Awash in the Canyonlands

Confronting Rain
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River
Journey's end
Trip Essentials

The start of the Paria Canyon route is located at the White House Trailhead, in southern Utah, off Highway 89 between the towns of Kanab and Page. Las Vegas, five hours to the west, is the nearest major city.

The best time to go is in May, June, October, or November, when the flood danger is typically low and the weather usually cooperative. The trip takes four or five days.

Hikers must register at the Paria River Ranger Station; for more information and current weather forecasts, call the Bureau of Land Management office in Kanab, Utah, at (801) 644-2672. The number of hikers allowed in the canyon is limited; secure a permit in advance by contacting the Arizona Strip Interpretive Association at (453) 688-3230. It costs $5 per day to hike in Paria Canyon. Instead of hitching back to your vehicle, a ride can be arranged through Page Taxi: (520) 645-8540.

An excellent guidebook is Hiking and Exploring the Paria River by Michael Kelsey (Treasure Chest Publications, $11.95). For more general information, read How to Explore the Canyons of the American West , by John Annerino (Stackpole Books, $11.96). Both are available at Amazon.com.
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It came. All night the rain chucked down, and H. J. and I listened to the ever-increasing crescendo of rushing water. In the morning the Paria was a different place. The river, 12 hours before, was a puddle-deep riffle maybe ten feet across. Now it was a boiling mud bath, waist high, 25 feet from shore to shore. The rain, though, was over. We waited in camp for several hours, and the waters stabilized. And so we decided to press on, walking on the banks as often as possible, and crossing the river only when there was no other choice.

The crossings were interesting. We'd face upstream, leaning on our hiking sticks, and sort of shuffle-step across, the waves lapping at our hips—we'd arranged our backpacks so that items least damaged by wetness were on the bottom. The current tried ceaselessly to upend us. A fall carried with it serious consequences—a drenched sleeping bag, possible lacerations, a good chance of hypothermia. Several times, I felt my heels rise up from the riverbed, but neither of us tumbled.

Late in the day we spotted a mule deer, crowned with antlers, running sure-footed along the riverbank, leaving deep hoofprints. We watched him bound effortlessly across the river, leap up the far bank, and disappear around a bend. We crossed at the same spot—locals always know the easiest route to travel—and camped beneath a lone and spindly aspen.

On our final day, the skies were brilliant and the sandstone glowed like embers. Canyon wrens darted in and out of holes. The Paria River grew broader, and gentler. The walls of the canyon began to open up, wider and then wider still, as if we were being gradually released from the vaults of the earth and into sun, until we came upon the mighty Colorado River, and our hike was over.

Article © Michael Finkel, 2000.


Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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