Part 4: Bryce to the Paria
April 3oth, 2018
Got up, refilled the water, and jumped on the Grand View Trail in Dixie National Forest and started climbing up toward the Pink Cliffs.
This first climb of the morning could have been bypassed via a road walk across private property — but I wanted to avoid that. Also, the higher elevation afforded me some great views down Meadow Canyon and to the tops of the White Cliffs in the distance. Funny — all the climbing didn’t seem that bad and the trail was a welcome relief from the large dose of road-walking the day before. I’d done this segment of trail twelve years ago and it really kicked my butt. But, that was four days into my very first “big hike”and I really wasn’t prepared (gear-wise, physically, or mentally.)
As I crossed the first valley I found a running stream and then continued up to the next pass. Soon I got to Horse Hollow. In 2006 I took a direct short-cut from here to Riggs Spring. It looks easy on a map, but I really don’t recommend it due to the brushy/steep terrain. I am curious if there might be a better “high route” up towards the pass, but this time I was content to stay on the trail. So instead of exploring I followed the trail down to Lower Podunk Trailhead and then back up into Bryce the more traditional way.
Once at Riggs Spring I filled up my water jugs and then headed up toward Yavimpa Pass. I’d never gone this way and was curious to check it out — it’s actually a slightly shorter route to Rainbow Point. It was a fairly short jaunt through the forest before I was climbing up underneath the Pink Cliffs. A spring trickled across the trail in a few spots, but this probably isn’t likely later into the season. Soon I was at the saddle and passed the designated camping spot before following the rim to the north. Just a short step off the trail provides great views over the top of the hoodoo cliffs and down to the Paria area in the distance.
Talking a short break I realized the temperature had dropped quite a bit and it was borderline chilly. I’d gained substantial elevation today and still had some more to go before topping out at over 9000′ at Rainbow Point.
Arriving at Rainbow Point it was odd to be back in “civilization” again. So many people — after not seeing another soul for 1.5 days. I made use of the restroom/trash facilities (no water) and then I lingered a bit at the viewpoints. As I began to leave I noticed the cell towers so I checked my phone. Sure enough, full service including strong 4G access (Verizon). I did another break to do check in and posted some stuff before soon heading down the Under-the-Rim Trail as the temperature continued to drop.
This next section of trail is pretty great as it follows a ridge-line of orange hills to the east before looping back underneath the cliffs. I was surprised to find Birch Spring dry, but was able to fill up at Iron Spring just a ways up the trail. Soon after that I headed cross-country out of the park where I would camp along a ridge in the National Forest. It was a chilly night, but I still didn’t expect…
… to wake up to this:
There was probably 2-3″ of snow that had fallen overnight. It was still coming down as well, but not very hard thankfully. Once again it zapped my motivation to leave the tent, but eventually it had to be done. Got everything packed up made double-sure not to lose anything in the snow again and then headed out. As I dropped elevation the snow quickly stopped and then quickly started to melt from the ground. Chunks of the wet snow still clung to the low branches of the pine trees though. One of my favorite memories of the trip was taking handful after handful as I walked by as treat. It was like a pine-flavored snow-cone and a good substitute for water!
Before too long I was away from any sign of snow, but then… it began to hail. This soon turned to rain as I walked along the upper reaches of Willis Creek. I followed the road as it crosses a small parcel of private land. I didn’t meet any friendly horses this time. Walking south was pretty miserable as it was still chilly and I was walking into a light rain. I left the road where I’d hoped to find a cross-country route over to upper Bull Valley Gorge, but I soon found that the saddle I needed to climb over was a muddy mess. Therefore I opted to go farther south and look for an old road that climbed out of the valley and over the mesa. Sure enough — it was where I’d noted it on the map and looked as if it was still used by some.
It stopped raining as I made my way across the mesa, but looking west to Bryce it looked like it was really getting pounded by the storm. I had a bad feeling that Bull Valley Gorge was going to be really difficult if not impossible to descend in these conditions, but I had to go that way as my next cache was near the trailhead. Half way across the mesa it looked possible to short-cut to BVG, but I instead followed the road to where it intersected Skutumpah Road about a mile east of BVG — it was a good mindless walk.
