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The Paria Provides A Desert Dwellers Tale

Written by: Kalen Thorien

Where: Buckskin Gulch/Paria Canyon Start: Wire Pass Trailhead Finish: Lees Ferry

48 miles 2 states 4 days/3 nights One overnight permit Two cameras Three liters of wine One liter of Tequila Two limes 24 Andes Chocolates

“Holy sh** this is cold” I said to Elliot as I dipped into the first murky pool of Buckskin Gulch. November had chilled the water into the low 40s and the first few steps gripped the inside of my stomach almost instantly. The muddy hue of the pool made it impossible to see the bottom forcing every step to be a tad precarious. The thought of walking off into nothingness, completely submerging yourself wasn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility. I giggled as I waded across, goo swallowing my feet and mud caking my clothes as I reappeared on the other side. “Dirty is good”, I thought to myself – this is going to be a fun four days.

You would think three weeks in the Grand Canyon followed by a weekend down in Escalante would give any desert aficionado their fix, but less than a week back home my feet were getting antsy and my heart ready for another adventure. I’ve had my eye on Buckskin Gulch all summer but alas lack of permits and/or bad weather had prohibited me from seeing this gem. One night I checked permit availability for the hell of it and there she was, two spots up for grabs wedged between days that were sold out. I tapped my fingers and shuffled around for a bit. Staring at my computer screen I debated the pros and cons. Seeing as I couldn’t find any cons (at least not ones with enough magnitude to justify NOT seeing this beautiful place) I slammed a beer, punched in my credit card, and before I knew it was meeting my friend and photographer Elliot Bernhagen at Lees Ferry for our shuttle.

We dropped off my car, hopped in his truck and made our way to Wire Pass (about an hour away). At the trailhead we found fellow explorers and quickly made friends with a rad Swiss couple traveling the country by van. Sipping on wine and tequila, we chatted into the night until heavy eyes drew us to bed. Dreams of slot canyons and desert exploration weaved in and out of my mind as I drifted off to sleep.

The next morning hot coffee and banana pancakes were on the menu. Elliot showed me a great basic recipe that involved a couple eggs, smashed banana, vanilla, cinnamon, and granola. Mix together and start makin cakes! Topped with yogurt and jelly, this quickly became my new favorite breakfast item. We hit the trail around 9 a.m. and the grandeur that is Buckskin Gulch was well under way.

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Kalen Thorien 2 (Photo by Elliot Bernhagen)

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Kalen Thorien 4 (Photo by Elliot Bernhagen)

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Kalen Thorien 8 (Photo by Elliot Bernhagen)

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Kalen Thorien 10 (Photo by Elliot Bernhagen)

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Kalen Thorien 15 (Photo by Elliot Bernhagen)

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Kalen Thorien 19 (Photo by Elliot Bernhagen)

Day two would greet us with chilly temps and feet slightly weary of being immersed in frigid waters. But the warm glow of the canyon quickly inspired our bodies and we began to make our way along the Paria River through the massive canyon. Towering walls and vivid colors were a delight to the eyes. The stoke was high…

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Kalen Thorien 22 (Photo by Elliot Bernhagen)
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Kalen Thorien 26 (Photo by Elliot Bernhagen)
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Kalen Thorien 28 (Photo by Elliot Bernhagen)

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After a long day, we stumbled upon a very much established camp…well established in the sense that someone took the time to shuffle rocks around creating tables and chairs. The home-like sense of the area was too much to turn down. We dropped our packs and enjoyed our last night in the Paria.

Exploring the camp surroundings, we came across a very zen like rock garden fellow travelers had feng shui-ed and created sculptures of all variety. Formed from a deteriorated river bed, the plethora of unique rocks was vast! The combination of our destructive feet plus the captivating stones made it impossible to move. We stood frozen trying to negotiate some escape in our minds that wouldn’t completely destroy what felt like our little universe. The energy of that place was almost inexplainable. Millions of years of geology combined with the stories of people that have crossed this same path gave an aura of spirituality, enlightenment. This indeed was a holy place…

Kalen Thorien 31 (Photo by Elliot Bernhagen)

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