May 7, 2008
This is the 3rd time I’ve run the Buckskin-Paria Loop. Since I don’t normally like to do the same thing twice, that’s saying something.
Guidebook author Michael Kelsey calls Buckskin “The longest and best all-around slot canyon hike in the world”. That’s saying something too!
We all love going to various mountains here in North America, but every continent has mountains, most of which are actually taller, harder to climb, or more spectacular than here. But there is no place in the world like the canyons of the Colorado Plateau.
Buckskin starts out in the dry, desolate, sandy flats just east of Page, Arizona. After a few miles running in the sandy wash, the Navaho Sandstone walls rear up on either side, then start to grow closer and closer together. Then it’s like entering another world – the light grows dim, casting reddish glows filtered from above, the temperature drops 20 degrees, sounds echo off the rock, you want to touch the rock and feel its texture as you run by, and you look up and realize it is completely impossible to get of out of here except by going back the way you came or to keep going forward. Slot canyons are unique.
Decades ago when I first ran this route, “Skip” was the best source of info, a BLM employee who lived alone in a trailer at the trailhead; literally the “lone ranger”. It was a hard life and he unfortunately died in a car crash. More fortunately, the BLM now has a Visitor Center of sorts at the TH, and a highly informative website.
This is an ideal running route. Leave one car at the White House TH and ride your shuttle car to the Buckskin TH, or leave your only car 2 miles up the road at the Visitor Center and hitchike to the TH, 10 miles away. Then it’s about 16 miles down Buckskin, most of which is in narrows, some of which is only one meter wide. Reaching the confluence with the Paria, it may be possible to fill a bottle in the shallow seeps in the sandy bottom. Regardless, turn left back up the Paria to the White House TH and Visitor Center. The total distance is probably 25 miles. The guidebook says 1-2 days; our trip was 5:44 – an ideal length for fun and enjoyment.
Bonus trip: Buckskin is also the TH for “The Wave”, an interesting Navaho Sandstone upland formation that has become wildly popular with Europeans. Only 20 people per day are allowed in The Wave; 10 spots pre-filled via Internet, and 10 spots are day-of by a lottery; you put your name in a squirrel cage at 9 AM and they draw spots at 9:50 AM. 60 people were standing around in a hot dusty parking lot hoping to be one of the ten when we were there; I suggest you not be among them.
Since you’re presumably going to the desert to avoid rather than increase aggravation, try The Wave in the off-season, or for a better (but full day) alternative, run the entire Paria Canyon. From the same White House TH to the Lees Ferry TH it is about 40 miles, and is another great route. There are good springs in the lower Paria, and good commercial shuttle services to get you to the top (one-way down-stream is the only sensible way to run it).
The Buckskin-Paria Loop remains the best in it’s class however (see more photo’s here). There is no number limit on day trips, there is a $5/pp self-pay at the TH system in place, and you will enjoy. Bring enough water, and don’t go into this or any other slot if it looks like it might rain!