Paria-Vermillion Cliff Wilderness (June 28-29, 2005)

Obsessed by a beautiful picture of the surreal landscape of the North Coyote Buttes region of Paria-Vermillion Cliff that I had seen in a National Geographic publication, as we completed the Grand Canyon visit I decided to take a chance to go to this place in hope of finding the Wave (another and more popular name of the North Coyote Buttes.) In doing so, I ventured much farther north than I should have, given my destination was really the east coast and that I left California days ago. In any event, the urge from that obsession kept pulling me northwest. This was yet another unplanned destination, which meant I did not really have any maps or AAA tour book to help me plot a plan. Armed just with a general South Western US map, we arrived at Paria late in the afternoon, in time to find a closed ranger station. Not knowing where to go, we drove 2 miles on a dirt road to reach a primitive campsite. The landscape was quite nice, but there was not another soul there. The silence was pretty eerie even though the sun was still high at that hour. We decided it was too late to go find some other place and stayed put. After setting up camp, we went for a stroll along the almost dry Paria River . Then we returned to camp and I explored the wavy patterns of the red rock formations in the vicinity. While not anyway close to beauty of the picture I saw of the Wave, the rock patterns here were still quite interesting. Just about time it was getting dark and we were having dinner, a young man arrived in a car and set up tent. I was a little concern since there was no one else in sight, so I decided to check him out. I was relieved to find out that the man was a programmer taking a break from the bay area to go hiking. We chatted for a while, and I was happy to have a neighbor. Another family arrived late in the night making the camp livelier, and we settled in without worries.

I woke up very early the following day and climbed back up the ledge of the rocks to catch sunrise. The fresh air and quietness of the place made for a special ambiance. The wave patterns of the rock became more vivid with the low angle of the sun. We then packed up and drove back to the ranger station, only to find out that we'd have to wait another day for a chance to be part of the daily quota to hike to the Wave. Without the time luxury to wait another day, we decided to hike to Buckskin Gulch instead. Again armed with tidbits of information from the ranger and a hand drawn map, we drove down a long dirt road to White Pass Trailhead. Without the direction of the ranger, we would not have made it since the road was marked closed! The hike started out very uninteresting along the sandy wash. I took a few pictures, but none too exciting. It was also quite hot. My wife, who was hiking for the first time, complained a "few" times about the heat. To keep herself interested, she took pictures of wildflowers along the trail. It was amazing how adaptable these plants were to the climate. As dry and hot as it was, they still displayed vibrant and beautiful colors. Somewhere along the trail, we saw the sign of the trail leading to the Wave. Wishing I could take that trail, we trek on to Buckskin Gulch. Eventually, the walls of the canyon began to narrow, getting me more excited. I began snapping pictures with more regularity. Within a few hundred feet, the landscape changed drastically. The canyon walls got even higher and narrower. The sun disappeared in the shade of the walls. In some places, it was only wide enough for a couple of people walking side by side. The reflection of sunlight off the red rock wall brightened the beautiful curvy patterns of the canyon walls. I took several pictures with either my wife or me in them to give a sense of scale - how narrow and how high the narrow was. Our hike was interrupted twice by big drops of the trail - over 6 feet drop each time. It seemed that big rock boulders created natural steps along the trail. Looking at huge tree trunks dangling 10 feet up in the air held in place by the walls, I wondered how strong the water would have been during a heavy rain. At each of the drop, it took a lot of encouragement and persuasion for my wife to continue on. I could not really blame her for not wanting to go on, since even I had a difficult time finding my way down the next level of the trail. Fortunately, improvising hikers over time had piled up rocks at the base, allowing us a way to get down. Eventually we got out of the narrow and into a larger clearing. We decided to stop for lunch and go back out so we could get on our way. I bumped into a photographer setting up to take pictures of the reflection of the rocks. He explained to me the techniques, and that if I could wait another couple of hours, the wall would turn red due to reflection of the red rock on the other side. I took his picture and rejoined my wife for the hike back. It was even hotter on the way out with the early afternoon sun. I was glad that we had an adequate supply of water for the hike. We found a father and little daughter on the way in. We chatted for a bit and joked about how she would negotiate those trail drops, but agreed at the end that it would not be her issue in any event.

Again, without great expectations at the beginning, we had a great hike (or should I say, I had a great hike, with my wife being a reluctant but faithful companion) and thankful that we did not have any problem with climbing back up the upper level trails. We saw one of the most famous narrows of the South West, a lot more interesting than the one I had seen at Capitol Reef National Park . Even better, it did not rain while we were in the narrow J !

We got back to the car after a few breaks along the way, just in time to hurry on to our next destination - somewhere in New Mexico. And the conversation along the way was whether to continue on to New Mexico , or perhaps drifting North (again?) to see Mesa Verde National Park in Colorado .

Additional pictures from the trip are posted HERE.