We drove down to the Flagstaff area in northern Arizona and climbed the Arizona’s highest point, Humphreys Peak (12,633ft or 3,851m) using the standard route up from the Arizona Snow Bowl ski area. It was cool to be in forest with pondarosa pine, douglas fir, then aspen up to limber pine and bristlecone pine on the highest ridges. Above we had views around northern Arizona and to the pitted landscape of volcanic cones. Being the highest peak, there were a fair number of hikers around with an excellent trail to follow. I guess though, the peak didn’t have particularly dramatic views compared with what we have in our own sunny Scotland so we decided one day was enough for us and we would spend the last few days before we flew out back in the canyon country of southern Utah.
Tuesday 24th October 2017 Hackberry Canyon
The aim for our last couple of days in Utah was to visit the Hackberry Canyon, Paria River confluence and find somewhere nice to camp overnight. From Page Arizona we drove over the Colorado River, past Big Water then left the tarmac to head north up Cottonwood dirt road for about 12 miles to near the foot of Hackberry Canyon. The light was sharp and clear and the cottonwoods looked particularly golden and autumnal.
With Michael Kelsey’s guidebook in hand we hiked east uphill to the top of Cockscomb ridge on steep dirt road then cross country to the top of the ridge itself. The panorama was cool with great views over rippling sandstone layers and slickrock to Yellow Rock, Castle Rock and Powell Point way in the distance to the north. We then hiked north up Hackberry Canyon which we rather rushed through previously on our 2014 Hayduke hike. The twisting canyon was beautiful and a healthy stream rushed over the sand and between the curving red walls. As the canyon opened out further upstream continued up through cottonwoods to rustic Watson Cabin in a technicolour scene of gold, reds, greens under a deep blue sky.
Back at the car, we packed the camping gear and headed uphill again this time to the west to the top of the amazingly colourful slabs of ‘Yellow Rock’. We found a superb camp near to the summit on slickrock and pitched the tent just before the sun set.
Wednesday 25th October 2017 Yellow Rock, Paria River
We awake early in the morning to see the sun rise and it quickly warms to tent up for breakfast. Stroll over Yellow Rock down to the natural feature ‘the red cairn’ where the rock patterns are particularly vibrant. The peak to the south provided some slabby scrambling – this whole area is cool! We then followed a faint trail west then south back down into the ‘box’ canyon of the Paria River past some lovely cactus rock gardens amidst pinyon juniper forest – very mellow!
Once down in the Paria we hike up to the old movie set (last movie filmed here was ‘The Outlaw Josie Wales’) nearby situated under some particularly colourful Chinle rock formations. The heat began to build in the afternoon and we were happy to splash back down the Paria through the box and up Cottonwood Wash back to the car to complete a great little mini trip!
Friday 30th September 2016 The next morning we were up before 7am but as we were moving around we noticed that the river had started roaring! The river had increased in height by more than a meter and had turned chocolate brown with silt. Branches were coming down with the river and the flow rate had massively increased with standing waves where we had crossed yesterday evening from the spring. It looked like a flash flood had come through and we thought ourselves lucky with our tent perched on a sand flat a few meters above the river level. The river looked impossible to cross and, as our intended route was to continue down the river itself we were a little trapped!
[Click image to see the video] We sat watching the roaring river and set sticks up at the waters edge to monitor the height of the flow. After an hour or so the river level went down a little which gave us hope.
The river valley looked to widen out with a trail marked on our map starting about a mile downstream . If we could bushwhack down the south bank of the river for a way to stay out of the water, we could perhaps make it to the trail and continue downstream for a while before having to cross the river. So we decided to give it a go….
After some scrambling through willow, tamarisk and under some boulders we did hit an intermittent trail of sorts and we kept hiking.
We soon hiked onto the ‘Chinle’ rock layer which here was colourful and soft providing a welcome shelf above the river for us to walk on. We stopped at a side canyon – ‘Bush Head’- and scrambled up to find a spring with fresher water to supply us for the day.
The heat began to build after that as we headed downstream on sandy banks high above the river which was now lined by cliffs. We halted at a boulder, the only shade around, and were interested to see it had a petroglyph- we weren’t the first to find shade here!
Eventually we dropped down a steep sand dune back to the river at the now abandoned Wilson’s Ranch. Our guidebook suggested it might have a spring, but after lot’s of searching, we gave up trying to find water and slumped down in the shade of some cottonwoods. We needed to get to the other side of the river but it was still running too strong to cross so we pitched the tent to try again in the morning. Both of us were rather thirsty by now so Martina took the brown silt laden liquid from the river and filled our ‘platypus’ water bags with the hope that the silt would settle to the bottom overnight.
Lo and behold, the dirt and silt did settle to give us about 2/3 rds of a liter from each of the 3 water bags. After treating it with our ‘Aqua Mira’ water purifier tablets it almost tasted fine!
The water levels had definitely dropped overnight but the first crossing was still a challenge in thigh deep forceful water- but we made it. From there we strolled on with three other crossings to good trail on the final few miles to the tarmac road near the campsite at Lee’s Ferry, Arizona. Now for the challenge of getting back to our vehicle, 74 miles away in Utah!
