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Photos from Buckskin Gulch, May 2017

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In May of 2017 a bunch of us went to Arizona to hike the Buckskin Gulch/Paria River. The trip was organized by our friend Kristi and the people who went were Tony and I, Kristi, Paul and Kristi's friend from Kansas, Alan. Here's Tony after our long drive all the way to the Lee's Ferry campground near the Colorado River where people put in to do raft trips through the Grand Canyon.

We spent the night at the campground and got up real early for our shuttle ride to the Wirepass trailhead, which is in Utah. Here is our "before" picture. Alan, Kristi, Tony, Diane (me) and Paul.

The trailhead.

Looking back at the car parking area. You need permits and wag bags to overnight hike here. I think you also need a permit to day hike here.

It's super pretty here. This is my favorite kind of country. Pinyon pine and juniper forest. The beautiful red rocks make it look so beautiful. I want to put a tiny house here and live here forever.

We hiked about a mile or so down this wash.

Then suddenly the wash narrowed.

Wild lavendar!!!

Suddenly, the narrow narrowed even narrower and we were "inside".

Our first obstacle was a fairly easy climb over this boulder.

Soon we emerged from Wirepass into the open again.

There were petroglyphs here.

We aimed for an opening...

...and now we were inside again. This is now Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon of them all.

My camera lens seems to have some kind of spotting going on with the coating. I am unable to wash it off. Also, this hike becomes a futile exercise in trying to keep the fine-grained sand from getting everywhere. I failed to keep it out of my camera and along the way, I had trouble with it opening the lens all the way, as you'll see.

This is Paul, by the way. Over his head you can see the high water mark made with the mud from the flood water. I wouldn't want to be in here in a flash flood.

The gulch would open up again now and then.

It would close back up again, too.

It is very difficult to take pictures in here.

Sometimes it would become very open.

In the open places there would be sunlight and growing things. Much of the time inside Buckskin Gulch, there was not enough sunlight for growing things. It was very cool, almost cold inside.

At times the walls were straight and very tall.

At other times the walls were curvy and also very tall.

Sometimes small trees grew in the canyon. They seemed so very green.

There were a few exit/escape places in Buckskin Gulch. This was the only one that looked like we could climb. Hiking in this canyon would be very dangerous if there were a flash flood. You have to make sure there is no weather anywhere around. Even many miles away a storm would be dangerous because it would have time to gather up more water and debris to fill the slot. There were no storms in the weather forecast for this day.

There was a rock slide in one of the wider, sunnier parts of the gulch that we had to navigate through. That's Kristi.

There's Alan navigating this small boulder.

The walls grew ever higher.

Back into the dark narrows.

Mud cracks. There would be occasional pools of muddy water and quicksand.

Here is a small pool of muddy water to walk through. The water was very cold.

We stopped for lunch. This is my dehydrated homemade poke bowl (sort of like sushi in a bowl). I think this is the best backpacking meal I have ever made. The ingredients, dehydrated:

  • Raw ahi tuna
  • Shredded cabbage
  • Grated carrot
  • Chopped onion
  • Fresh oba leaf
  • Grated fresh ginger
  • Japanese pepper flakes
  • Brown rice (cooked)
  • Konbu goma furikake (seaweed rice topping)

After soaking to rehydrate, I added sesame oil just before eating.

When I make this at home, I also add avocado. This is the same thing I make for dinner. I just portioned out a couple servings into the dehydrator before adding the avocado and sesame oil for dinner one night. The raw tuna dehydrates really nicely sorta like how jerky is made with raw meat and rehydrates to a very nice consistency. No fishy smell.

Tony still looks clean and fresh. None of us knows what is in store for us. Maybe Kristi knows some of what's in store, but not all of it.

Lunchtime's over, time to get back to work. We have a long day of something like 13 miles that feels more like 18 miles.

The dirt trail is nice to walk on.

The rocks hurt.

We reach a part of the route called "The Cesspool". It is a series of muddy pools to walk through. The water is very cold and sometimes the mud bottom is slippery or quick.

Paul kept dry through this one.

We waded through this one.

Here we are wading.

This was the deepest one. It was long, too. Our feet were frozen after. It was very painful. With every new puddle we came upon, there was dread. To try and keep a positive attitude, Kristi and I tried to cheer on the puddles. Yay! One more pool! We were fortunate compared to others who sometimes go neck deep here.

We met someone coming the other direction who said he counted 11 pools. We had already walked through one, so there must have been 12 pools to walk through. We were glad when it was finished.

