Last week I went on 5 day, 4 night a backpacking trip through Paria Canyon in Utah with my boyfriend, his parents, his sister, and my mother. We had an absolutely wonderful time.
March 30th The Drive
Having packed the previous night, we woke up early on Friday the 30th. We got gas and breakfast bagels at a newly discovered delicious bagel place. Then we were on our way. We were leaving from Golden, Colorado, trying to make it to Page, Arizona, a 9.5 hour drive. My mother would be leaving from southern California, and would meet us at our destination.
My boyfriend’s parents and sister had heroically left the day before to pick up our permits in St. George, Utah. They also drove down to the pick-up point to drop off cars so that we would be able to shuttle back once we were out.
The drive was wonderfully scenic, as always. Beautiful landscapes, and lots of wonderful power line towers stretching into the distance. I honestly love those things. They remind me of the windmills in Don Quijote, there is something beautifully majestic and monumental about them that to me personally, makes their presence compliment the majesty of the desert landscape.
We listened to The Everything Store, a book about the rise of Amazon, for most of the drive. We got Chik-Fil-A for lunch, where a wonderful lady replaced the smoothie I got and did not like for free.
That evening, we all met up in Page, and had a wonderful dinner at That Dam Bar (so named in honor of the Glen Canyon Dam nearby). I tried a bite of my boyfriend’s potpie, and it was so amazing, I vowed it would be my Return Dinner. We did final bag checks, and settled in for our last night in civilization.
We started at the top left, and went down through the squiggle to the bottom right. All told about 38 miles, as well as a sojourn of a few miles up then back down Buckskin Gulch. We hiked 5 days, and stayed 4 nights.
March 31st The Journey Begins
We woke up relatively early, had a continental breakfast, and said goodbye to the wonders of modern plumbing. We crossed the Glen Canyon Dam, stopping for a few minutes to marvel at the feat of human engineering, and learn from my boyfriend’s sister about the environmental political history of the dam and the resulting Lake Powell.
We continued on, and a short nap later, we made it to the trail-head. I opted for my Tevas rather than my hiking boots as my Tevas have never given me blisters before. The sandals also saw me through most of a backpacking trip through the Maroon Bells a year eariler, so I was confident that they would serve me well here as well.
The trail starts off simply hiking along what looks like just a large desert wash. It slowly forms into a canyon, as the walls on either side rise up and close in.
We had a long day of hiking, during which I am proud to say my Tevas felt great. They would have served, had it not been for all the sand that got caught on the straps and rubbed against the sides of my toes.
Later in the day, we stopped for a rest. My mom, my boyfriend and I decided to journey onwards, and let the remainder of our party catch up with us. The plan was to camp a small ways up Buckskin Gulch.
From the car, we hiked about 7 miles in to the ‘Confluence’ where Buckskin Gulch merges with Paria Canyon. As we started up Buckskin Gulch, my boyfriend, our trail guide and map keeper, urged us into silence. We made our way a short ways up the canyon, respecting the ‘sacred’ quality of the space. We made camp at the top of a small hill. My boyfriend went down to the confluence to wait for his parents and sister while my mom and I heated up beverages, and made friends with our neighbor campers.
A long time passed and just as my mom and I were about to head down to the confluence to bring my boyfriend a hot beverage, we saw him walking up the canyon. The rest of our party had never come through. It was starting to get dark, so we were starting to get worried. My boyfriend donned a headlamp and decided that he would go back up the river and meet up with his family.
To make sure he did not miss the turn, my mother and I waited with our headlamps at the confluence. We sang old camp songs, and other time passing songs that she and I used to sing on long road-trips when I was very young. It was a special sort of nostalgia and melancholy; waiting in the dark singing those songs; letting the memory of those happy and serene moments of my childhood keep at bay my worry for my boyfriend and his family lost in a cold wet canyon after dark.
My mother and I sang A Sailor Went to Sea Sea Sea once for every consonant in the English alphabet. We sang Senor Don Gato, The Ship Titanic, as well as a couple I cannot recal. We sang a very short-lived rendition of Fried Ham with only a couple verses. Then we started 99 bottles of beer on the wall. We got to 30 bottles of beer before we heard my boyfriends glorious tenor voice singing opera through the canyon. We saw his headlamp shortly after, and she shouted in greeting when he saw ours.
