1. Slot canyons are narrow passages between towering walls of soft stone. Only a few places on earth have the right combination of geology, deserts climate and flash-flooding to carve such canyons in the earth so distinctly. They receive their name from their narrow width. All slot canyons are significantly deeper than they are wide at a ration at least 10:1 with some reaching a ratio as large as 100:1. Some slot canyons are so narrow that passage becomes impossible while others allow adventurers to walk within their depths for over of 20 miles (32 km). Most slot canyons are found in areas of sedimentary rock like limestone and sandstone. Under the right conditions, slot canyons can be carved in granite and basalt.
2. In North America, these labyrinth mazes in rocks, with their spectacular displays of light and shadow are clustered in the high desert of the Colorado Plateau along the border between Utah and Arizona. Each slot canyon is unique - some are tame and some are treacherous. Some allow for easy walking and the walls are always a few feet apart. Some are filled with ice-cold pools, scattered huge boulders and so narrow that the hiker must turn sideways to pass through. Utah claims title to having the largest concentration of slot canyons in the world. All slot canyons are formed by the force of running water rushing through the soft rock.
3. One of the areas with spectacular slot canyon hikes is the Paria Canyon hike, a 38 mile (61 km) journey that follows the Paia River from southern Utah to Lee’s Ferry in northern Arizona. The trail through Paria Canyon is easy to follow as the majority of the hiking is done in the river bed. The trip gradually loses 1, 130 feet in elevation as the Paria River flows southward to join the Colorado River. The name “Paria” is a Paiute word and translates to mean “muddy” or “salty” water. Photo above shows the muddy water of the Paria River as it enters the Colorado River below Lee’s Ferry.
Credit: Linda & Dr.Dick Buscher
4. The Paria River is a tributary of the Colorado River and begins its 95 mile (153 km) journey in the Dr Seuss-like landscape of Bryce Canyon National Park, shown above, some 40 miles (64 km) north-northwest of Paria Canyon. The river cuts southeastward up and across the Paria Plateau. When the last ice age came to an end, the resulting water runoff from the ancient glaciers slowly cut deep into the soft regional sandstone resulting in the sublime and poetic formations of Paria Canyon.
5. Hikers through Paria Canyon witness the creative magnificence of 85 million years of creative geology. Layers of colorful sedimentary rocks, like the ones shown above, are opened like a geology textbook for those who take time to come and experience them. Swirling patterns of rocks known as the Wave have mesmerized generations of hikers who have come to Paria Canyon to witness them firsthand. The high desert sun adds a final touch to the landscape often highlighting the formations in such a way that one could envision a magnificent potter shaping and forming the whole canyon region.
Credit: Linda & Dr. Dick Buscher
6. The Paria River is the longest continuous flowing stream originating on the Colorado Plateau. Since stream flow monitors were first placed in the river in 1923, a steady flow of water has passed down the river and through the canyon. With such a nonstop source of water, a lush and vibrant riparian zone is found here. Fremont Cottonwoods create majestic stands along the river. Vegetation that is common away from the river and in more arid locations of Paria Canyon include Sweet Sand Verbena, Zion Sweetpea, Four-wing Saltbush, Arrow Weed and Indian Paint Brush, shown above.
7. The constant source of water provided by the Paria River allows for an abundance of animal life to live within and near by Paria Canyon. Rattlesnakes, chuckwallas and many species of lizard thrive here. Swifts, swallows, wrens, gnatcatchers, hummingbirds and herons are all found here. Predator birds such as falcons, hawks and owls hunt the many species of small mammals who make their homes in and near the lush riparian zone. The canyon is also near the release zone of endangered California condors, shown above, that once again soar above the many slot canyons of this region of the Colorado Plateau.
8. Long before Europeans “discovered” Paria Canyon, Native American people had used the floor of the canyon as a ancient highway by which they moved back and forth between southern Utah and northern Arizona. Archeological evidence suggests the the ancestors of the modern Paiute people have inhabited this region for more than 10,000 years. There is little evidence that the ancient people established permanent residence within Paria Canyon but there is abundant evidence that they often passed through the canyon leaving behind numerous petroglyphs, pictographs and various stone weapons.
9. Buckskin Gulch, shown above, is one of the major tributaries of the Paria River. It is said to be the longest slot canyon in the world and is unique because of the length and depth of its ever changing narrows which go on uninterrupted for almost 15 miles (24 km). Buckskin Gulch is rarely more that 10 feet wide (3 m) and the spooky corridor is 400 feet deep (122 m) as it nears the junction with the Paria River. Danger of flash flooding make hiking Buckskin Gulch one of the most dangerous slot canyon hikes in the world. There is only one “escape hatch” from the canyon about 8 miles (13 km) into the journey. For those who enjoy the thrill of danger, hiking Buckskin Gulch is an experience never forgotten.
10. The slot canyons of Paria Canyon region are a part of the larger 112,000 acre (45,325 he) Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area. Created by the United States Congress’ 1984 Arizona Wilderness Act, the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service are empowered to preserve the regions natural conditions, opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation while preserving the areas educational, scenic and historical values. The entire region is now a part of the National Wilderness Preservation System.
11. This whole region has been one of great interest to the first Europeans who came upon it. The Spanish priests, Dominguez and Escalante, camped on the banks of the Paria River on October 27 - November 1, 1776 while trying unsuccessfully to find an easy way to cross the Colorado River. They soon left this area, traveling northeast before successfully establishing a crossing across the Colorado River at the famous Crossing of the Fathers site. Sadly the Crossing of the Fathers site is now beneath the waters of Lake Powell. A century latter, John D. Lee came to this area and in 1871 established a ferry, shown above, to allow travelers to cross the Colorado River. John D. Lee was one of the area’s most colorful and unique of historic figures, but his ferry was crucial for the areas travel and settlement. Today Lee’s Ferry is a favorite launching point for whitewater raft trips through Grand Canyon.
12. Recreation opportunities abound in the region of Paria Canyon. Beside the numerous opportunities for slot canyon hiking, the region has may spectacular geological formations to be enjoyed like the formation known as The Wave, shown above. The Wave, in North Coyote Buttes area of the Paria Canyon Wilderness, is actually two U-shaped troughs of Navajo Sandstone laid down during the Jurassic period. Hikers wanting to visit The Wave, need special permits, drawn by lottery, and are required by the Bureau of Land Management. But even if a permit to visit The Wave is not obtained, hikers and photographers visiting the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area will cherish their experience of walking through one of the world most remote and beautiful of places.
13. Hiking through Paria Canyon is like a personal journey through time. The geological formations created by the forces of wind and water found during the entire length of the journey are breathtaking. The slot canyons, some of which ares so narrow that you can touch both walls as you walk through, always creates a feeling of smallness and awe as one looks up at the towering sheer sandstone cliffs above. As one recent hiker of Paria Canyon wrote, “nothing could prepare me for such incredible beauty. I don't know how many times I rounded a new bend and just said, Wow! ”