..........................................................Arizona Jones Outdoors: Hiking, Backpacking, Mountain Biking, and more!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Exploring Buckskin Gulch and The Paria River

Buckskin Gulch is a slot canyon that is located on the Arizona and Utah border between Page Arizona and Kanab Utah it is located south of Highway 89A. This canyon is considered to be one of the longest continual slot canyon in the world at a length of close to 14 miles. And in that fourteen miles there is really only one exit. Exploring the interior of the canyon is an amazing adventure but but it does not stop there because the surrounding area up on the canyons rim is also worth seeing.
Buckskin Gulch runs from west to east and is a tributary of the Paria River. There are three entrances to the canyon. You can enter from the west end at Wire Pass Trail Head, or you can enter from the east end by coming down the Paria River from the Whitehouse Trailhead, or you can access the canyon in the middle from the Middle Trail.
This slot canyon in some locations has cliffs as high as 500 feet high and and in places the walls are only around 10 feet apart.
Because you are in a tight narrow crack that drains a large are a flash flood could cause water to rise rapidly in just a few minutes it is very important to check weather reports before entering this canyon. There are some obstacles in the lower half of the canyon that may require a rope and some limited rock climbing ability. Sometimes there are pools of water you must swim or wade through to travel down this canyon so packing your gear in water proof bags is a good idea. Since flash floods can change the obstacles in the canyon you should check with the BLM for conditions before doing any hiking in this canyon.
I have entered this canyon from the Wire Pass trailhead, the Middle Trail, and from the Paria River, but have never traveled the entire length. To travel the entire length from Wire Pass to The Whitehouse trailhead is around 21 miles total and would require a car shuttle. Pretty much an overnighter for sure. From Wire Pass trailhead to the Buckskin Gulch is around 1.75 miles. From Wire Pass trailhead down Buckskin Gulch to the Middle Trail is around 8 miles. From Whitehouse trailhead to the Paria River and Buckskin Gulch confluence is around 7 miles.
There are three day hike possibilities as I see it. First is hiking from Whithouse trailhead down The Paria River canyon to the confluence of Buckskin Gulch and the Paria River. The second one is a day hike in through the tight slot of Wire Pass to Buckskin Gulch and down Buckskin Gulch a ways and then back. And the third day hike is rim walking and exploring at the Middle Trail with a trip to Cobra Arch and then going into Buckskin Gulch from the middle Trail and explore up or down a ways.
A day hike from Whitehouse down the Paria River Canyon to the confluence and back is an easy but long 14 mile hike on a flat and sandy wash bottom with a little splashing through ankle deep water that is sometimes required. It starts off in a sandy wash just west of the parking area.
As you travel downstream sandstone rocks start appearing on both sides of the wash. Some are pretty interesting beehive or tee pee shaped formations.

Soon the rocks get larger and larger and then start slowly closing in closer and closer. Eventually the cliffs reach epic heights of around 500 feet and the canyon is less that 20 feet across in some places. This alone would be well worth the visit with these red smooth massive cliffs but seeing Buckskin Gulch at the confluence with the same tall cliffs with walls even closer together is really impressive. If you can do the whole 14 mile round trip it is well worth it.
To do the of the second day hikes from the Wire Pass trailhead, you walk east from the parking lot, across the road, and follow the "trail" to the register. You then continue east, following the wash. After a short distance there is a sign directing hikers to the right toward the "Wave" another great destination, but ignore this and stay in the wash At around 1.3 miles, sandstone cliffs will rise up on both sides of the wash and enclose around it forming a narrow section.This Wire Pass slot is not very long but is very tight and deep. This is what the entrance looks like. The narrows will then open up again as you travel farther down to Buckskin Gulch. I have climbed up out of the wash at this location and there is some beautiful sandstone formations, but not near as nice as the Coyote Buttes and wave area. Here is what the begining of the Wire Pass slot looks like from up on the rim just as you enter the first narrow section. As you are heading down the wash the canyon walls soon close in again this time creating a very tight and dark narrow section. Here you can barely slip through with a pack to get through. After this the walls open up a little once again slightly and by now the cliffs on both sides are very tall and impressive and stay that way until you get to the intersection with Buckskin Gulch. When you reach this confluence with Buckskin Gulch (1.75 miles)look for the Wire Pass petroglyphs at the base of the large cliff on the right.Then head down Buckskin Gulch to explore the slot canyon.
The third day hike in the area is the Middle Trail area. To hike to the Cobra Arch from the Middle Trail is around 3.5 miles. Many people hike east along the rim from where you park and then descend down to the arch. I have just hiked down the trail to the Middle Trail entrance to Buckskin Gulch but instead just traveled east picking my way through all the amazing sandstone formations. And eventually I reached the arch (there appears to some paths this way as well). The surrounding area is full of tee pee or beehive shaped rocks and all sorts of fantastic sandstone shapes. And even without the arch it would be fun to expolre this area.

