course spending more time here is recommended.
The narrows begin a short distance down a lengthy, sandy side canyon. Like Peekaboo, Spooky joins Dry Fork (of Coyote Gulch) from the north, about .4 mile (0.6 km) east of the usual entrance point. There’s also a shortcut over a sandbank just before the main canyon which is marked by a cairn.
The canyon floor of Spooky Gulch is sometimes sandy and sometimes scattered bare rocks. The gulch also tapers to a sharp point in some sectors. Although a few pools may form during wet weather this sector of the regional canyon country is much drier than Brimstone or Peekaboo (neighbor slots to the east and west). When the cliff walls tighten, as in impinging on the thoroughfare, Spooky Gulch turns deep and narrow from the start, and with a few straight channels further along. Eventually, the winding begins––sharp bends, thin protruding fins of rock, potholes, and occasional boulders––big, smooth-surfaced rocks that partially impede the passageway. Thus, in some parts of the gulch sideways walking is necessary. Indeed, larger people, whether rotund or tall, may not be able to walk all the way through.
There are two places in Spooky that require more exertion: a 5-foot (1.5 m) literal squeeze up a near vertical crevice, then negotiating around a tight, narrow corner at the top, followed by a climb over a pile of large boulders near the upper end of the canyon. Scrambling under one large rock and over another just beyond is all part of the adventure and effort. As with most slot canyons in this vicinity, Spooky becomes shallow after a while, then the slot gives way to a wide, open and sandy streamway. This segment continues for several miles/kilometers across gently sloping land toward a distant plateau. An alternative way to reach the narrows is by hiking downstream from the far north end of the wash, beginning from the Early Weed Bench trailhead. This entry is reached from a side track that starts at Mile 24 of the famed Hole-in-the-Rock road.
BRIMSTONE GULCH (the final part of this slot canyon hiking trinity)
Completing a trinity of favored slot canyons in this vicinity is Brimstone. It may indeed be the ultimate slot canyon of southeastern Utah’s canyon frontier. For one thing, Brimstone Gulch is less than 3 feet wide (about 1 m) for most of its 1-mile (1.6 km). The central section is also not traversable at floor level. That’s because in many places it’s just a few inches across, though still many feet deep. The passages are also dimly lit with graceful, curving sandstone walls that block most sunlight. Here the rocks are dark- colored which makes this particular slot canyon ghostly and mysterious, even by Spooky’s standards.
Inside this spectacular slot are pools several feet deep, at least this is usually the case along the lengthier end of the slot. The pools thus require a longer walk to get there than the other two popular tributaries of Dry Fork Coyote Gulch (namely Spooky and Peekaboo). Because of these natural hurdles, Brimstone is less visited than Peekaboo or Spooky, and certainly more challenging. Still, the rewards are well worth the strain. Entrance into this enchanting maze is from the top, as an alternative, though it involves a longer trek over the sandy desert. Only a short part of this canyon is easily accessible before the canyon narrows. Brimstone Gulch joins the larger Dry Fork (of Coyote Gulch) from the north, say, 2 miles (3.2 km) east of the usual entrance to this particular slot canyon. The walk down Dry Fork is much like a stroll, that is apart from one potential obstacle formed by a chokestone and 15 foot (4.5 m), a dry fall which can be free climbed. At this junction Brimstone appears somewhat unremarkable: a flat floor of soft, cool sand between widely separated wall of orange-colored sandstone. However, that typical scenery changes within a mile or so as the narrows abruptly begin.
The other factor about this slot canyon is that it’s deep from the beginning. Brimstone also contains a few muddy pools near the entrance after which the passageway is dry, at least for a while. Soon the walls squeeze inward to as little as 2 feet (.6 m). At this point the rocky face above curve inwards, thus preventing all but occasional rays of sunlight from illuminating the way ahead. There’s a particularly narrow and somewhat gloomy section that’s likely to be a lengthy thin pool of deeper cold water, perhaps 5 feet (1.5 m) or more. This stretch also curves around several bends. Otherwise, there are no major obstacles before a wider, shallower and more brightly lit section appears which is filled with fallen rocks. At this sector Brimstone is like a subway chamber. However, hikers must also be wary, for this segment during part of the year is home to a midget and faded species of rattlesnake, pale yellow in color. Take care when traipsing through their home! (Look for the telltale tapered head profile and you’ll know it’s in the viper class, meaning poisonous if it bites.)
Beyond the next open area the gulch deepens again, and becomes the narrows which continues at ground level. The adjoining corridor is about 6 inches (15 cm) wide and offers no easy way to climb above the tight section. Now what? For most people, turnaround and return to the entrance. This about face point is also reached in about twenty to twenty- five minutes hiking in these narrows.
The lengthy central section of Brimstone can best be traversed starting from the upper end.The so-called chimneying technique with arms and legs extended is therefore necessary, because itʼs necessary to be above the floor, though not all that far above; also a number of small rappels is necessary. So, yes, having a rope on any slot canyon hike is always recommended.