I'm not sure which of these three swirls are better pictures.

Another nice open section.

These little primrose-like flowers were so pretty.

Back into the narrows. A rock is wedged into the walls.

Another view of the rock. Boulder is a better word.

Now we had to do a scary down climb. I am not a rock climber. I totally chickened out and almost cried. There were three ways down. One had vertical steps carved in the wall. Nobody thought they could do it. The center one had ropes already tied and people thought that looked easiest. I thought it looked impossible. A third passage made you land in a mud puddle. I thought it looked more doable. I didn't get pictures of myself doing that, of course. I'm sure I looked like a giant sack of blubbering potatoes coming down.

Anyway, I got action shots of Paul coming down.

I also got action shots of Alan coming down.

I think this picture shows how he got big bruises on his elbows.

This one, too. The elbow bruises.

Another HUGE wedged in boulder. Had to duck a little bit to walk under. There's an old can wedged in as well. Probably came down in a flash flood.

The canyon opened up finally and there were beautiful green trees.

Late in the afternoon we reached the Paria river, which was a milky brown color and shallow and lined with stiff, straight walls of Navajo sandstone.

This little knoll was a popular campspot that Kristi said smells like pee because there's no place else really to go (I guess wag bags are for poop, not pee). She did not want to camp here again (she had been here before). So we hiked on. There were several people already camped here anyway.

Down the gentle, meandering Paria we went, criss-crossing and getting our feet wet. We all wore old shoes that drained water fairly well. Mine were just running shoes.

After about another hour or so we found a nice knoll with a couple of great campsites. Tony and I felt pretty darned exhausted. We went to sleep after dinner before it was even dark yet. I slept so well on this trip, better than I do at home. Probably because there were no orange lunatics to worry about. Just orange cliffs and us lunatics.

There's Kristi in her tent having dinner. Alan's matching tent is behind hers and Paul decided to camp at another campsite a little higher up on this knoll, out of view.

Our knoll campsite had pretty wildflowers.

Our knoll campsite had pretty cactus.

In the morning, refreshed, we sallied forth.

On a sandy bank I spotted this odd rock. Paul flipped it over to see if it was a turtle shell (it wasn't)...

...but the rock held a secret: There was a little frog hiding underneath! Be careful what you step on out there!!

We came to a seep running out of a layer in the sandstone..

The seep was lined with pretty flowers and ferns.

The odd thing about this hike is there is water water everywhere but not a drop to drink. This seep dripped so we filled up some water here. Here you can see how big the arch and seep is because you can see Tony and Paul for perspective.

Orchids liked to grow in the seeps. There was no seep here but maybe it sometimes has one. Many of these seeps were seasonal "springs".

Sometimes the walls looked like there was just a dead end. But the river meandered lazily and every dead end was just a corner to turn.

Sometimes there were these secret little hidden worlds another level up called "abandoned meanders". These would be where the river once went but quit going long ago. Meanwhile, the new, current channel is many feet deeper now.

Paul and Tony trudging along.

We come to another oasis in this desert river.

Lined with orchids and ferns.

A small spring bursts forth from the sandstone.

Beautiful stream orchids.

Such delicious water burbling from the rock.

We filled up water and then took a rest on this sunny bank, napping and lounging in either the sun or shade. I spent some time playing fiddle tunes on my strumstick in the shade.

After a good lunch and rest, we carried onward.

Interesting squiggles in the rock.

We found a wonderful campsite. The most beautiful campsite. I made some Miso soup. This soup was so good. It rehydrated up as if it was completely fresh, like magic, with three little cubes of tofu, onions, wakame and little chunks of something that seemed like egg. I would definitely buy this again, not just for backpacking but for eating at work. Tastes exactly like what you get in a restaurant. I bought this at Nikka in Goleta.

Here are some pictures around our campsite. This is the back wall. It had a small arch like a miniature Arches national park.

Here is our tent.

It was a completely flat camp site area with a huge overhanging sandstone wall and what felt sort of like a carpet of moss underfoot. The sand was soft and the evening was mild. You could walk around barefoot easily. There were some cactus growing here, though, so I didn't go barefoot. There were juniper trees like this one and others that we didn't know what they were but their leaves looked sort of oak-like, sort of poison ivy-like, sort of maple-like and the tree itself seemed to occupy a niche similar to sycamore.

The view of the river from our campsite. I took some time to rinse the sand out of my socks in this sandy river. It helped, although it wasn't completely successful. It seemed that the river sand impregnated your socks. If you could get the socks dried overnight, you could spend a half an hour just turning them inside and out, releasing another teaspoon of sand with each turn.