We needn’t have worried, after hiking down the minor tarmac road a few miles towards the main highway 89A, we got a lift for the final 3-4 miles to Marble Lodge – a gas station, diner, PO and motel. Fortified by some lunch, we started hitching and got two great lifts; firstly from a Navajo family then from a Mormon family returning to Salt Lake City area. Back at the car we drove to Kanab for a welcome shower and fresh food. What a great trip down the fantastic Paria River!
Tuesday 27th September 2016 Our first backpack of this trip was to follow the Paria River down its lower section for about 40 miles or so to it’s confluence with the Colorado River. This was supposed to be one of the most spectacular canyon hikes around and we were so looking forward to it!
After an enjoyable morning hike in Snow Canyon state park near St George Utah, we drove east over to Kanab Utah to shop for food and then carried on about 40 miles east to the small Paria Visitor Center to pick up our permits for the hike.
We were told that a recent flash flood down the canyon had made hiking difficult with more water in the river, mud, quicksand and flood debris. Also that our intended start along a super narrow canyon called Buckskin Gulch for 14 miles before joining the Paria might not be possible due to deep pools and mud! We decided to still go for it but amended our plan to avoid the Buckskin start. However we still hoped to be able to explore a part of Buckskin from the main Paria river.
The dirt road was also closed a mile short of the start trailhead, as it had been washed out by the flood, so we parked our car by the closed signs and sorted our gear for the hike out on the dirt road. We then set off in lovely low light at about 5.30pm for a short evening hike and soon reached the trailhead with a register…..
We dropped down to the river in a wide basin and followed it down making many pleasant splashy ankle deep crossings. The bed was sandy and mostly easy although there were some soft patches of mud where we sunk down into its squelchy depths!
The river basin soon steepened to rocky canyon walls…..
After an hour or so we found a petroglyph site and soon after a sandy bench to set up camp. A grand start and it was great to back in canyon country!
Wednesday 28th September 2016 We had some rain overnight so we both dashed out to put the outer tent on for shelter- other than that there was a clear sparkly sky to enjoy. We awoke at 6.30 and after a fine muesli breakfast we both were up and keen to hike down the canyon. After a few miles the canyon walls constricted and we were in the famous ‘narrows’.
The scenery was splendid with huge twisting rock walls of ‘Navajo’ sandstone with lovely alcoves, holes and towers. The river occasionally reached both sides of the canyon but was never more than knee deep. Soon we reached the confluence with Buckskin Gulch and we decided to drop our backpacks and hike up Buckskin for a while to explore.
Buckskin was beautiful with it’s own character- narrower and darker than the Paria with only a tiny flow of water but mostly an easy flat sandy bottom. In 2014 we had hiked down from the other side of Buckskin 14 miles upstream for about an hour. We need to come back and complete the full traverse – it is unique and amazing!
Back at the Paria we hiked down more great canyon to ‘Big Spring’ – some lovely clear water gushing out of the canyon walls. We picked up water here and hiked on a bit to find another scenic camp on a raised sandy bench above the stream and under some cottonwoods. Today had been both successful and scenic. We both had injury fears before starting but the tremendous scenery, the warm weather in the 20’s C (but not too hot) and the variety of intermittent crossings of the river, sandy benches and occasional trail seemed to work wonders for us!
Thursday 29th September 2016 More rain with distant thunderstorms overnight so again we scrambled out to put the outer tent on! The river level was up and flowing faster in the morning as we headed down river to an area called the ‘Goose-necks’ – a particularly winding steep walled canyon section. This was one of the most dramatic hiking locations we have ever been in! We stopped at an old 1930’s cast iron pump ‘Adams Pump’ for a break- it was intended to be used to transport water from the river up a pipe onto the plateau to provide water for cattle. It never went into operation, and looked remarkably well preserved!
After lunch we left our backpacks again and explored another side canyon – ‘Wrather’ which had lush vegetation, deep red walls and a stunning arch higher up- it was definitely worth the trip.
After more, deeper splashing down river, we came across another petroglyph rock art before a good dripping spring. We filled up our water bottles then waded across the river to camp across from the spring. Spanish rice, tea and biscuits for dinner with canyon wren song, bats overhead and glistening stars – another great day!
We returned to the desert and canyons of southern Utah and northern Arizona in September/ October 2016. Two years ago we hiked and kayaked our own version of the Hayduke Trail. Having enjoyed it so much we returned this year with a rental car to hike to some other canyons and interesting places. Whilst we wouldn’t get the full immersion of a multi month hike such as the Hayduke, we were aiming to target some of the most spectacular places in the region with some trips ranging from 1 to 5 days.
You can see an overview in the interactive map below and read our blogs listed below too…
The route connecting the parks stays pretty much in public lands including the wonderful Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and numerous National Forests, BLM Districts, Primitive Areas, Wilderness Areas and Wilderness Study Areas. Our blog pages are below and our website pages have info for hikers and lots of links.
26th May Grand Canyon South Rim
We met up with Li Brannfors and friends Jen and Jasper who kindly let us stay with them in their South Rim national park lodgings. Today was a lovely relaxing day, catching up with things on the internet, eating lots and generally chilling out.