The 112,500-acre (4,046 m.) Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness lies approximately 10 miles (16 km) west of Page, Arizona. This canyon, and itʼs slot-like terrain, has towering walls streaked with desert varnish, colossal red rock amphitheaters, sandstone arches, wooded terraces and hanging gardens. In short, it’s a haven for outrageous beauty, mostly looking straight up! The 3,000-foot (914 m) escarpment known as the Vermilion Cliffs dominates the remainder of the wilderness with its thick Navajo Sandstone face, steep, boulder-strewn slopes, rugged arroyos and stark appearance. Here are also found excellent slot canyon hiking opportunities. In the northwest portion of the wilderness lies Coyote Buttes, an area of spectacular scenery displaying domes, aprons, fins, corridors, and a variety of small fragile rock sculptures carved in colorful swirling cross-bedded sandstone. The variety of hues and textures in the rock formations within the wilderness constantly change with variations in light and weather. Paria Canyon is approximately 38 miles (61 km) long and can take between three and six days to explore. Buckskin Gulch ends in a confluence with Paria Canyon.
Three trailheads take you into Paria Canyon:
- White House (bypasses Buckskin Gulch) is a straightforward hike down Paria Canyon;
- Buckskin Gulch (longer by several miles than the Wire Pass shortcut). This trailhead starts when the Buckskin is really just a "gulch" and follows it to the confluence with the Paria; and
- Wire Pass (a scenic and recommended "shortcut" that’s even narrower than the Buckskin. This trailhead starts in a wash, but shortly becomes a slot that empties after about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) into Buckskin Gulch, then follow along toward the Paria confluence.
Wire Pass is the highly recommended of the three.
THE TWO “HIGHWAY” TRAILS OF THE GRAND CANYON (South Rim)
The Bright Angel Trail, like the South Kaibab, are classified as ʻhighways,ʼ because mules can easily ply these wide trails compared to backcountry, and more narrower trails, which mules cannot go. On both trails, the following information mentions convenient turnaround places for hikers to do divvy out the measurement of mileage and time. Since the featured hike in this literary offering entails hiking the BA it follows there are options for hikers to consider in view of the time vs. the distance factor:
- The 1-mile (1.6 km) tunnel at the top of the Coconino Sandstone layer (denotes the third formation below the rim).
- The 1.5 mile (2.4 km) rest house has drinking water and compost toilets.
- The 3-mile (4.8 km) rest house has water (only during the high tourist season months) but no compost toilets.
- Indian Garden 4.5 miles (7.2 km) has water, compost toilets, and picnic tables; also a shaded campground for overnight backpackers, ranger station (including a First Aid clinic), and helicopter pad. Next to the 1.5 rest house, Indian Garden is the second most popular gathering place for hikers.
At this segment of the BA, hikers have choices to consider. One choice is to turn around and head back to the rim (which means a 9-mile/ 14.4 km roundtrip). Another choice is to hike 1.5 (2.4 km) to Plateau Point, which is due north beyond Indian Garden (with no shade whatsoever). At this dead-end, there is an approximate 1,400 foot (426.7 m) sheer drop-off, with a stunning view and the first view of the Colorado River. This locale is also wide open, thereby providing an expansive view from east to west. It’s also the third most popular destination along the BA. If planning to return to the rim, add another 3 miles (4.8) to the hiking mileage.
For the more fit hiker, there is one other option to consider, that is, from Indian Garden (which means hikers tend to skip going to Plateau Point): continue down the trail a few more miles to the Colorado River. At this locale, Pipe Creek, there is a rest house with drinking water, and at the beach a compost toilet. Once there, hikers either turn around and head back to the rim or consider the whole shebang by going all the way to Phantom Ranch. If this additional mileage is opted for, the total mileage from Indian Garden to the so-called ranch is another 5.5 miles (8.8 km). With an average of 10 miles (16 km) via the BA, and if coming out of the canyon by this same trail, a 20-mile (32.1 km) roundtrip day hike is exhausting for even the most hardy hiker (where “hardy” has nothing to do with “buff”). Just think what it must feel like to those who are not in such great shape! Hence, the NPS does not recommend such a hike (even though there are some hikers who feel otherwise.
Assuming the favored oasis, Phantom Ranch, is the targeted hike for the day, after resting and enjoying refreshments at the cantina there is nothing more to do other than turn around and hike back to the rim. Remember: what has thus far been described implies a very long day’s hike. This means a hiker who finds him or herself too exhausted to hike back to the rim does not have the option of spending the night in the canyon, either at the campground (Indian Garden or Bright Angel, which is near Phantom Ranch) or spending a night at the ranch (the cabins or dormitories). The NPS mandate requires only those with prior camping permits or ranch reservations are allowed to rest their weary bones and aching muscles in a sleeping bag or bed.