The arch is a strange shaped arch that is around 35 feet long and is around 30 feet tall. To enter Buckskin Gulch at the Middle Trail you have to scramble down some steep ledges and then climb down a steep section along a crack in the rock.

Here is what that exit point looks like from down in the canyon. The next photo is what the canyon looks like from. the rim at the Middle Trail. A little wider than in other locations but still impressive just the same.
This entry and exit can be a little much if you have a fear of heights. The cliff walls are only 100 feet or so at this location but get taller as you go in either direction.

Then once in the slot you can explore up or down the canyon.
I have heard that there are some pictographs or petroglyphs in this area of the canyon both up stream and downstream from the entrance but I have never seen them. Buckskin Gulch and the Paria Canyon is a popular, and potentially hazardous part of the Paria Canyon - Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness area and to hike in and around Buckskin Gulch requires a permit and there are some rules regarding access and travel, so here is some permit information. A fee is required for all visits (see https://www.blm.gov/) for details. Advance permits are required for overnight use. There is a limit on overnight use in the canyon to 20 persons per day. Paria Canyon day use permits are available via self-serve envelopes at each trailhead. There are no visitor use limits for day use for the Paria Canyon. Day use is $5, camping overnight is $10 (last time I checked).
Trailhead directions:
Middle Trail: Take Highway 89 4.3 miles east of House Rock Valley Road. Where just prior to crossing the Paria River you will see the Outpost Restaurant on the right side of the highway. Turn right at this dirt road soon you will see sign tha labels this road Kane County Road 6020 (BLM Road 750) which is the more heavily traveled dirt road you began on. There are some intersections, but ignore them. The main road runs up Long Canyon, to the southeast for a couple of miles and then climbs just south of it. The road will top out on a plateau and arrive at a fork 4.2 miles from Highway 89. Stay left, keeping on the main road, doing the same (stay left)at the next intersection at 4.4 miles. A third fork is at 4.6 miles and once again continue left on the main road. At 5.1 miles two roads appear, one to the right and one to the left, but continue straight. The path becomes sandy with small ups and downs. It passes one deep wash at 6.4 miles. At 7.8 miles the road passes a barbed wire fence and just past this is a large juniper tree and a pull-out where you will see a register box. I advise having a high clearance 4 wheel drive for this road, for the sand and washes and if wet weather the clay.
Whitehouse trailhead from Highway 89 1/2 mile east of where the highway crosses the Paria river, turn south, heading toward the BLM Paria River Contact Station. Follow this dirt road 2.25 miles to the Whitehouse Campground and parking area.
WirePass Trailhead take Highway 89 about 4 miles west of where the highway crosses the Paria River, to milepost 26 looking for the House Rock Valley Road turnoff. It is on the left at the end of a long guard rail. Turn south onto this dirt road and drive 8.5 miles to the Wire Pass Trailhead parking area.

For more information about the Coyote Buttes and the wave that are near Buckskin Gulch go to this post  http://azjonesoutdoor.blogspot.com/2010/07/coyote-buttes-north-section.html

For mor information and photos of The Paria River Canyon and it's tributary Buckskin Gulch go to this post http://azjonesoutdoor.blogspot.com/2010/11/paria-river-canyon.html

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Canyon De Chelly National Monument, Arizona

