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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.

In we go!

Photo by Elliot Bernhagen

Elliot attempting a stem.

Photo by Elliot Bernhagen

Onward. Photo by Elliot Bernhagen

Impressive to see how high this canyon floods.

Truly stunning light in Buckskin.

A glimpse. Photo by Elliot Bernhagen

Welcomed warm up

Back in we go. Photo by Elliot Bernhagen

Starry eyes and stripes forever. Photo by Elliot Bernhagen

Colors are changing

As well as the leaves.

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Mud art. Photo by Elliot Bernhagen

Sandstone spring. Photo by Elliot Bernhagen

Truly wonderful

Spa treatment and welcomed respite for the feet at the confluence and our camp for the night.

Sleep is very much optional when under canyon walls and starry skies. 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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The royal entrance. Photo by Elliot Bernhagen

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Elliot getting cracked out.

Night two camp aka Tequila Beach 2.

The next morning we continued on as the canyon began to widen and the plant life became more substantial. Photo by Elliot Bernhagen

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Photo by Elliot Bernhagen

Photo by Elliot Bernhagen

Out of the canyon and into the desert expanse. Photo by Elliot Bernhagen

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…

Photo by Elliot Bernhagen

Zen and the art of rock stacking..

Nice little arrowhead was found amongst the rocky river bed.

Photo by Elliot Bernhagen

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The next morning we only had a few hours of hiking before arriving at the car. The Colorado River where I had spent three weeks just a month prior was clear and green. Looking back at Paria Canyon the feeling was bittersweet. Bliss, joy, tranquility, euphoria…all emotions lined with a sorrow knowing this was the last camping trip of the year. I can say with complete confidence that was the most beautiful canyon I’ve ever had the privilege of backpacking through. Never have I had such an overwhelming feeling of pure gratitude; a gratitude that didn’t stem from a particular moment, scenery, or thought. It merely grew from the spirit of the Paria, from this wild place, and nothing but a content, calm sense of self flowed through my body. Everything in its right place.

Perhaps the desert has a piece of my spirit, of our spirit, that is only revealed when we take the time to walk into the depths of its soul, to breathe in the abundant warmth, to feel the sand between our toes and the vast expanse of uninhibited beauty. Created from this earth and eventually returning to it, we are but a speck of time in the history of places like this yet it selflessly gives each individual a lifetime of priceless wisdom and knowledge. When you go into such a place you have the opportunity to discover the best version of yourself; to silence all outer woes and focus on the simplistic power that is the desert and your being.

As Mia Hollow said, “Listen to the call of your authentic self…”

This is your life, your gift, and your opportunity.

Now go.

Images are a mix of Kalen Thorien and Elliot Bernhagen’s. Photos by Elliot are indicated underneath the image.

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