Buckskin Gulch, and Wire Pass…My love note to Utah – Part 3 (Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument)

I had finally managed to squeeze in a few hours of sleep the night of day two. We wasted a ton of time getting on the trail. Traveling with Dusty is like traveling with a circus. Her stuff is constantly scattered all over the wash and I don’t know what she does in the morning to get “ready”, but it must be involved, because I have a lot of free time to contemplate the landscape before hitting boots trail.

We decided that this would be our final day in the canyon, and from Middle Route to where we would exit via White House it was roughly 14 miles. The first several miles were, in the words of Michael Kelsey, author of “Hiking and Exploring the Paria River”, “uneventful”. This allowed us mental down time to come up with an onslaught of “slot canyon” jokes based on the varying types of “slots” that we encountered, including “slippery slot,” “skanky slot,” “rocky slot,” “wet slot,” and host of other totally inappropriate yet hilarious mockeries. If you don’t find this humor funny, you should try spending 24 hours a day for six days (including adventures outside of Buckskin Gulch) with the same person. Conversation runs the full spectrum, including the ridiculous. We had a gas…or maybe we were delirious. Either way it helped pass the time, and kept us both delightfully entertained.

After a couple of hours of hiking, we approached one of the more challenging obstacles in Buckskin Gulch, a boulder jam with a a risky 13-foot fall. There were a couple of options for tackling this obstacle. Option one was to use a set of moki steps that had been carved into one of the boulders by a hiker in the 1980’s. This looked like a terrible option, as the steps appeared to provide very little footing on a nearly vertical face. Option two was to drop down several feet under the boulders, and crawl through a small hole to the other side. We chose door number two. We lowered our packs off of the boulders with a rope and then scrambled ourselves under the boulder jam.

 

Boulder jam in Buckskin Gulch - what you can not see in this image is the drop off on the opposite side.

Boulder jam in Buckskin Gulch – what you can not see in this image is the drop off on the opposite side.

 

Looking down the drop off from above.

Looking down the drop off from above.

 

The view from below. We lowered our packs via a rope. The moki steps are visible on the vertical rock face.

The view from below. We lowered our packs via a rope. The moki steps are visible on the vertical rock face.

 

I dropped down first, utilizing a dead tree limb for a ladder. Despite myself making it down safely, Dusty remained nervous, but came out making it look like a piece of cake. We collected our packs, and trudged onward.

The canyon soon began to widen, the walls became towering shear vertical slabs of slick sandstone. Soon a freshwater spring began to flow, seeping out of the earth from below the towering cathedral walls, and thinning out the sludge that was the familiar Buckskin mire. The thinned out mud washes had the freshest water we had seen in days, and just in time too. Our water supply was again dwindling. Nearing the confluence of Buckskin and the Paria River, we stopped to filter out 3 liters of water each. It was around 1pm, and we felt as if we were on the final leg of the hike. We decided to rest for an hour, and cook up some well deserved lunch.

We laid out our tarp and reclined for lunch and a rest while admiring the striations on the sheer rock face of the canyon. We discussed the possibility of several historic seeps that had, at various times, emerged from the sandstone. The rock appeared to be stained black from plant life that had once clung to the wet surface, but since dryer years has decomposed leaving a shadow of what was.

 

This image of Dusty, gives a good indication of just how towering the canyon walls are. (Lower Buckskin Gulch)

This image of Dusty, gives a good indication of just how towering the canyon walls are. (Lower Buckskin Gulch)

 

A springs flows in the lower Buckskin, providing the freshest water that we had seen in days.

A springs flows in the lower Buckskin, providing the freshest water that we had seen in days.

 

 

Near the confluence of Buckskin and the Paria, this is where we ended up filtering water. It wasn't an ideal situation, but the best option that we had. Nobody got sick, so it was a worthwhile risk.

Near the confluence of Buckskin and the Paria, this is where we ended up filtering water. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but the best option that we had. Nobody got sick, so it was a worthwhile risk.

 

Conversation never-ending, Dusty and I discussed friendship, history, and plans for the future. Sad in the knowledge that this Buckskin adventure was near its end, we hoisted our packs and had a short debate about whether or not Dusty needed a hand down from a ledge. It was her feeling that she was perfectly capable of getting herself down, but she graciously accepted my offer anyway out of gratitude for the kindness. Anyway, she was probably secretly happy for any help to get out of there because she was beginning to be eaten alive by bugs.

