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Paria Canyon 1994

Tippey- iii aaaayyyy!! Cowww Pattieeee

It had been a long, long time since our last sip of water. It had been a long day, period. We had been "under pack" for over 12 hours already, and twilight was approaching with all the subtlety of a freight train. To say that we three were pretty much out of go-juice would have captured the essence of our situation. The descent off the plateau into this strange-feeling canyon had drained what little reserves we had left. It felt strange because my dehydrated brain could sense some incongruence between what I expected the final approach to the place we were heading - the main stream running through Hackberry Canyon - would be like and what I was experiencing as I looked around. George, who was out front by maybe 75 meters, called back as he began to round a bend: "Goddam - this canyon goes on forever!" I muttered "Oh shit!" under my breath, but Susie heard me. She stopped, stood up straight, took off her pack, and virtually threw it onto the ground. I could sense tears of frustration welling up in her eyes. "We are in the wrong damn canyon," she exclaimed. She was right ..........

Saturday, April 19   It had been billed as a leisurely trip, into a rarely visited canyon system in Southern Utah. Sure, Paria canyon has an entire guidebook devoted to it and its human history. [We had met Mike Kelsey in 1987 in Lower Paria (the stretch which is much more frequently used) when he was writing the guidebook seven years previously. He wrote up the story of the rattlesnakes we saw at our campsite just up from the mouth of Buckskin Gulch, and included it in some of his rambling discourse on the area. (Kelsey's books have really opened up Canyon Country, but he does "go on" a bit.) Today, if you look at a copy of his Fourth Edition of the Canyon Hiking guide to the Colorado Plateau, and read the write up on Lower Paria, you will see a photo he took of my ex-wife Sunny, and our friends BJ and Earl hiking toward him that morning.] But Lower Paria gets the lion's share of the hiker traffic, and Upper Paria (the section north of US 89) gets all the solitude. Our plan was to do a leisurely stroll up the Paria, taking plenty of time to explore side canyons, exploiting short hiking days and layover days. Our only real challenge of the trip was the crossing of the waterless plateau between Paria and Hackberry Canyons. We would then stroll down Hackberry, and finish up a week after we started.

In keeping with the "leisure" theme of this trip, we had not even bothered to leave Las Vegas and do a 2.5 hour drive after working all day and flying half the night, which seems to be our usual practice. The trailhead being "only" 269 miles from McCarren International, we had opted to spend the evening on the beautiful Las Vegas strip, at the La Quinta. We got up fairly early, and were underway by 7:30 am Pacific Time. We drove up I-15, and then headed east of St. George, Utah, stopping for lunch at that nadir of culinary delights, the Subway in Kanab, Utah. Will, always marching to the tune of his own drummer, declared that it was too early for lunch, and grabbed the largest single cinnamon bun I have ever seen. It was probably suitable for both his breakfast and lunch. Another leisurely aspect of this trip was the near absence of a car shuttle. Normally, canyon trips for us are one-way adventures. You leave a car at the end of the trip, squeeze everyone and their packs into one 15 passenger van, and bump and grind our way to the start of the trip. At the end of the backpack, the drivers usually come out 2 -3 hours ahead of everyone else, so they can get the cargo vehicle back to the ending spot not too long after the main party arrives. On this trip, the start and end point were only a couple of miles apart (the distance between the entrance to Upper Paria and the exit of Hackberry). The car shuttle was run while many of us were replenishing the depleted nitrogen content around several of the local flora.

Also in keeping - I guess - with the leisurely aspect of things, we did not get started hiking until around 2:15 pm Mountain Time. It always takes a large crew a bit of time to get rolling. Eleven of us had decided to do the trip: Susie and I, George, the engineer who, after leaving Westinghouse a few years ago because he decided he loved East Tennessee too much to move when the company decided to relocate him, started his own company which was now at 90+ employees, and growing; Will, an attorney in private practice, his spouse Barbara, another attorney for a local banking company, Sue and Andy, our scientist friends from Texas, Samantha (Sam), an economist/risk assessor/project manager with SAIC, her husband Kevin, an environmental engineer who was in the process of renouncing his profession for a less lucrative but more rewarding life as a running store entrepreneur; Barbara A., a secretary in Nutritional Services for the State of Tennessee; and Lance, an engineer with ORNL. We were sorely missing our buddy Ray, who has joined us on most of these adventures. Unfortunately, he had broken his back a couple of years ago, and needed some additional surgery to fix things. It was just too soon after the cutting for him to be doing a long backpack.

As usual, I was near the rear of the pack, spending more time photographing than walking. Very quickly, I could see part of our crew talking with a couple of folks in a pickup, that apparently had been driving down the river canyon. They were part of a ranching operation that grazed government subsidized cattle in the lower part of Upper Paria. Oh joy: it looked like we would be hiking through miles of fresh cow shit. I trudged along, the loose sand and the jet lag doing a number on me. It was also fairly warm. The first few miles of the hike is not particularly interesting. The canyon is very broad - probably two miles, rim-to-rim. The floor of the canyon is at least a quarter mile across. It is open, hot, and the water is not especially inviting. It is more the color of café-au-lait. But I knew it would be getting better, and the interesting erosional patterns in some of the rock walls were adequately distracting. Soon, we came upon the scourge of canyon country, hamburger on the hoof. For some reason related to the clout of some of the western politicians, who, based on their degree of environmental savvy, sound more like they come from 1844, rather than 1994, the government continues to subsidize grasing on these environmentally sensitive lands, essentially waving 90% of the normal fee for grazing cattle on such country. Most of the ranchers seem to feel that they have a god-given right to the government dole, even though they are usually against welfare in every other form. They are preserving a way of life, they say. We could have probably said as much about the buggy whip manufacturers in 1930. From my point of view, we pay way too high a price, in terms of damage to native Indian artifacts, destruction of habitat, and competition with native fauna, to continue to allow such government-subsidized destruction of this lovely region of the world. But that's just my opinion.

The cows seemed to be ahead of us in a big herd. To relieve the unpleasantness of the dust, the mooing, and the fresh cow crap, we all started singing the them to 1950's show: Rawhide. "Rollin', rollin', rollin', keep them doggies movin', Rawwhhhiiddeee ......" A comedic scene, if it hadn't been so darn dusty. But it kept our spirits up. And I think eventually, it grossed out the cows, these crazy huge humans signing the stupid sounds. Finally, we out-distanced the bovines. I was reminded of the line from the Don Henley song: "She stared at him, uncomprehendingly, like cows at a passing train." Some folks had stopped at some buildings near the Old Pariah townsite, but while they may have had some historic significance, to me, they just looked like old shacks.

It took us about 4 hours from the trailhead to our campsite - such that it was - across from the mouth of Hogeye Canyon. While the canyon was starting to narrow a bit, there were no big trees. We just spread out on a bench among the sage, and were happy to stop. Susie and I put up our Sierra Designs Clip 3. It is a great desert hiking tent. Not too heavy, lots of room, at least at the head of the tent, and pretty good ventilation. We got water out of the small creek that flows out of Hogeye, and I took my requisite "bath," dealing, as always, with Susie's comments to the effect that I did not really need one, since I had only hiked for four hours. Maybe so, but it sure felt good. We found a place big enough to form the usual dinner circle, and all tried to eat our heaviest meal. It is a strange thing: we carry some really nice dinners into the backcountry, but rush to eat them us to lighten our load. Someone, I forget who, suggested that we could just eat all our food the first day, so we would have really light packs the rest of the trip.

Next day

© Roger A. Jenkins, 1994, 2000