This area of the Paria Canyon - Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness - is beyond stunning. We spent a day exploring the weird and colourful landscape in this restricted access wilderness.
Acts of Congress in 1984 and 1990 established 47 protected areas in Arizona to preserve the last remaining true wilderness. Paria Canyon - Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness is one of the most spectacular wilderness regions in the whole of the US. 112,500 acres from the 3000ft escarpment along the southern edge of the Vermilion Cliffs to the magnificent landscape of Coyote Buttes with its weird rock formations, domes and natural amphitheatres, brilliant colours, striated sandstone and vast views.
Some parts have very restricted access, including North and South Coyote Buttes where the number of visitors is very strictly controlled, only twenty people per day are allowed into each area. Permits are required and can either be obtained online or at a ranger station the day before you want to hike. We had obtained permits for South Coyote Buttes in the early planning stages of our trip but then the erupting Icelandic Volcano meant we were delayed for a month - we notified the rangers so these permits could be used by others. Fortunately we managed to get permits on a walk-in basis when we did actually get here.
The I89A skirts the southern edge of the Vermilion Cliffs west of Page - they could be used in a geography lesson as a classic illustration of an escarpment!
As we were in the area to apply for the permit, we decided to explore more accessible parts of the wilderness. The Ranger at Paria Station suggested Buckskin Gulch so off we went, but off I89 it is 8.5 miles of unpaved, fairly rough track, and we were in a hire car, so we backtracked and opted for the more easily accessible Toadstool Hoodoos. In fact, the parking is off the highway, just east of the ranger station, then it's a walk of about three quarters of a mile into peaceful backcountry, eventually climbing to the weird hoodoos - flat stones perched on columns.
A toadstool forms when soft rock below a harder boulder erodes away leaving a sheltered column of soft rock and the boulder perched on top.
The rocks range in colour from white through pinks to deep red. At the end of the hike, where the hoodoos are located, underfoot is pure rock - not quite slickrock as it's quite rough, and the plants are mostly tough-looking grass and flowering yucca.
Near the parking there were quite a few different types of flowering plants, all looking very hardy.
This is a highly recommended little hike, though it can be quite easy to lose the trail on the way in.
We went with a guide from Paria outpost which is just a little further along from the Ranger Station on Highway 89 heading west. Kurt Robinson was a wonderful guide, being himself a very keen photographer so was able to give us some good tips. And the weather was amazing. We had an early start and at first we thought we were going to be unlucky as it was overcast, but the clouds cleared away, leaving us in sunshine, with thunderstorms rumbling in the distance which made for some very interesting skies.
There are no roads, no facilities of any kind and everything brought into the area must be taken out at the end of the visit. We were in a huge 4WD vehicle, just us, one other couple and Kurt. From the Cottonwood Cove trailhead it was two hours drive, mostly on dirt road and quite a bit of rough rock and sand.
Then over a period of three hours we hiked around this amazing landscape. Sometimes it was quite strenuous over uphill sand, but mostly it was rock underfoot with magnificent scenery all around: wildly striated mountains, orange sand dunes, strangely twisted formations and vividly colourful stone.
We had a good outdoor picnic lunch - Paria Outpost who'd arranged this day provided the lunch of sandwiches made to order in the morning, crisps, choc chip cookies and sodas, plus apples and granola bars during the hike and plenty of water. They also provided an indoor "barbecue" dinner at the end of the day.
I was captivated by this landscape and found it hard to be selective in what I photographed - every turn opened up another wonderful vista.
Then on to White Pocket: domes of white rock on the edge of a vast plain. In some places the rock surface is symmetrically cracked and looks unnervingly like a huge exposed brain! Canyons, pinnacles, huge vistas across the plains and wonderful skies from the distant storms - fabulous photography weather.
The colours in these sandstone rocks are quite amazing, from delicate yellows through shades of pink to deep orange; folded in layers and capped by dazzling white.
The silence during our wanderings was wonderful. The climbing wasn't too strenuous, though quite steep in places. A hat was essential and best to wear light clothing for protection from the sun.
We didn't see another soul all day. The peace was like being in a desert - absolutely nothing to be heard but the breeze and distant rumbles of thunder. We returned to Paria Outpost tired but exhilirated by the wonderful day we'd had.