Another view of the river.

Morning. Time to hike!

Small boulders wedged in the crevice.

We came to an old pump surrounded by cactus in bloom.

Apparently someone had a brilliant idea to pump water out of this canyon, only it doesn't work to pump water so high so their idea failed and the pump was abandoned. It's physically impossible to pump water out of this canyon, at least with this equipment.

We rested on this old cottonwood tree and considered the rain that was starting to form. It did not seem like menacing rain but it was enough to put on our rain gear.

I think this is another abandoned meander. I never went up into these but they sure were inviting, as if they were secret desert Hobbit worlds one could escape to.

Here is a spring burbling right out of the ground. Also, it's now raining quite insistently.

Tony, Paul and I somehow got way ahead of Kristi and Alan. We sat here on this bank to wait for them. We waited a long time and they never showed up. After a while, I consulted my rudimentary map and realized we were near a landmark that indicated a side trail to Wrather Arch, a place Kristi said she wanted us to explore.

I decided I would backtrack a little bit to get a better look. Sure enough, right around the corner from where we were resting, someone (not Kristi) had written in the sand "Wrather NOT" with a large arrow. There was also Kristi's bandana tied to a rock. Ah ha! Here they were.

We found Kristi and Alan resting and waiting, so we all went up to the arch together. This is a picture of the arch. It just looks like a hole in the rock from here. It's huge and hard to take a picture of.

Here's Tony as I stood under the arch and looked back down the magical little canyon we walked up to get here.

Here's the arch. It is hard to show how huge it is when you are under it like this.

Heading back down the canyon.

Looking back at the arch.

Prince's plume

Back to the Paria. It starts to rain again more earnestly.

The rain became very hard, and cold and windy. We had to walk in the cold water in the rain, which although we had done it happily all along, it was now feeling quite uncomfortable and cold. I started to become very wet and worried about hypothermia in the cold wind. We could not really stop and wait for Alan, Paul and Kristi. Tony and I figured we would find the campsite where we would all camp together, put up our tents and get out of the weather. But we didn't even see anything big enough for our two-person tent for a long time. We finally got to a decent campsite after a couple hours of walking. It was next to a spring coming out near a cottonwood tree, with a side canyon coming down and a white post laying on its side. It was cold and windy and not inviting. I wanted to stop there, but Tony thought there would be something more sheltered in the trees further along. So off we went to look. And look. And look. Finding nothing, getting wetter and wetter and further and further, we finally found a tree somewhat sheltered from the wind and set up our tent alone. We camped alone here.

Here's a picture from the next morning. Obviously I survived. Anyway, I felt really bad that we got separated. I was certain the others were either angry or worried sick. I hoped they just figured we'd found a safe place and would find each other again.

I had gotten really wet in the rain. The pack cover did not work. A garbage bag works way better. Water got dumped down my back and went into my pants. My bottom was wet. When we got the tent set up and I got inside, I had to pull all my wet stuff in there and take off my clothes. Water had gotten into my sleeping bag and it was soaking wet in several places. My own wet butt got my sleeping pad all wet. I was certain I would freeze all night. I went out in a break in the rain to go pee and came back shivering. I shivered for a long time before I finally started warming up. Having Tony's warmth next to me helped a lot. Having hot flashes because I'm in my 50s also helps a bit. Also, having two sleeping bags with me, one of which didn't get wet at all, helped. Soon I warmed up and my body heat dried out my wet sleeping bag. It dried out my shirt and my pants. I slept great and woke up refreshed in a new and sunny beautiful camp spot with this great view.

We laid our stuff out to dry scattered all over the place. I calculated that it was likely the others would come along at about 10AM.

My useless pack cover was the wettest thing of all.

Eventually there was sun at the other end of this sand bank so we packed up and went down there to continue drying things off and waiting for the others. Sure enough they arrived right about 10AM. Fortunately they didn't show it that they were mad at us.

We hiked on a ways and stopped for a rest break at an old ranch site and learned that we had passed all the reliable water for the whole rest of the trip! Fortunately, where we rested there was a little canyon. I walked a small distance up the canyon and found a small stream. And this yellow beetle.

Tony and I filled up the water we would need for the next two days in this little pool in the stream.

Reunited and rehydrated, off we went. The canyon was much wider now and we could walk on trail instead of just in the creek.

Sometimes the hiking was difficult and the trail was hard to find.

I think someone was desperate enough for water they dug a hole in the mud to make it pool.

Sand dunes off in the distance.