NOTE: Bull Valley Gorge is somewhat infamous for the earth bridge which crosses over the slot canyon. This was the site of an accident in 1950s. The truck slipped off the road and fell into the canyon killing all three passengers. The wreckage could still be seen in the canyon upon my visit in 2018 — but evidently collapsed (at least partially) in spring 2019.
Arriving at my hidden cache site I saw one of my shirts nearby on the ground! Upon closer inspection there was a rip in my cache bag (the shirt had just been tucked inside outer bag.) I soon realized that a critter had gotten into my cache, but fortunately it seemed to give up hope and/or lose interest as only one of my dehydrated meals had been partially compromised. This is the first time ever that any of my caches had been broken into. I cut corners on this cache and didn’t use a rugged shipping bag like I’ve become of fan of doing. Inside I just double bagged the cache in a regular plastic and covered it in a paper bag. Evidently that wasn’t good enough — though I’m glad it wasn’t worse considering I’d left the cache nearly 3 weeks prior.
Once I got the re-supply packed away, I headed up to the top end of the Bull Valley Gorge and looked for the way to drop in. A side-entrance climb helps one bypass the drop (and frequent pool) in the uppermost end. I went down without my bag just to check out conditions. I soon found exactly what I’d feared just a few hundred meters down canyon — a soupy mess of deep mud.
I tried to fight through it for a ways, but it was a slow go. I quickly decided that there was no way I wanted to fight through this with the big pack — especially since I knew there were a few climbing obstacles farther ahead. So, so I turned around. Back at the exit climb I was really glad I hadn’t brought the big pack down in with me as I struggled to get out! It’s really not a hard climb — it’s just awkward as one has to pull him/herself up through a tight crack. It made me realize that I’m not as agile as I used to be!
Somewhat deflated I took a few more pics along the canyon rim and then road-walked towards the Willis Creek Narrows as the back-up plan. As the dreary day grew late I decided to camp near the top so that I could enjoy the walk through the narrows in the morning with better light.
Woke up to another dreary day. By the time I got down and into the narrows it was socked-in and raining. Not a flood-educing downpour by any means, just a Seattle-like steady drizzle.
The rain actually put a nice shine on the walls giving the canyon a unique look compared to when I’d seen it on previous trips. Another benefit of the rain… it must have scared away all the other hikers! This canyon is becoming more and more popular, so it was cool to have it all to myself!
The rain subsided some after I left the slot. Before long I was down at the confluence with Sheep Creek. I took a moment to check out petroglyphs/cowboyglyphs in this area which I’d never tracked down before. They were cool to see — but probably not worth hiking there as an out-and-back. Unfortunately a few bends farther down the canyon another wall was covered in more modern graffiti (much from the last few years!) I fail to understand why people think this is cool or those who argue that it’s the same as “historical” rock art. It’s not.
Before long the rain began again. The hardest yet. Then… it turned to hail. It continued long enough to actually accumulate in patches on the ground in some areas. I took cover for a while in an alcove. When it lightened up a bit — I decided to press on.
Soon I was at the bottom end of Bull Valley Gorge. I went quite a ways out of my way to avoid the muddy mess — but something tells me it was for the best. As I continued down the canyon the intermittent rain also continued.
Not too far before arriving at the Paria, I took a break in a small overhang to escape the rain. As I was sitting there relaxing I heard what sounded like gunfire! As I shifted my focus to across the canyon to where the sound originated, I saw big slab of slickrock high above sliding down the upper cliffs. The slab was about 5×5′ wide, but probably less than 1 foot thick. That was still large enough to make quite the ruckus as it broke and crumbled as it “sled” over the upper rim and then crashed to the canyon floor below. Such a sight to see — I just wish I’d had my camera running!
Soon the rain let up and I was at the confluence with the Paria River. Continue reading… Part 5: The Upper Paria.