– Paria Canyon – 1 –
The Paria in Utah is a typical desert river. Most of the time it is bone dry, and when it sometimes runs it rages, there is little in between. In its violent phases it is a wild force of destruction, and it carves extremely deep and often quite narrow, meandering tracks into the earth.
In our days the river itself seems mostly insignificant compared to the fantastic canyon it carved over the eons of time.
Years ago, we hiked up and down the Paria Canyon several times.
May 1988 or so.
The Paria has usually just a minimal trickle of water in the upper sections, no problem, but you still walk with wet feet for days. This time, we do only day hikes.
It is a world by itself down there between the high unscalable walls. There are even pockets of lush vegetation with cottonwood, and there are orchids and all kinds of surprises.
These are colossal rocks that once came crashing down from above, partially blocking the canyon.
You lose all sense of real direction in these canyons, it’s just upstream or downstream. You hardly notice what the weather is like outside, it’s like dream-walking.
It looks like this for 3 days. It is a unique experience to commit yourself to following such a route somehow deep underground in the hidden, secret parts of the Earth, often with only glimpses of the sky above for days and long sections without a chance to climb out. It takes about 4 long days to walk all the way to the confluence with the Colorado at Lee’s Ferry.
In the evenings there are bats darting around up at the rim.
Imagine the acoustics deep inside between these walls. Even the slightest whisper comes back from everywhere. At places the walls are more than 300 feet high!
I have no idea how these caves came about. There is so much stuff that just takes your breath away all the time.
There are many mud pools: places where muddy water has gradually evaporated and left a semi solid lake. It’s more a thick paste than mud. When it dries up it leaves such typical geometrical cracks. And when rocks fall down from the rim into these muddy puddles they create these frozen splashes. Eventually they become hard and brittle.
* * *
As I said, the canyon is usually pretty dry, but what a spectacle when it rains and a flash flood goes down! When we arrived in the area things were pretty dry, but then one thunderstorm after the other came rolling over Utah, and most canyons became dangerous.
One morning, after it had rained all night, the Paria started to roar. And this was far outside of the narrow parts. These floods subside quickly, but be sure to not be inside of the canyon when they come.
* * *
Two days later we climbed into Buckskin Canyon, another even much narrower one. Its confluence with the Paria is almost hidden deep underneath the barren surface, when you reach it after many hours of strenuous walking you could easily overlook it – just another crazy crack in the walls. After the flood, walking in the Buckskin was tough and very, very wet.
It goes like this for 13 miles! There is only one single possible escape. A slightly demanding climb under normal conditions, a nerve wracking feat when its slimy and then dusty from the floods.
The remaining water is extremely muddy, almost like a paste. Underneath are loose rocks, so it’s quite difficult to find good footing. Boy, how many times did we stumble and fall. Can you imagine what we looked like when we came out?
The Buckskin is so narrow and deep, it’s pretty dark down there even in the middle of the day.
As the sun never really reaches down there it is usually quite cold in this canyon, but the flood water comes from outside and is luke warm, it was still cold and scary.
See the log jams way up? Debris wedged in there, a grim reminder of the recent raging floods. The water can rise 30 feet in minutes here. We heard of a case where a group of 7 inexperienced French hikers got caught in a flash flood near by last year, they all must have died a terrible death.
Sometimes we rest under the few spotlights of the sun.
After miles and miles like this there comes a point where you might get a little uneasy. These floods come even when it rains quite somewhere else.
Looking up you often can’t see the sky anymore.
Camera on the ground, I lean over it.
It’s more a cave than a canyon.
The Buckskin close to the confluence with the Paria. We walked in from below – quite a long hike too. It’s our 37th anniversary, we celebrate it, dirty and muddy all over. It’s been exciting, messy, and a bit wild many times on this annual ceremonial occasion, but we never forgot to be mindful of this day, wherever it happened and how ever it turned out.
A quiet meditation session in the almost intimate sanctuary of the earth. Very few sounds from outside reach this place, if the sun gets through at all, it’s only for brief moments. It’s calm and dry now, however, we are sitting where violent change has taken place and will take place again. A brief moment, timeless, for ever timeless.
* * *
This was 20 years ago, when we walked down another canyon (Muddy Creek) close by and carried a little inflatable boat with us to navigate some tricky passages.
It was a pretty naïve idea!
* * *
… to be continued with part 4 and 5
Klaus June 2009