The crazy Griffindor had gone all the way back to the place where we had last seen the rest of our party resting before turning around, singing and banging rocks the whole way. He had been traveling through the cold wet dark alone in the wilderness for more than an hour. He had not found them. Worried, we all returned to camp and discussed our options. We went to bed with a plan.
It was impossible that they had gotten lost, it was literally an inescapable canyon. They were either ahead of, or behind us. Either they had simply missed the turn off and for some reason had not come back once they realized their error. Or they had turned around. We were supposed to stay a the buckskin campsite for 2 nights, so that we could have a day trip a few miles up the gulch. We reasoned that whether they were ahead of, or behind us, unless something were very wrong, they would be looking for Buckskin Gulch. We decided the next morning my boyfriend and I would go up-stream to the next campsite to see if our party had camped ahead. We reasoned that they would realize they had passed the confluence, and return up the canyon to Buckskin Gulch the next morning if they were ahead of us. My mom would wait at the campsite if despite my boyfriend’s night search, they happened to be behind us. If they were not at the next campsite, and they did not show up by the time we returned, we would start hiking back. We reasoned that it would be likely that they had decided to turn around since last we had seen them. And we would head out of the canyon to reconvene, or at least to get cell service. If we did not see the rest of the party at the cars or on the way out, only THEN we would start to worry. My mother is a Park Ranger and has search and rescue experience. She knew when we would have to call help.
During that night, my boyfriend discovered that his air-mattress had a leak. The stupid Gryffindor insisted that we not switch off during the night and that I should have it the whole night. I at least convinced him that he should get a corner of the air mattress for his hip. It was a fitful sleep for me, it must have been doubly so for him, for more reasons than the flat air-mattress.
April 1st Buckskin Gulch Reunion
The next morning, we made the sad realization that our party of three had both the stove, and the back-up stove. Which meant the rest of our party had had to make a dinner and breakfast out of cold lunch materials. We emptied out my bag and just put in a stove, some tea bags, and breakfast packets. My mom joked that she would wait a couple hours before she started to worry that we were abducted by aliens. At which point she would NOT do what every stupid person in those types of movies does: go searching for those who go missing. I know she was joking, but still, the light-hearted sentiment could not mask the fact that we were on the tipping point of this becoming a bad situation.
We continued down the canyon, my mom staying behind as planned.
In about a half hour, we reached the next campsite down. They were not there. There were several smaller places one could camp along the way not marked on the map. We decided to go down to the next campsite we came across, then we would turn around.
Another almost a half hour later, we turned a bend, and saw my boyfriend’s sister packing up her tent. We hollered in joy and threw up our arms. We had found the rest of the party!
Apparently, they had not far behind us when we had left them. They had passed Buckskin Gulch while we had started setting up camp, before my boyfriend made it back down to the confluence. They had missed the turn off, and had continued several more miles down the canyon. Once the day started to wane, they realized that they had to have passed the turn-off by now. They started hiking back, but had gone so far that they still had not made it back by the time it started to get dark. They decided to start setting up camp while they still could see, and continue to backtrack the canyon the next morning.
This reunion made, and the confirmation that everyone was safe, and the trip could continue as planned, I started heading back. I had realized we had been hiking almost an hour to get here, and that my mother would start to get worried at two. I hurried up the canyon, now fiercely aware that something would have to be done about my Tevas rubbing sand on my toes or I was going to have to switch to my boots.
I made it back to Buckskin Gulch just before she started to worry. I told her we had found them and that everyone was fine. They would head back up the canyon to our campsite, and then we could go wander up Buckskin Gulch for a few miles. We ate some lunch, and I laid down for a nap, assuming the rest of the party would be back in a few minutes.
Almost an hour and a half later, my mom woke me to ask if I wanted to go up Buckskin Gulch with her. The remainder of our party still was not back, and she wanted to see as much of Buckskin Gulch as she could before the day was over. I offered to go with her, as I too wanted to see the Gulch. As we prepared to leave, we saw the rest of the party arrive up the canyon.
They deposited their backpacks at camp relayed all about their night that they had had. After the rest of the party was situated, my mom, boyfriend and I set out up Buckskin Gulch. My boyfriend gave me his water socks, as he preferred his wool socks. Serendipitous, they solved my sand rubbing problem, and allowed me to continue using my Tevas. My boyfriend decided to wear his flip-flops. The gulch was beautiful. It was about 500 ft tall, but in some places was less than 10 ft across.
