Monday, April 24th, 2023, 0650-1945
Lower Hackberry Trailhead \ Yellow Rock alt. to Paria River 0.5 mile south of Sheep River
20.5 miles, elevation 5230′
It rained for awhile overnight, but it was light rain. The wind really picked up several times but luckily the trees kept me sheltered. Everything was pretty damp and covered in sand in the morning. Still, I felt like we’d been extremely lucky with hardly any precipitation during the days, mostly just when we’d already been in our tents. I couldn’t complain. We got ready early and immediately started up the alternate trail to Yellow Rock. It’s a giant dome of yellowish and orange sandstone. Its rise is gentle enough that one can easily summit. We gained the top under perfect light conditions, with the sun just warming the brilliant colors…reds, pinks, and whites too. It was a beautiful slab of sandstone.
Amazing all the colors, textures and wavy lines. Plus all the potholes were full from the recent rain, reflecting the sunlight like so many mirrors. I was also very excited because I could see all the way into Arizona, including the Vermilion Cliffs, Kaibab Plateau and parts of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, still covered in snow. It seemed like it hadn’t been that long ago that we were in Moab.
We stayed on top for awhile, playing with our phones (service!). I also looked at my peak finder app, trying to note significant points. There are a lot of “nipples” in Utah. We finally came down, going cross country across several drainages until we came to an old cattle trail leading to the Paria River. We’d followed Hackberry Canyon south for 20 some miles, now it was time to follow this river upstream the same. The Hayduke doesn’t go in a direct manner but rather loves to follow canyons up and down, like in a V or W-pattern. We could have walked the road from Grosvenor Arch straight into the town of Tropic, missing the canyons and saving 30 some miles, but where’s the fun in that?
The Paria drains portions of Bryce and the mountains to the north, so we were afraid it might be running high from the snow melt. It sure was very silty, a light chocolate brown, much like the Dirty Devil. But the water was pretty shallow and the bottom firm. The river also was frequently braided, making the crossings even easier. We had to cross so many times, I didn’t bother keeping count. Probably something like 50 or 60. Even though there wasn’t much quick mud, I still managed to find a spot or two that got me worse than any canyon yet. I sunk almost up to my knees once but I just lunged forward and crawled out, laughing. It’s not like how it’s shown in the movies, where it sucks a whole body under in seconds. But it was fascinating, hard to tell where it was and once spotted, it reverberated like jello when tapped with a trekking pole. We encountered it so much, it became just another thing that sometimes happens but didn’t worry me anymore.
We did a ton of side trips in the afternoon. First we searched for evidence of the old Pariah townsite, but found none. Nearby was also an old movie set location where they filmed tons of westerns, but the set is no longer there. We passed a hiker sitting near the river while we were walking up high along a bench. He looked like Mac but we didn’t see how it was possible that he caught up to us, given our shorter alternate days before. We waved and he waved back. We kept going since we planned to take a lunch break just around the bend, figuring whoever it was would come by us then. Of course it was Mac, hiking fast like a man possessed. It’s been funny that whenever we pulled ahead, he always came surging back. Our bubble had been keeping pretty much the same pace since Moab.
We took our lunch break at Hogeye creek, collecting clear water from the side stream. Mac continued on, hopeful to get to town by nightfall. We had more side trips planned. The first was a petroglyph panel at the mouth of Deer creek. They were really cool, with various intricate designs we could only guess at. They must have been spectacular 1000 years ago. These special places usually also come with cowboyglyphs or graffiti: white male names and dates from the late 1800s and early 1900s. Depending on how old the native art is, it can often be out of reach as the cliff sides erode away. But sadly some of the cowboy stuff is carved right over the top of the ancient artwork, as if the white settlers’ egos needed to be reassured even more. Ergo, some Mormon dudes boring name is more important than a fantastical design of an eagle or snake by our early ancestors. Dick swinging is what it was. I wonder how much artwork was lost due to such misguided mindsets?
Our next stop was at Crack Pipe spring, whereby there is a crack in the canyon wall where water spurts out. Some genius stuck a PVC pipe a ways into the crack and voila, water spigot! It was absolutely gushing and since the area was miraculously also free of cow pies, we decided to have our dinners there. It was a really nice spot, long known by evidence of all the cowboy graffiti. We pushed on, still having 2 side trips on our agenda and it being nearly 7 pm. At Lone Rock (big isolated rock pillar in the river), we climbed the hill a ways to a balanced rock formation. It was cool but our late arrival didn’t allow for much time to be spent there. I did note more cowboy graffiti etched on the rock…of course.
Our last stop was Asay (ACDC) canyon. We went a very quick distance up to see the slot portion. It was short and sweet, very fun and worth a side trip. But the quicksand in there was kind of crazy. We got into a few patches where I wondered if we might get stuck. It felt like we were walking on jello, then a foot would sink in, and it was time to start spinning to get free. At least it was all sand and not mud. I don’t know why that’s better, it just is somehow.
Tourist Missions accomplished and sunset only half an hour away, we began an earnest search for a campsite. We found a nice place under some cottonwoods, sheltered well from the wind that had picked up. The frogs were really loud as I settled in for bed. A mosquito also came buzzing by but never even landed. They are such a joke in the desert…so far. Even with this wet year, I think the cold temps overnight kept them in check. It was nice to be able to keep my screen door open until I went to bed. But I made sure to zip it and lock the door soon after. For many miles we’d been pondering what kind of ROUS’s might lurk in these canyons. We’d come up with Hackberry Armadillos and Paria Meerkats. Yes, I know about half these things aren’t actually rodents but they are still quite dangerous to hikers. They have glowing red eyes and are just waiting to pull a hiker under water or swarm them next to a side gully. You always have to be on the lookout and hope that your tent holds them off overnight.