To the confluence of the Buckskin and the Paria the water was clear and reflective. The canyon walls were wide. For the first time in two days we could see wide swaths of blue sky. Oddly, we even saw a cow patty. It was the only one, but clear evidence of the cattle grazing that is known to take place near the Paria, and the reason that although the Paria River flows briskly through the canyon, it is known to be polluted with animal excrement. Naturally, this knowledge turned our bawdy conversation to renaming the Paria, the “Poo-Pee-a”. (Eye-rolling at this point is both expected and deserved.)

We knew it would be a several-mile upstream hike to White House camp where we would stop for the night. What we did not bargain for is now long it would take to hike those few short miles.

 

The Buckskin / Paria confluence. The murky water flowing from the right is the Paria.

The Buckskin / Paria confluence. The murky water flowing from the right is the Paria.

 

Trudging through the Paria (“Poo-Pee-a”).

Trudging through the Paria (“Poo-Pee-a”).

 

The duration of Paria River Canyon to Whitehouse consisted of constant river crossings.

The duration of Paria River Canyon to Whitehouse consisted of constant river crossings.

 

The canyon walls become less towering, and finally large swaths of sky are able to be seen.

The canyon walls become less towering, and finally large swaths of sky are able to be seen.

 

The Paria River Canyon portion of the hike was every bit as beautiful as Buckskin Gulch and Wire Pass, however very different. The canyon was much wider than the slot canyon that we had spent the previous two and a half days traversing, and we found ourselves consistently walking through or crossing the silt filled river. The continuous flow of the river added an element of resistance, slowing our pace down considerably.

As day slowly turned to night, we found ourselves still wandering the Paria – the never-ending bitch. With twilight fading, we spotted in the distance a large white twisted formation, and we quietly rejoiced that our day was finally coming to an end.

 

As the sun dropped, the adjacent formations glowed a fiery orange.

As the sun dropped, the adjacent formations glowed a fiery orange.

 

As twilight faded, we were faintly able to make out Whitehouse in the distance.

As twilight faded, we were faintly able to make out Whitehouse in the distance.

 

Reaching the campground it was pitch black, but we could see several campers set up among the traditional camp sites. Avoiding these areas, we found a cozy secluded location several yards away. We dropped our packs, and celebrated before rudely being interrupted by an inquisitive camper, who’s questions were more along the lines of an interrogation. “Where had we come from, what were we doing?” I finally stopped her, and asked if she was a Park Ranger, which she replied, “no, my boyfriend and I are hiking tomorrow and we where wondering about the hike.” We went ahead and answered her remaining questions, but I had no problem letting her see that I was visibly annoyed with her rudeness.

If there is anything more peaceful and transcendent than lying under the wide clear desert sky in the dark with a friend admiring the silhouettes of the surrounding buttes… I wouldn’t be surprised because our little tableau wasn’t that serene. Dusty kept insisting that what I called the big dipper was actually the little dipper and this debate went on for quite some time until, upon further reflection and closer inspection, I realized she was right. (I still get ready faster than she does in the morning.)

 

In the morning we awoke to find that we had camped beside these stunning white and red sandstone buttes.

In the morning we awoke to find that we had camped beside these stunning white and red sandstone buttes.

 

As the sun rose in the morning, we said our final goodbyes to Buckskin and the Paria.

As the sun rose in the morning, we said our final goodbyes to Buckskin and the Paria.

 

In the morning, like a couple of beatniks, we hitched a ride back to the Jeep. Luck seemed to follow us and Steve Dodson, a tour guide from Paria Outpost and Outfitters happened along the road as we were hiking out hoping to chance along some transportation. He was friendly, soft-spoken desert rat like me who shared some tips about local archaeology that I hope to follow-up on and share with you in the future. Perhaps I’ll drag along my cohort, Dusty, and see what reports of natural wonders and lost history we can carry home to show you along with reports of silly shenanigans that seem to always accompany our adventures.

 

RETURN TO PART I

RETURN TO PART II

About the author

Jim Mattern

Jim is a scapegoat for the NPS, an author, adventurer, photographer, radio personality, guide, and location scout. His interests lie in Native American and cultural sites, ghost towns, mines, and natural wonders in the American Deserts.

  • pat

    This is best post I’ve seen in quite a while. Not just here, but anywhere. Jim, your photos are now top shelf. Truly professional stuff. Loved the content of the post as well. An awesome adventure in a gorgeous area.

    • Very, very, very kind of you Pat. I’m glad that you so thoroughly enjoyed this post. It was an adventure of a lifetime!

      • pat

        My pleasure!