I found my ‘power spot’ as my mom called it, in this slot canyon. It was a beautiful curve in the canyon, where the light shone down like a giant crescent in the sky, like a moon-shaped sun.
Eventually, my boyfriend’s feet started to hurt from the combination of hiking with flip-flops on, and hiking with flip-flops off. We reached a log jam in the river, and decided that was our cue to turn around. We heard from some hikers the next day that this was probably a good call, as the water further up Buckskin Gulch got as deep as the shoulders.
I gave my boyfriend back his water socks so he could hike without his flip-flops on, but still not hurt his feet. I would survive without the socks till the end of the canyon, but I knew water socks would allow me to continue hiking with my Tevas on. The next day I would start to use my mom’s water socks, as she also preferred her wool socks.
We got back to the camp, and the rest of the day proceeded relatively uneventfully at the campsite. My boyfriend’s sister decided she would wander up Buckskin Gulch. His father got out his large format camera and went back towards the confluence to get pictures. People took naps, we played 20 questions, we played the card game Hearts. My boyfriend’s dad even took my mom and my picture.
The best part I remember, was a moment when for one reason or another in the coming and going around camp, I ended up being the only person awake in the campsite for several minutes. I waited at the campsite sitting in the center of the remaining sun, leaning against the rock as the sun slid up the canyon wall and the campsite was left in shadow.
Also during this time, I had to take my first solid call of nature. You see, hikers in in Paria Canyon must carry out their own waste. The less said about this the better, but keep this in mind if you are squeamish and have any plans on hiking here in the future.
Everyone ended up back at the campsite as it finally started to get dark. We made dinner, then went to bed, glad to have a happy resolution of the previous night’s drama. My boyfriend was able to borrow his sister’s ground pad to sleep on for the night, and had a much more restful sleep.
April 2nd Parting
The next morning, we learn that there were 2 non-functional air-mattresses. My boyfriend’s parents had gotten a brand new air-mattress and it already had a leak. His parents decided, during the night while they could not sleep, to turn around the next day, and take the 2 non-functional air-mattresses with them. Then leave the rest of us to carry on without them.
This was a very noble thing to do. They knew no one would not be able to sleep a healthy amount on empty air-mattresses, and that 2 of them were out. This meant that at least 2 people in the party, no matter who they were, would be without air-mattresses. So they made the sacrifice of being those 2 people, and turned around.
Before parting, we redistributed food and supplies. We said our farewell and our thanks, for it was my boyfriend’s parents who had planned the whole venture. They left with the plan that they would bring our cars down to the end point so that we would not have to shuttle between parking lots the day we got out. Another thing to be grateful to them for.
The four of us now continued down the canyon. We passed the campsite that the lost half of our party had stayed at the previous night. My boyfriend’s sister showed us where they had turned around the night before, and it was indeed very far down the canyon.
With our lunch we had chocolate bunnies that my boyfriend’s sister had brought to celebrate Easter. Since we had all be separated the previous day, which was when Easter had been, she waited to distribute them till today.
We passed Big Spring with fanfare. The spring is not actually that big, however, compared to some of the others further down, it could be considered larger.
We started the day at a point that was still 31 miles away the end. We tossed around the options of going for another 2 nights, or 3 nights. We had enough food, and the permit for 3 more nights, we could mosey if we wanted to. Then again, without my boyfriend’s parents, the party was divided. Also, we had already passed the most scenic parts. We decided to see how we felt towards the end of the day, and see how far we got.
We ended up going about another 9 miles, leaving 22 miles left. On the above map, our second camp was at the second black star from the top-left/beginning of the trail. It was beautiful, and secluded. We each could set up our tents at a corner of the campground and not even see each others’ tents.
Everyone had a functional air-mattress, and sleep was as plentiful as it can get when backpacking.
April 3rd How Far Can We Go?
During the night, I swore that there were howling winds with how much the tent was shaking. I woke up in the morning to see my socks still hanging in the tree, and my boyfriend’s hat still resting peacefully on his backpack.
