Hiking a Slot Canyon

Inside of Wire Pass Slot CanyonI had only a few goals for this vacation trip but hiking a slot canyon was one of them. I did a fair amount of research on them and was happy to find that one of the premier slot canyons was very close to where we were planning to camp while visiting the Grand Canyon.

Their is an amazing piece of real estate along the Arizona/Utah border called the Paria Canyon/Wilderness area. It has several notable features; the Vermillion Cliffs, Coyote Butte, and the Buckskin Gulch slot canyon. Buckskin Gulch is considered by some to be the ultimate in slot canyons. For 12.5 miles, the gulch is enveloped in a very narrow gorge 100 to 200 feet deep, flanked by vaulting, convoluted walls of Navajo sandstone. Many people hike the entire canyon but this obviously requires a shuttle vehicle.

We were only interested in a short day hike so opted for the Wire Pass access to the main canyon. Wire Pass is notable because it is even narrower in places than Buckskin Gulch. We arrived at the Wire Pass trailhead on a beautiful morning, registered at the trailhead, and began the easy 1.2 mile walk through Coyote Wash. There were a surprising number of vehicles at the parking area, a testimony to the popularity of the place.

The trail remains wide and shallow, bounded by low slickrock bluffs and sandy bluffs, but evetnually the walls close in and you enter the first short stretch of narrows. Beyond this we were quickly swallowed up into a very narrow slot where only about 4 feet separate the canyon walls. We saw a large log wedged in between the walls about ten foot overhead which served as a good reminder of the tremendous force of flash floods in narrow desert canyons.

The colors were very striking and sculptured walls were textured in an array of shapes. the third and final narrow shrinks down to a mere two feet wide in places. After exiting this final slot there is a large shadowed alcove that has some extremely soft sandstone. So soft that you can make a handprint by working your fingers back and forth. Many people have done so as evidenced in the picture. We also saw some old Indian pictographs near here.

The junction of Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch is wide and open with a number of sheer rock faces and interesting patterns. You can proceed up or downstream from here, we opted to head down stream and within a few hundred feet were back into the slots again. We eventually were stopped by a deep pool of water that was impassable without getting wet and we opted to head back since it was lunch time. We had our lunch in the open space where the two slots meet and then went upstream for a little ways before deciding that we needed to get back to the Jeep and keep moving.

The trip back up Wire Pass was a little more challenging as the drop-offs became climb-ups but we made it ok. It was definitely a rewarding hike and I would like to hike a few other slot canyons sometime in the future.

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