Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Utah Part 2: Buckskin Gulch

Buckskin Gulch, located just north of the Arizona border in southern Utah, is one of the hikes on life list. At over 12 miles long, it is one of the longest slot canyons in the world. It is super narrow and, at the confluence with the Paria River, it is almost 400 feet deep. Flash floods are a serious risk (Backpacker magazine called it one of the most dangerous hikes in the world), so we chose the driest, hottest day of our stay in the Vermilion Cliffs area to explore it.

Since we were staying at Whitehouse campground for another night, we didn't have to pack anything up. Speaking of our campsite, this was the view as the sun came up:

After breakfast and coffee, we made the short drive to the trailhead. We started at the Wire Pass trailhead, which requires hiking down a side drainage to get to Buckskin Gulch. It allows a shorter approach to the narrowest parts of the gulch than starting at the Buckskin Gulch trailhead. As a bonus, Wire Pass (the side drainage) has its own smaller slot canyon. The hike starts with a short walk down the open wash.
Hiking down Wire Pass towards Buckskin Gulch. 
After just under a mile, we came to a wall that seemed to go across the wash. The Wire Pass slot canyon started there.
After a short bit of hiking, we reached the junction of Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch, where the real show began. We had lunch in this alcove before continuing down the wash.
After turning the corner, the walls quickly rose and narrowed. Michael is in the center of this picture (click to enlarge). In places, the walls are so close together that it was possible to touch both sides of the canyon (not the place to be when it rains!). The light in the slot canyon was nearly perfect. By the time we entered the main, narrowest parts of the canyon, the sun was nearly overhead and light was reflected off of the walls further down.
 One of the shallower spots in the canyon.
 Looking up in an area where the sky isn't even visible from the canyon floor.
 Again, Michael is in this one for scale.
 Light reflected off of the canyon walls.
Cool, triangular rock formations. If you click to enlarge, a debris pile is visible above the triangles, a sobering reminder of the power of the floods that scour the canyon. For reference, the debris pile is at least 25 feet above the ground.
Every now and then, the canyon would open up and we had to hike in the sun for a bit. It was actually really hot out that afternoon, but inside the narrowest parts of the slot canyon, it was at least 15 degrees cooler. We got lucky that we never had to walk through pools of water. There were one or two, but there were always ways around them.
We finally reached our turnaround time and had to hike back the way we came. I took a lot of pictures and the light kept changing, so I kept taking more, even of the same places. Once again, it took us a long time to hike a short distance because of everything to explore and photograph.
 A little lizard on the sandstone.
House Rock Road on the way back to our campsite.
Abronia fragrans (Sand Verbena) in the Paria River canyon near our campsite.

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