Most people that come to Arizona go to the Grand Canyon and Sedona, and perhaps Lake Powell as the pass through or maybe even Monument Valley but up in the remote northeast corner of the state in an out of the way location is a gem of a spot called Canyon De Chelly National Monument. Canyon De Chelly is on the Navajo reservation and Navajos call themselves Diné (sometimes spelled in English as Dineh) which means "The People" in the Navajo language. In this canyon there are people living in traditional hogans with no running water and farming the land just as their ancestors did. And minding their sheep and crops as the tourist take pictures. The Diné are also not shy about trying to make a buck off the tourist by selling jewlery, rugs and tours.The canyon is very beautiful with smooth sandstone wall as high as 1000 feet in some places. And along with seeing the Diné people living in this beautiful place there are also some very well preserved cliff dwellings of the long past Anasazi culture. Canyon De Chelly National Monument is really made up of two twin canyons, Canyon Del Muerto and Canyon De Chelly, that come together at a junction. The canyons can be explored in three main ways. By looking down into the canyon from the rim from the many senic overlooks (this you do by driving your own car), by walking down into the canyon by trail to the White House Ruin (the only trail into the canyon open to the public), or buy truck with a Diné guide or escort to see the rest of the interior of the canyon and it's numerous ruins.There is a small stream or wash that runs through the bottom of the canyon called Chinle Wash. The stream forms from many tributaries flowing down out of the Chuska Mountains, passing through the twin canyons. Chinle Wash can be just a muddy trickle of water or a wide flowing river depending on the season (and if they are releasing water upstream at a dam). And the jeep or truck tours just drive right up the wash. When it is dry this is no big deal but when in flood stage the large army troop transport trucks can even have problems, as was the case on my trip there. When we were taking the tour we spent as much time watching them try to pull trucks out of the river as we did taking the tour. We also found a ruin that was off the beaten path from the main canyon called Three Turkey Ruin. This was seen from a overlook of a side canyon and was not in the main National Monument. There are actually many canyons here but the two main ones (and most accessible)are Canyon del Muerto and Canyon de Chelly. These many canyons and ravines branch out eastwards from Chinle into the Defiance Plateau.

Most of it may be reached only at rim level via rough, unpaved jeep tracks. Only the northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads. The North Rim Drive (Indian Reservation 64) links Chinle with the north-south route IR 12 and passes several overlooks. The short hike down to the White House Ruin is well worth the effort. The trail is very well maintained and is only a few miles long. There is some effort due to you have to climb several hundred feet of elevation on the way back up and out of the canyon. The White House Ruin is very well preserved and in a spectacular location in an alcove at the base of a beautiful and dramatic cliff. Even if the ruin were not there the hike would be worth it to see the canyon bottom with it's trees and small stream and to look up at the majestic sandstone cliffs with desert varnish streaks.

The South Rim Drive is an out and back but offers more dramatic vistas then the north road, and ends at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rock. Spider rock is a free standing forked spire rising up 800 feet above the canyon floor. The rock is of special significance for the Diné and according to Diné legend, the Spider Woman lives on top and keeps the bones of her victims there.
If you plan on going I recommend you make reservations for the truck or jeep tour in advance. And if you want to stay in the lodge I'm sure it would be wise to plan in advance. To get there from I-40: Take exit 333 onto US 191 north. Follow US 191 north 60 miles to Chinle, then turn east (right) toward the Canyon de Chelly entrance. This drive takes about 1.5 hours.   http://www.nationalparkreservations.com/canyondechelly.php

