Monday, May 19, 2014

Utah Part 1: The Paria River Canyon

Michael, a friend, and I spent the last two weeks in southern Utah, camping, hiking and cycling. All of our winter cycling was to prepare us for a week-long cycling trip in the national parks there (more on that in a later post). We flew out to Las Vegas on a Saturday, rented a car, and stayed over in St. George, Utah.

Sunday morning, after a grocery trip, we headed for the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, east of Kanab, Utah. A few miles southeast of Hurriance, Utah, we stopped for a picture along the side of the road and got the first pleasant surprise of the trip: the desert was in bloom. There were flowers everywhere! I complained all winter about having to train for a trip so early in the year, but the flowers made it worth it. The flowers in the desert don't bloom very long and our trip was timed perfectly. We also got our first glimpse of Zion National Park in the distance.
Zion National Park is on the horizon in the center from Utah State Highway 59 southeast of Hurricane, Utah.
 Red cliffs along US Highway 89A.
Sphaeralcea coccinea (Globe Mallow).

We picked out a beautiful campsite in Whitehouse Campground and pitched our tents. The campground was another nice surprise. I picked it for location alone. It was centrally located for several hikes on our list. It turned out to be tucked in between stunning slickrock walls and the Paria River.
There were some steps carved into the rocks near the parking area of the campground. Michael decided to test them out. I couldn't find any information about how old they are.

As soon as the tents were pitched, we set out for the first hike of our trip down the Paria (pronounced, as I learned, Par-EE-a) River. It was hot - maybe in the 90s - and quite a change from the cool spring we've had in Maryland.
The Paria River, which was only a few inches deep, flows in an open wash for several miles below Whitehouse campground. Eventually, it narrows into a slot canyon, but we didn't make it that far, in spite of hiking for several hours. We spent a lot of time taking photographs and exploring the little side washes.
Salt crystals left behind as the water along the edges of the river evaporates.
Oenothera pallida (Evening Primrose). These were blooming everywhere, not only in the Paria River Canyon, but we saw them for most of the trip.
Michael and our friend exploring a side wash.
These holes were eroded at the base of the canyon walls.
Michael standing in one of the little alcoves.
The entrance to the first slot canyon of our trip. This little side canyon was probably less than 50 yards long, but it was a nice treat to find. Michael is in the center of the photo for scale.
Giant mud cracks back in the slot canyon.
The end of the slot canyon. This was a fun little preview of the hikes to come.
Eventually, we decided that we had to turn back. We were definitely becoming a victim of "let's just see what is around the next bend" syndrome. Everything was so fascinating, we could have continued until the sun went down.
Optunia sp. (prickly-pear type cactus). On the way back, we found several of these flowering cacti. Note: I don't have a great field guide to southwestern wildflowers, so I'm struggling a bit with identifications.
Sceloperus uniformus (Yellow-backed Spiny Lizard). This lizard hung around our campsite trying to impress us with its "pushups." 

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