Since the BA was selected as the featured highway in this trail description, this so-called drainage series of switchbacks through narrow side canyon walls offers generous shade for most of the day, but no peripheral views. Just a continued view to the north. Still, there are well spaced rest houses for water, three of which also provide toilet facilities (not counting Phantom Ranch). Like the Bright Angel Trail, the South Kaibab Trail extends its pathway down to the river, thence to the ranch (via the so-called Black Bridge). It’s also the shortest route to the bottom (7 miles/11.2 km to the Colorado). However, for the savings on mileage and time hikers have to consider the South Kaibab Trail for its disadvantages. First, it’s a somewhat steeper route. Second it offers far less shade. Third, there are no places for water. Instead, there are compost toilets at Cedar Ridge (1.5 miles/2.4 km) below the, rim and the same at the so-called Tip Off, which is on the Tonto Trail (east) just above where the inner canyon gorge shows up. That being said, the South Kaibab follows ridge into the canyon. Thus within a mile or so an expansive view to the east and west opens and there is a lot more to see of the canyon. Compared to the BA, which opens up east and west about half way to Plateau Point, the South Kaibab really does ante up some of the most spectacular vistas simply because the route is not ensconced within narrow canyon walls (that is, except at the upper few formations).
The question hikers must carefully consider comes down to this salient point: Is the milage savings worth taking the South Kaibab Trail back to the rim?
Although some details about the South Kaibab were just mentioned, here is a more complete rundown of its destination points:
• About a mile (1.6 km) below the rim is a popular vista aptly named Ooh-Aah point. By aptly is meant what hikers tend to say when they stand and gawk at this prominent vista’s amazing east-west views of the canyon’s interior.
- Another .5 mile (.8 km) is Cedar Ridge (compost toilets only).
- 1.5 miles (2.4 km) further is Skeleton Point, which is just above the Redwall Formation. The view of its numerous series of switchbacks is enough to turn most hikers around. It’s also one of two steeper segments of the trail (the other in part of the inner canyon gorge sector).
- The next likely destination is the Tonto Plateau’s Tip Off locale, which is about 1.5 miles (2.4 km) with compost toilets. Remember: shade is sparing on this trail and this part of the inner canyon is roasting by mid-morning during the warmer months.
- If planning to continue to the bottom, then crossing the bridge and stopping for rest and refreshments at Phantom Ranch (about a 20 minute walk for most hikers. For a little over 7 miles (11.2 km) hike, this alliterative highway to the bottom has both its advantages and disadvantages.
Most hikers who plan on a long day’s hike to the river (or Phantom Ranch) and back to the rim worth the effort. Most also enter the canyon via the South Kaibab and exit via the Bright Angel (simply because of the ample shade, water, and rest houses on its longer trail).
Worth a reminder to all hikers is how trail distance in the Grand Canyon can be quite deceiving. Hence, always think in units of time. With this common sense in mind, plan the hike on the basis of how long will it take to hike from one segment of the trail to the other (i.e., say, the 3-mile rest house to Indian Garden). Of course, depending on one’s stride, the average pace of a hiker also depends on how long it takes between two measured segments. For most people, a forty-five minute hour pace is common, but can be as much as an hour-per-mile. That being said, there really is no need to hurry. Hence, it’s up to the hiker to set the pace that is most comfortable. A steady stride at a leisurely pace also works nicely for most hikers. ! Incidentally, the question “Which is easier: hiking into the canyon or headed up to the rim?” First, remember there really is no easy hiking in the canyon. For that classification of hiking, as a rating, stay on the rim. At best, hiking in the canyon is moderate to demanding to strenuous. It all depends on both the trail one hikes and the physical shape of the hiker. So to answer the question: most hikers think and feel hiking up-trail is easier than going down-trail. For one thing, leg muscles and feet are not strained or hurting compared to going down-trail. Rather, it’s mostly the lungs that are working harder (i.e., breathing rate is increased). The cure for this is to slow down and maintain a steady and slower pace. That being said, taking minimal breaks tends to get most hikers out of the canyon earlier compared to those who take frequent breaks (by sitting or laying down and resting too often). Such advice (taking rests) is warranted, of course, but only in moderation. Besides, the more a hiker sits or lays down, the more this habit persists. Well-timed breaks at key mileage intervals, say, 1-mile (1.6 km) or every 1.5 miles (2.4 km) also seems to work for many hikers. Thus breaking up the distance. Moreover, a limit of, say, fifteen to twenty minutes should be enough rest time before resuming the hike.
Here’s another useful tip for hikers: remove shoes and socks at desired rest stops, then massage feet and toes; also leg and upper back muscles. If hiking with others, trade off massages, especially where it’s not possible to reach behind one’s back and work some of the lower muscles. ! Soaking a bandana and doing the same for the inside of a hat also works wonders when hiking in tepid or simmering temperatures. Speaking of which, it is advised all hikers wear a hat when hiking in the canyon, as well as sunglasses. Smearing on sunblock is also a necessity. Hiking with poles, although an option for some hikers, is another recommendation.
As always, your thoughtful commentaries are welcome.
Happy Trails (And Safe Hiking)!