We reserved a campsite at Cottonwood Campground for our intended crossing of the Grand Canyon tomorrow to the North Rim. Well, it was almost booked out, but we got a place in the overflow mule area!
27th May Grand Canyon South Rim to Cottonwood Creek 18 miles
Alarm at 4.30 am Utah time (3.30 Arizona time!). Thanks to Li for a great stay!
Off hiking around 4.20 in the dark to reach the rim of the canyon again to start descending the Bright Angel trail into the canyon. We dropped height easily on a zigzagging path in a valley, soon heading into the shade of beautiful green cottonwoods and flowing water at Indian Creek campground.
Following good trail down easily into the inner gorge of the canyon led us into different rock types of schists and granites to the Colorado river itself. We were able to cross the river on a suspension bridge here and hiked a short distance to Phantom Ranch (this is a park lodge and campsite set in a deep side canyon near the bottom of the Grand). We made it by 8.20 am after a 10 mile easy, scenic and enjoyable descent. Both glad to have started so early though as it was already roasting (maybe 30 C) at Phantom Ranch even this early.
Picking up water, we had a look at the canteen and 1920’s style chalet buildings which all look pretty nice. But we headed on and now had the uphill part of the day ahead of us climbing towards the North Rim of the canyon on the popular North Kiabab trail. The hiking was on good trails, firstly following a stream flowing through a deep canyon made of ruptured schists and pegmatites- this rock scenery was very much like that in Scotland and was familiar to us!
The heat really cranked up though after about 1 and half hours hiking when the valley opened out and we had less shelter from the sizzling sun. A stop in the shade by the river revived us after we soaked our T-shirts in the river and wore them wet to cool us a little. It worked!
It was a relief to stop at a waterfall – ‘Ribbon Falls’ at 11 am for another cool down. We hid there from the sun for almost 6 hours under a deep mossy overhang with stalagtites; reading, dozing and chilling out under the waterfall. Some wild mint made for delicious tea and we had some frogs for company – perfect! Our thermometer recorded 36 C in the shade.
Eventually in the evening we hiked onwards, climbing up to Cottonwood campground which remained uncomfortably hot into the late evening.
The bridge over the Colorado River
28th May Grand Canyon Cottonwood Creek to North Rim 8 miles
It was uncomfortably hot overnight and at 3.30 am it was still 24 C and we decided to get up and hike on. Leaving at 4.20 am in the dark felt good and the trail was clear with head torches- climbing upwards towards the rim at 9,000 feet where we hoped it would be cooler!
Above Roaring Springs the light crept in and the scenery was beautiful with red rock walls and a ‘Dolomitic’ style trail traversing cliff edges. We made it to the top at the North Rim after about 3 hours and it was refreshingly chilly – it felt good to wear a fleece again. Also there was Ponderosa, White fir, Douglas fir and Aspen trees around, a great contrast to the dry inner Grand Canyon.
North Rim has a national park visitor centre, lodge, campsite and lots of tourists but is quiet compared with South Rim and we liked it. We find the laid back campers store and have a relaxed coffee and cake on the veranda- excellent!
Our dinner was a luxury mix of Idaho mash potato, black beans and salad, washed down with a bottle of Chardonnay- way hey! A campsite talk by park rangers on bats ends a wonderful relaxing day after the early start.
29th May North Rim rest day 4 miles
We were both happy to chill out today and take a stroll around the North Rim of the Grand Canyon for the views.
The evening park ranger talk is ‘Ravens’ – a specialty and love of Martina’s!
The heat of the inner Grand Canyon had been getting to us and we agree not to do the next section of the Hayduke which descends back into the canyon for a particularly tough hike where we felt that the heat would prevent us enjoying the marvelous scenery. We will need to come back earlier in spring or in autumn some day to do that!!!
Instead we decide to hike out north on the Arizona Trail tomorrow to the National Park entrance to complete a loop hike in the Grand Canyon National Park. Then to hitch back to near Zion National Park to do the final two days of the Hayduke Trail. It’s disappointing not to continue on the Hayduke but we would have been miserable hiking in these hot temperatures.
On the North Rim of Grand Canyon
30th May North Rim visitor centre to North park entrance on AZT 14 miles
After posting our ‘float box’ of spare supplies at the PO to Zion National Park, we hike north at around 9.40 am on the Arizona Trail. It was easy going through green forest of aspen and ponderosa in cool conditions at 9,000 feet – hoorah!
We caught up with another hiker- Shawney(?)- running the AZT, covering 30-45 miles per day. We caught him at our walking pace because he had run up from the bottom of the Grand Canyon in the morning and had now slowed down after that huge climb. After a fun chat we leave him and hike on and reach the north entrance of the park where we quickly hitched a lift north to Jacob Lake resort.
Hiking on the Arizona Trail through aspen
Brian at Jacobs Lake
31st May Jacob Lake to Kanab 0 miles
We took a day off today as Martina was feeling ill and we lucked out with a direct hitch to Kanab health centre (thanks!) and got taken straight away, diagnosed and antibiotics administered- our travel insurance was worth the money!