Paria Canyon Wilderness

Paria Canyon

What is it?/ Where is it?/Geography/History

The Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, a 112,000-acre reserve located on the border of southern Utah and northern Arizona, was established by Congress in 1984 in the Arizona Wilderness Act. Part of the wilderness area was later incorporated into the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument by President Bill Clinton in 2000. The wilderness area includes many plateaus, escarpments, and slot canyons.

The history of the area, however, can be traced to prehistoric times. Indeed, some archaeologists believe that the wilderness area was inhabited at least 10,000 years before the first Europeans stepped foot in the area in the mid 1770s. It is believed by some to have been a travel route between southern Utah and northern Arizona.

From approximately 200 A.D. to 1200 A.D., the area was inhabited by the Anasazis and later by the Paiute people. In fact, “Paria” (originally spelled “Pahreah”) is a Piute word that means “salty” or “muddy” water. These two civilizations left behind an inspiring array of petroglyphs and pictographs that can still be observed on many of the rock walls today.

Paria Canyon

What do you do there?/ What do you see there?/What is most interesting about it?/How do I get there? When can I go? Why would I enjoy visiting? (see following categories)

There are several awe-inspiring geographic formations within the wilderness area that sparkle like gems in the desert sand; they are, for good reason, some of the most desirable tourist destinations in the world. One the most popular of these formations is Buckskin Gulch. In this long slot canyon, a tributary to Paria Canyon, hikers experience twisting turns and towering, narrow cliffs. There are approximately 300 river crossings within the canyon. Because of flash flood danger, permits are required to hike and backpack in this area.

Another of the breathtaking formations within this region is The Wave. The Wave, located within Coyote Buttes, is a series of rock pyramids that create a basin in the center. These sandstone pyramids are swirled with bands of color. The Wave trailhead is located at the Wire Pass, which is also the trailhead for Buckskin Gulch. The Wire Pass is approximately 8.3 miles south of US 89 along House Rock Valley Road. Permits are also required for this area and must be acquired several months in advance. Other inspiring rock formations include the Moenkopi, Moenave, Kayenta, Navajo, Chinle, Temple Cap, and Carmel Formations.

The region includes an exciting and diverse array of wildlife—one of the reasons for initially creating the reserve. The variety of birds ranges from the Bald and Golden Eagles to the Violet-Green Swallow and the Great Blue Heron. The list of mammals is just as impressive, including mountain lions, bighorn sheep, porcupines, and beavers. The wilderness also has its fair share of reptiles and snakes, including rattlesnakes and the red-spotted frog.

Flora and Fauna
The selection of flora and fauna is categorized into three sections of riparian vegetation, including cattails and reeds in the first section, willows and ash trees in the second section, and rabbitbrush and Indian ricegrass in the third section. Other breathtaking vegetation includes pinyon pines and juniper trees.

The most popular times to visit the wilderness area are in the spring and fall. Hiking conditions during these times can be ideal. Even winter temperatures can often be appropriate for hiking. During the summer, however, temperatures can be sweltering and can make for extremely difficult hiking conditions. One should be cautioned, too, as water is unavailable in some of the areas, like in Coyote Buttes.