We made breakfast and packed up camp. Today would be the determining factor for whether or not we stayed 2 or 3 more nights. We all felt we could make it in 2 nights. We had hiked 9 miles the day before, and still felt like we had stopped early, so we would be able to make it further today.
We passed Judd Hollow, where my boyfriend’s sister found an awesome old rusted pump.
We passed Wrather Canyon. We could have hiked up but we decided we would…wrather not. 😀 We passed Shower Spring, which was a beautiful little desert grotto, complete with a secluded waist deep pool of water surrounded by tall reeds. It was tucked away in the grass, and we might not have found it had it not been for my boyfriend’s keen observations of the map.
Shower Spring was hidden in those bushes behind that handsome devil.
The canyon started to widen out, and our sore feet started to make us grateful we had decided to only take 2 more nights instead of 3.
The people we had met at the campsite had continued down the trail as well, and we met them again at their camp just next to the Last Reliable Spring. They had a lovely spot. One of them was a photographer, and was taking pictures of the spring.
We filled up our water bottles and bladders and continued on down to the next campsite at Bush Head Canyon before we stopped for the night. We had gone 11 or so miles, and we were confident we could make it out the next day.
April 4th Finally Out
The next morning, we ate breakfast, packed up and made ready for the final leg of our journey.
The canyon had started to widen out the previous day, and continued to do so over the course of this day. This was the only day where a majority of our hiking was not done directly next to or in the river. We saw a bunch of cool lizards as the canyon widened out, as well as a lot of ravens. We leapfrogged with the people from the last campsite for a bit. The photographer even took our picture for us. She also sent us several pictures she had taken where we had accidentally hiked into her shot. Beautiful stuff, we are very grateful.
We made it to Wilson’ Ranch, and had lunch by the river. There were too many ants up near the trees. We filtered some water, rested our feet, and prepared for the last leg of the journey. We were starting to get sore of feet, and were very ready to be done.
Luckily, during the last leg of the journey, the most exposed to the desert climate, the weather was overcast, so the final trek was not too hot. But as a result, I forgot to re-apply sunscreen on my face, and that is the only place I got sunburned the whole trip.
We did the final arduous trek, making it to the Paria Canyon Vermilion Cliffs and Glen Canyon Recreation area border. A couple miles later, we made it to the Lonely Dell Ranch. It is a cute little area, with an orchard where the public can pick fruit for free.
We got to a picnic table, and collapsed. We mercifully found a trashcan we could dump the waste bags in. It was still a mile to the parking lot where our cars were. My mother and boyfriend volunteered to go get the cars and drive them back up, leaving their backpacks with us. We waited for a short while until we saw a car come up the road.
My boyfriend hopped out, and told us we had forgotten to sign out at the trail-head. Unfortunately the trail-head was half a mile or so in, passed the Ranch. He ran down the trail to the trial-head while his sister and I loaded all the backpacks and wet shoes into the car.
When my boyfriend came back, he was understandably very tired. We all drove down to the parking lot and reconvened. We made the drive back to Page, got a hotel room, and went back to The Dam Bar. We got loaded potato skins and artichoke dip. I got myself a Moscow Mule and a delicious Chicken Pot Pie.
We were all very beat and sore. We took some glorious showers, washing off the 5 days of dirt. We got our first night’s rest in a real bed in 4 nights, and slept extremely well.
April 5th Drive Home
The next morning, we packed up, had a continental breakfast, and said our goodbyes. My mom drove back to California, while my boyfriend, his sister and I headed back to Colorado. We listened to the audio book Small Gods most of the way back on my boyfriend’s sister’s phone. I have read it before a couple times, it is one of my favorites.
After a long, fairly uneventful drive, we made it to Glenwood Springs, where my boyfriend’s parents were staying. We had a great diner and went to sleep.
April 6th Welcome Back to Colorado
The next morning, we has an amazing breakfast at Rosi’s Little Bavarian Restaurant. Then we went to Iron Mountain Hot Springs and basked in the warm soothing waters for a couple hours.
When we were well and truly relaxed and recovered, we said our goodbyes once more, and made the final drive home.
Overall, it was an amazing trip. It had its exciting moments, and its stressful moments, and was certainly very memorable. I had a great time, and am really happy to have gone. As with all great vacations though, I am very happy to be back home, with easy access to a comfortable bed and modern plumbing.