Once upon a time, a mountain formed from solid granite. Weathering broke the granite into sand where it ran down rivers and formed great sand dunes. The sand lay in the dunes and said, "I remember being a mountain, I want to be a mountain again". So the sand became a mountain of sandstone. But the sand grains in the mountain said, "I remember being a sand dune, I want to be a dune again." And so the mountain crumbled and the sand grains formed and here they were piled up against the sand mountain that once was a sand dune that was once a grainite mountain.

We came upon a boulder of petroglyphs.

A closer look at the petroglyphs. Stylized corn and other things.

This is broom rape, a plant that has no chlorophyll.

Walking over blocks of limestone.

I swear we used to sell this plant at the flower shop I used to work at. We called it giant baby's breath or something like that.

We came upon an area with many stones with petroglyphs.

This one they call "upside-down rock". The petroglyphs go both ways.

Weather is forming again. This is Kristi and Paul.

We got to our campsite and threw up our tent in the nick of time before the rain started. Fortunately it lasted only a little while and the sun came out again.

We sat around our "campfire" of jet boil stoves.

The weather lingered but it did not rain again. That's Paul's tent there.

I marveled at the chocolate and vanilla layers in the broken cube boulders across the river. We were now out of the Navajo sandstone and into other rock formations of this region. The first one after the Navajo was the Kayenta, but I'm not sure if this weird painted desert kind of thing was the Kayenta or one of the other layers further down the layers. My little map didn't go far enough and I don't remember all the layers from my geology days anymore.

While walking around examining things, I came upon this strange delicate plant that was perfectly branched.

I examined the little dried mud flat where we camped and discovered a rather large, maybe foot-long freshly dead fish with its guts eaten out. I did not have a camera with me at the time. We had seen large Great Blue Herons in the canyon for several days. Apparently there are large fish in the shallow, murky Paria river.

The final day of our hike we crossed the river a few times, but we were not in any kind of a slot canyon at all anymore. There were old relics of previous homesteads, ranches and mines back here.

Is this a badger hole?

We saw a lot of these apparent badger holes, but never saw Mr. Badger.

More petroglyphs.

One last rest break under an old cottonwood tree.

Vermillion Cliffs. Oh, okay, so that's where we've been. I have been pretty disoriented this whole time. I thought we were going to Utah but we were mostly in Arizona this whole hike. We were only in Utah for a few minutes at the very beginning at Wire Pass.

Some old posts. Hey, what's on that post?

It's a lizard on the post! Hello Mr. Lizard. He posed for the camera for a while, doing pushups and trying to look menacing.

More old relics, or is this new?

In no hurry, we lollygag about. We don't want to go home, but the cheeseburgers at the hotel are starting to call our names...

An old ranch, that maybe isn't all that old. There's also a working ranch with an orchard about another half a mile from here at the end of the trail.

Here's a more modern pump to get water from the river.

A cemetary of the people who lived here in the late 1800s.

Some of the headstones looked brand new and laser-etched, but the dates were in the 1800s.

Our "after" picture!

How about a listicle?

  • Best campsite: Day 2
  • Best meal: Poke salad
  • Second best meal: Spam and mashed potatoes with olive oil.
  • Actual best meal: The cheeseburger at Cliff Dwellers.
  • Most disappointing meal: The beer at Cliff Dwellers that while delicious, never gave us an inkling of a buzz.
  • Best place to sleep, hotel or on the trail? On the trail for sure. Even including the night of the rain. Even including the night of the raven screaming in the night while being killed (probably by a small cat of some kind, judging by the animal tracks we saw).
  • Best wildlife, High Sierra or the desert: The desert for sure. I love the desert. Best birds, more varied plants and animals, generally gorgeous scenery.
  • Best bird: Some fancy oriole our birder expert Alan had always wanted to see. Plus several Western Tanagers, my personal favorite. Love the ravens, too.
  • Strongest hiker: Kristi for sure. Never tired even with over 45lbs of gear. Also she's the most organized, having put together the whole trip.
  • Worst adversity: The day of the rain.
  • Second worst adversity: The mud in the Cesspools. Maybe also the sand that gets everywhere. Or the foxtails in our socks. Or the scary downclimb we won't think about ever again.
  • Okay, the real worst adversity: Going home.
  • Favorite gear: Dual sleeping bags. Never be cold again!
  • Prettiest day: Every day. Really, it was always gorgeous.
  • The answer to the question I know you still have: No, none of us used the wag bag. It was only required for Buckskin Gulch and none of us had to go.