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Lake Powell

I have touched on Lake Powell before but just a brief post about a trip to Rainbow Bridge. But Lake Powell is so much more than that. Lake Powell is a very large man made lake in a fantastic canyon called Glen Canyon. The lake was formed when Glen Canyon Dam was built in 1963 backing up the Colorado River into Glen Canyon. The dam is 710 feet tall and a tour of the dam is available to visitors. The area of Lake Powell is made up of Glen Canyon and fantastic system of side canyons creating a wonderland of slots and narrow channels. You can easily get confused on this lake without good navigational skills and maps.
And sticking up out above the lake are amazing sandstone cliffs, buttes, and monoliths of all shapes and sizes and that alone is worth the visit. Because most can only be seen from the water the best way to see Lake Powell is of course by boat. Lake Powell has over 2,000 miles of shoreline which is more than the combined states on the Pacific Coast of the United States. This makes finding a secluded camp location and having a cove all to yourself pretty easy. The lake is 400 feet deep in some places and is 186 miles long and has a water storage capacity of 27,000,000 acre feet of water. This makes for plenty of room to water ski in the most surreal environment you can imagine. There are only a few areas where the lake can be accessed by road so a boat is needed to see most parts of the lake. Once on the lake you can enjoy swimming, water skiing, jet skiing, fishing, camping, and hiking including trips to spectacular Rainbow Bridge. Lake Powell is in the middle of a vast high desert area with very little population. The lake straddles the Arizona-Utah border approximately a five hour drive from both Phoenix and Las Vegas. Flagstaff Arizona is about 130 miles south on US 89. The largest city near Lake Powell is Page Arizona with a population of about 10,000 residents located just a few miles from the Southwest end of the lake. Page is where most visitors access the lake and it has the biggest marina (Wahweep Marina)and offers a variety of boat and jet ski rentals, houseboat rentals, guided tours and much more. Even just taking a swim in the lake near Page can be enjoyable if you are limited for time. Page is where I have gone to rent a boat because it's the shortest drive to get to, and have often stopped while on my way to other destinations as well. The city of Page has all the supplies you will need and has a variety of hotels to stay in as well as the Lodge at the waters edge in Wahweep Marina. There is also some fun slickrock mountain bike riding to do in the Page area. And near Page are some great slot canyons Antalope, and Waterholes Canyons)as well as some other geat hiking destinations such as the Coyote Buttes. For me though I have found camping out on the lake to be the best way to see it because of the huge size of the lake. Because the lake is so big it takes a very long time to get out to the best parts of the lake. And if you camp overnight you get to be out on the lake for the spectacular sunrises and sunsets. And calling these sunsets and sunrises spectacular is quite an understatement to say the least!
This also will give you some time to get off the water and hike and see some of the impressive side canyons and channels. Also camping on the lake lets you take time to view the stars and the night time sky on this lake is fantastic due to the remote areas with no man made light sources and the incredibly dry air. It's quite a treat to set up camp in a remote cove and swim in the crystal clear water and have it all to yourself. At the very northeast end of the lake is Hite Marina it is very small, remote and very isolated. Hite is known for floating driftwood that can damage a boat and put and end to the adventure, and offers very little services. There is no lodge, and no RV park, only primitive camping. There is a marina store at Hite. Hite is approximately 90 miles from Blanding, Utah (take Highway 95 straight to the marina). From Hanksville, take Highway 95 straight to Hite Marina. Hite is 148 miles by boat from the other end of the lake. In the middle of the Lake is Bullfrog and Halls Crossing Marinas. Bullfrog Marina is the second largest marina on Lake Powell, Bullfrog is located approximately 70 land miles from Hanksville, Utah and 95 lake miles from Glen Canyon Dam. It is also located across the lake from Hall's Crossing Marina. Both marinas are connected via the John Atlantic Burr Ferry, an extension of Highway 276. You can take your car, trailer or RV on the ferry, the cost is more per foot for trailers and RV's. The ferry operates on a first-come, first-served basis, so it is recommended you arrive 30 minutes before schedule departure (your vehicle will wait in line). If you MUST get across using the ferry, or if you are taking the last scheduled service across, be there earlier. The trip takes 20 to 30 minutes. When visiting Bullfrog, I recommend staying at Ticaboo Lodge, just 12 miles from the marina or at Defiance House Lodge at the marina. This area is remote, the nearest town is Hanksville, Utah, which offers few services and amenities so you better pack all that you need. Make plans well in advance because it is not unusual for all accommodations at both Bullfrog and Hall's to be completely sold out months in advance. Bullfrog Marina operates on Utah time. To reach Bullfrog from Hanksville, go south on I-95 to highway 276. This highway will take you into Bullfrog Marina. The roads are well posted. Please note that on highway 12 and highway 24 to Hanksville, you are likely to encounter livestock, deer, rabbits, coyotes, etc. Go slow! Although there are a number of graded dirt roads that SEEM to be a shortcut, these are not recommended if you are towing a boat, driving an RV or if there have been recent rains. Stick to the main highway. Generally, these dirt roads are not shortcuts as your speed will be greatly reduced. Always carry plenty of water and supplies as there are few services between small towns.
Half way between Bullfrog Marina and Page is Dangling Rope Marina it is located approximately 40 lake miles from Glen Canyon Dam and 55 lake miles from Hall's and Bullfrog Marinas. It is a stop along the way to Rainbow Bridge. There is no land access to Dangling Rope and you cannot rent houseboats, powerboats, etc. from this marina. There is no launch ramp. The marina is basically a fuel stop for boaters on their way up lake or down lake. In additional to fuel, there is a small marina store offering the best soft serve ice cream around (it's the only around), in addition to basic supplies. When boating on Lake Powell, never pass this marina without topping off your fuel tanks