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Buckskin Gulch & Paria Canyon
Utah
October 22-24, 1999
by Laurie Jacobson
waves_CP
Waves in the rocks of Paria Canyon.

Six of us started out of town around 6:15 AM Friday. We had three 4-wheel drive vehicles, two in each truck: myself and Steve Allan; Angela Lien and her friend Dan; and Jeannie and Tom Van Lew. We got to the White House Ranger Station/campground around 12:30, set up camp, and set off in the two 4-Runners to find “Cobra Arch”.

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Taking what we thought was the better of two roads shown on the map; we quickly were in the middle of a hairy “4-wheeling” adventure to the top of the mesa. I was SO glad Tom offered to drive my truck. I had been thinking about asking if someone with more experience would want to take over since I was getting very white knuckled and it was not fun at this point! Once on top of the mesa the road was MUCH better. We realized the other road the author took, as described, was probably the “best” road since it was obviously much used and the one we had taken obviously wasn’t.

We found the trailhead straightaway (no wandering up and down the various dirt roads), even with all the dirt roads crossing and diverging that weren’t on our map. Steve was right on the mark, and his many years of wilderness navigating showed. However, his reference book was not so accurate, and the “trail” was very difficult to follow once past the trailhead (we dropped off the mesa into a maze of gullies and canyons). What should have been a two-mile hike to Cobra was not ... We reached the mid point of Buckskin after about two miles and Cobra was supposedly another two miles of scrambling off-trail around the edge of Buckskin. Since it was getting late, and it felt like it was 90 degrees out in the sun, and the trail was iffy at best, and it was just hoping that the other road would be much better to go back on, we decided to turn around. The hike through the area we went through was just beautiful with all sorts of “baby” arches and colored rock formations. We did get to look into Buckskin from the top. It was very surprising we were able to find it so quickly! I thank luck and Steve’s navigation skills!

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Nights were spent around a wonderful campfire: wood provided by Tom and Jeannie. The moon was full and came up early – no flashlights were needed. White House is set up against some very unusual and beautiful large rock formations. The setting was superb! Sleeping 9 hours was no problem in a nice warm sleeping bag. The nights were cold – 30 and 25 degrees per the Ranger on Sunday morning. Putting down my spoon on a plastic after stirring coffee quickly showed it was cold ... after maybe 10 minutes it was frozen to the plate.

Saturday we drove to Wire Pass and started out, only to find that shortly into the slot that things had changed (Steve and I and hiked here before). There was an 8-9 foot sharp drop – looked like 10 feet to me. Even though some of the group members thought we could make it down, it was questionable on getting back out. I could not go down because of a gimp knee that has the potential of coming apart with excessive force, as with jumping down a big drop. We went back out of the slot and scurried around most of the surrounding area to try to find another way to get into Wire Pass or Buckskin.

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Wire Pass is a shortcut to the slot part of Buckskin – one can come into Buckskin from its main trailhead (which hardly anyone uses) but it is 5-6 miles to reach Wire Pass and where the narrow slot section starts. However, it was all VERY scenic. Out of the canyon was incredibly HOT, and in the canyon most needed a coat or something warm. Two of our group were VERY determined to get into Wire Pass, and Steve went on a search for a log that could provide something to climb on and the way in and out.

The chances of finding such a log were very slim (I would have said impossible), but there one was, not too far from the slot portion, and 4 people carried the large heavy log to the drop, and it wasn’t just OK ... it was perfect. It was a great victory. We had no problem going in or out. I, however, did need the help of the guys to make it in and out of a couple spots – my thanks to Steve and Tom! I had wanted to go to the main trailhead, but due to perseverance and ingenuity we got to take the short cut and see the best of the Gulch! We also saw that if we had just looked a little further on top (as Steve had suggested) we could have come into the canyon down from the drop, but the log was much more exciting and challenging.

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If there is a drop in the same spot next time we’ll know, but the Gulch constantly changes so one never knows if and where the drops will be. The scenery was spectacular, similar to Antelope Canyon.

Only Steve and I were up for a hike on Sunday, which was to do Paria from White House to the confluence and back. Tom wasn’t feeling well, and Angela had worn boots that had bruised the back of her anklebone, so the rest of the group was packing up and driving back to Phoenix. It was another sunny perfect day and Steve and I hiked for three hours in, and three hours back out, and we did reach the confluence of Buckskin (6-7 miles each way).

We were out of White House by 2:45 PM and heading back to Phoenix. The drive back was long but pleasant. It was a long day but very worthwhile. I swore I would never backpack in Buckskin again (as I did about 5 years ago), and that still holds since it is a much better/safer/easier day hike, but I want to spend more time in Paria and promptly got a permit for backpacking Paria next October! It is amazing!

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Arizona Trailblazers Hiking Club, Phoenix, Arizona
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updated August 30, 2012