Rock on at Paria Canyon

Witness extraordinary geological formations while canyoneering in Utah

Before Europeans "discovered" it, Paria Canyon was part of a route used by the indigenous Paiute people to move between what is now southern Utah and northern Arizona. Archaeological evidence indicates that their ancestors inhabited the region for more than 10,000 years. Paria is actually Paiute for "muddy water", which is something you'll get used to as the canyon narrows, forcing you to wade through the chocolate-coloured river.

As the last ice age came to an end, water runoff from ancient glaciers slowly cut deeper into the soft sandstone, bestowing Paria Canyon with a succession of bizarre and intriguing geological formations. From the swirling patterns of the Wave at Coyote Buttes to the equally spectacular red rock of the Paria amphitheatre, this is Mother Nature at her most sublime and poetic.

As the water wore through the sandstone, the wind stripped the rock back to reveal changes in hue that have mesmerised visitors for millennia. The sun adds a final touch by glazing the shapes, creating the impression that a potter has shaped the whole canyon. Thus, when you canyoneer through Paria, you are bearing witness to 85 million years of outrageous geology.

Typically, canyoneering is a hybrid of mountaineering and caving, requiring an acute route-finding sensibility plus the rope skills to descend and ascend around any obstacles in your way. The beauty of Paria is that anyone with a good level of fitness is capable of negotiating any or all of the 60km route. That said, this is not a place you can take for granted: it's prone to flash floods, which means a happy hike can turn to disaster in an instant.

If you intend to tackle it yourself, make like a cub scout and "be prepared". Paria Canyon may be popular but it's still extremely remote, contains little drinking water and is largely inaccessible – getting rescued from here is not simply a matter of dialling the emergency services on your mobile phone.

The adventure unfolds

Paria Canyon's extraordinary length means it's packed with twists and turns which, while at times, test your physical dexterity, constantly leave you wide-eyed. When you first enter the canyon, it's little more than an unassuming desert streambed. Within a few hundred metres, you're moving through the Navajo sandstone. It's only after about 6km, when you enter the Narrows and are most at risk of getting caught in a flash flood, that suddenly you are moving between sheer walls of brightly coloured wind-streaked rock that stretch 150m straight up towards the deep blue sky. And so it begins.

A hike through Paria is all about the journey. Sure, you can't wait to arrive at star attractions, such as the confluence with Buckskin Gulch or the wide arms of Wrather Arch, but it's the spaces, the moments in between, that carve themselves indelibly into your memory.

In parts you'll be scrambling up and along steep, smooth sections of limestone, so bring "sticky" footwear, such as rubber-soled hiking shoes. Also, carry your own drinking water. Hooking up with an experienced local, or hiking with a guide, is strongly recommended too, as this is the only way you'll discover many of the hidden gems that are all too easy to miss.

At all times only 20 people are allowed to start the hike each day, 10 by prior booking and 10 by lottery chosen 24 hours earlier. During peak season there are thousands of adventurers praying for one of the few hundred golden tickets available. If you really want to experience Paria in the sandstone flesh, you need to apply four months before you actually want to hike.

Making it happen

There are several campsites at the White House trailhead, just off Route 89, from where you can begin your adventure. Permits are required to hike Paria Canyon; get the latest information from the Bureau of Land Management. You must adhere to the "leave no trace" policy, which means picking up any evidence you were there.

Distance: About 60km

Location: Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Utah, United States

Ideal time commitment: Four to six days

Best time of year: Spring or autumn

Essential tip: Bring a waterproof sack for your sleeping bag

 

Essential Experiences

* Marvelling at a brilliant ray of sun blasting through the Narrows on to the rock, illuminating it like pure gold.

* Walking the Wave at Coyote Buttes.

* Stargazing through the "roof" of the canyon, and dwelling upon the spirits of those who passed here long before.

* Catching a glimpse of a bald eagle or peregrine falcon.

* Giggling at the "miniature" rattlesnakes common in the canyon, then remembering they can kill with one bite.

This is an extract from 'Great Adventures', published by Lonely Planet (£29.99). Readers can buy a copy for £25 by going to shop.lonelyplanet.com and using the code INDEPENDENT

 

 

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

    £12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

    Guru Careers: .NET Developers / Software Developers

    Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: our .NET Developers / Software Dev...

    Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

    £25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

    Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester

    £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Management Accountant - Manchester...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?