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Wire Pass / Buckskin Gulch, Grand Staircase-Escalante NM, UT

Trail Map


When I was planning this trip to Utah, I was hoping to get a permit to hike The Wave...alas, that was not to be. Three months ahead (I applied for July in March) 150-300 people apply for each day and they randomly draw 10 permits for each day on the first of the month after registration, in my case on April 1....they also give out 10 the day before at the BLM office in Kanab. And that's it.

But Vermilion Cliffs is beautiful, and when I was googling images for The Wave I also got hits for Buckskin Gulch, which also looked great, and is a DAY HIKE. So I decided that if I couldn't do the Wave (or even if I could) I would also hike some of Buckskin Gulch.

Now, when you google Buckskin Gulch, one of the things you find out is that it's one of the ten most dangerous hikes in the country; it's a slot canyon, and it is fed by rainfall all the way back to Bryce Canyon; if there are clouds in the sky, you really don't want to hike there.

I made the mistake of gleefully reading this article to Doug while I was planning this trip; he was really worried, and I promised him repeatedly that I would not do it if there was any danger. Which, truthfully, I wouldn't- getting killed was not in my plans for this trip.

Buckskin Gulch is several miles long, and the best way to get to it is to take BLM 1065, a well-graded dirt road that runs between the 89 in Utah and the 89A in Arizona. Wire Pass is just within Grand Staircase-Escalante NM, but Buckskin Gulch goes south and joins onto Paria Canyon, which crosses the state border and runs into Vermilion Cliffs NM in Arizona.

There was a huge rain/thunder/lighting/hail storm the night before, so I was prepared to A) not be able to get to the trailhead (I was told that some of the road was down a streambed) and B) not be able to hike due to mud or water...when I got to the parking lot, I talked to some folks there (there were half a dozen cars, this was not deserted by any means) and they said a couple of rangers had hiked in about ten minutes before; I talked to others who had seen the elusive rangers, and the rangers were telling everyone that it was safe to hike Buckskin Gulch, that it was dry going north, and that there was a lot of mud going south, but no danger.

So I was cheered up...and off I went!

The trailhead map. Yes, you can get to the Wave from here...but if the rangers see you and you don't have a permit pinned to your backpack and clearly visible, you are in SERIOUS trouble. Yup. Globe Mallow
The trail started up a wash, with beautiful colored rocks. There were clouds coming and going all day, but there wasn't any rain, thank goodness.
And now it gets interesting...not only is Buckskin Gulch a slot canyon, the second half of Wire Pass is too!
The BLM lady had told me about this...a 6 foot drop...in the first pic, I'm looking down on my stick, which I threw down before I slid over it. In the second, I'm looking back at it, including the rope that one is supposed to use to get back up. I ended up getting a lift from a nice young man, so easy peasy.
Wire Pass alone was incredibly beautiful and fun; it would have been a great hike, even without Buckskin Gulch. It was 1 3/4 miles from the parking lot up Wire Pass to the entrance to Buckskin Gulch, which flows into the Paria River and through Vermilion Cliffs.
This overhang is right before the intersection; some nice people took my picture. Here's Buckskin Gulch... and just on the other side of the overhang is a wall of petroglyphs!
This was my favorite.> And I've turned north into the gulch. The rock walls were AMAZING.
You can see the trail, and also where the water from the night before (and previous storms) has dried.
The rock had lovely colors and stripes. And there were a whole lot of lines of holes in the rock, very cool looking! Especially the face!
The mud is very thick, about an inch and a half. Selfie! As I continued north, the walls got lower and less steep.
More beautiful canyons, striped mud, and a really pretty plant...no idea what it is, maybe a mallow, from the leaves.
And I'm back at the intersection, about to go south down Buckskin Gulch. I had talked to a couple on their way back, who said the mud was pervasive but not deep (and showed me their hiking boots covered in it, but not over the top.) And of course the rangers had said it was safe to hike, clouds in the sky notwithstanding. So I thought, I'll go south a bit and see what it looks like and how bad the mud is...
And...here's the mud. And it's not just mud, it's sticky stinking nasty mud...and I'm living in my truck and REALLY don't want that smell in there with me. So I decided to go til I couldn't go foreward without getting it all over my boots. The pic to the left shows a place where you can cross the mud on rocks...then a place where someone had thrown a rock into the mud, you can see that it's about 3 inches deep...and the last picture is where I turned back. You can't really see it, but the canyon is side-to-side mud pool...and I said, enough. That was about half a mile to the south, so at that point I had done a mile and a half of it in both directions together.
And as I was crossing the rocks back to the dry place...dammit! my foot slipped and my hiking boot was COVERED in sticky stinking mud. It actually dried out completely by the time I got back to the truck, but ew ew ew. Flowers! Yellow Spiderflower, to be exact.
Interesting rock marks Pale Evening Primrose Some kind of purple aster.
I'm back at the intersection; one more pic of the lovely petroglyphs, and Wire Pass in the actual sunshine!
And I hiked out...I picked up a flake of dried mud, very thin and fragile and beautiful. The hills were lovely, and here come the thunderstorms again...