Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Utah – The world’s longest slot canyon?

The second great attraction of this area is, besides Coyote Buttes, Paria River Canyons. You can follow this wash for nearly 70 km to Lees Ferry, where Paria River flows into Glen Canyon of Colorado River. Many parts of this gulch are slot canyons. This several-days-hike is only suitable for experienced backpackers, and the daily limit for the number of hikers is restricted as well. Due to the heavy rainfalls in this summer Paria River still carries high water, and the canyons aren’t walkable. The rangers in Kanab told us an alternative. We can hike through the slot canyons of Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch from the same trailhead as for The Wave. We could walk the Buckskin Gulch directly from another trailhead, but then we would miss the short but charming Wire Pass.

The wash is not even two miles long, and only the last kilometre is slot canyon. The gulch has several metres high walls, pretty shapes, demands some scrambling, and is partially narrow. As Joerg is taking a photo of a frozen waterfall I go behind a corner. I habitually check the terrain and I get a fright when discovering a rattle snake, coiled up, the head settled on the body. It is admittedly a smaller specimen, nearly a baby so to speak. And the best is: it sleeps. It is frozen to hibernation with open eyes on the cold ground. But it is a warning anyway. Again and again we read warnings to take care of rattle snakes in slot canyons. But of course this is more to protect the animals: “Don’t disturb snakes!” No, I won’t.

Wire Pass borders Buckskin Gulch in a right angle. This slot canyon is remarkable because it is possibly the longest one in the world. “Possibly” because nobody knows exactly, neither the rangers nor National Geographic that equipped an expedition to this area. However, 12 miles / 19 km are an impressive length. One mile is located to the left, the rest to the right where we head first. The ground is wet, there are small ponds everywhere; although they are frozen the sheet of ice is not able to take weight any more. We somehow get around until a big ice-free pond bars our way after some miles. In summer we would wade through, but in winter that’s no fun. We turn round to discover the upper, shorter part of the canyon and eventually walk back through Wire Pass past the still sleeping snake to the parking lot.

It is only late morning since we have started early today, so we decide to go to Old Paria that’s situated north of hwy # 89 again in Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument. BLM placed a warning sign that recommends 4-wheel-drive and high clearance – after the happened road damages to be taken serious. Only the cemetery remained from the historic town. Paria was founded in 1865, but had to be moved upstream only five years later due to arguments with the Indians. The changed location wasn’t auspicious. Years before the new century started a flash flood forced the ranchers and farmers to give up the village. During the last century the site served as movie set for glorifying western movies with Dean Martin and others. But the highlight is two pick-nick tables that BLM placed in front of the pretty scenery. In the background are petrified sand dunes that look crazy like a stripe pullover that grandma knitted from wool rests in all colours she could find.

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