Buckskin Gulch & Paria Canyon ~ Utah (May 1995)

Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah

Up until 2008, our adventures were retained only as memories and on Kodachromes. While our memories may have faded (just a bit), the Kodachromes haven’t – and we have a lot of them. So we’re digitizing a select few to bring some of our past adventures into the 21st Century. This is one of those.


Buckskin Gulch, a tributary of the Utah’s Paria River, is the longest and deepest slot canyon in the Southwest. Other such canyons are narrower, prettier, or more challenging, but the Gulch’s length and varied terrain make it one of the Southwest’s classic hikes. Our friends John and Donna were keen to explore it, so, in May 1995, we flew to Las Vegas. After our first take-off from Honolulu (we were based in Hawaii at the time) was aborted by a bird strike, we waited eight hours for a replacement plane, then had to largely skip sleeping so as not to miss our planned rendezvous with John and Donna at the campground near White House Spring. The next morning, now less sleep deprived, we left a car at the campground and drove over to the Wire Pass Trailhead on the west side of the Gulch. We would spend the entire day wending our way through the narrows at Wire Pass and then through the much lengthier convolutions in the Gulch’s deeper sections; goaded along the whole time by the distant rumblings of thunder that might be signaling a flash flood (but weren’t).  The LovedOne, as the shortest person in the group, became our de facto depth gauge for the pools of soupy, reddish, mud/water that filled some stretches of the Gulch – if she went under, we’d have to swim (fortunately, she didn’t and we didn’t have to). It was a long, cold in places, strenuous, relentless, but very rewarding day. We were very glad to make camp late that afternoon on a soft sandbank near where the Gulch meets the Paria River. The next morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we explored the Paria downstream for about two miles or so, to where its canyon starts becoming wider.  Then, after another night on the sandbank, we headed upstream, first through a narrow section and then out into the wide valley just south of White House Spring. The hike out was much easier than the one in, but, in its own way, no less amazing or magical. A roughly 25-mile sojourn through some of the most awe inspiring terrain on this planet! The only time we saw other people was at the campground – we had the Gulch and the river to ourselves for three days! Judging from the amount of internet traffic this hike now gets, I’m guessing this sort of solitude doesn’t happen very often anymore.

Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
At the trailhead
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
Through the Wire Pass narrows
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
A log jammed high by a flash flood
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
Reaching the narrower, deeper sections
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
Then the pools of water appeared…
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
And The LovedOne starting testing the depths…
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
Fortunately, they were never more than waist deep
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
Coming to the end of the Gulch
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
“Wildlife” waiting for us in camp
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
Exploring the Paria
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
Exploring the Paria
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
An arch is forming
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
The canyon starts to open up (and we turn back)
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
Back to camp
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
Packed and ready to leave
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
Not done with the wading just yet…
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
Not done yet…
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
The canyon widens, a beach forms, and our feet start to dry
Buckskin Gulch Paria River Utah
Buckskin Canyon and the Paria River

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