(and Buckskin Gulch backpack prep)
Monday, September 26
Today was the day where we would start out on our three-day Buckskin Gulch backpack. This backpack was something that I had been plotting to do again, ever since our failed attempt
back in 2008.
To recap our plans for this backpack: Our intent was to drive to and start hiking from the upper end of Buckskin Gulch, at the Buckskin Gulch trailhead west of the Paria Ranger Station. We would spend the next three days hiking the length of Buckskin Gulch all the way down to the confluence with the Paria River, then hike up the Paria River to the White House Trailhead. Arn's wife was scheduled to fly to Las Vegas, then drive to the Whitehouse Trailhead (or the Paria Ranger station) to pick us up.
We did not have a super-early get-up -- something I often do on backpacks. The circumstances surrounding getting information in the morning at the Ranger Station meant we had time to burn - the details of which I will explain later.
Morning twilight at White House CG
After a leisurely breakfast at our campsite at the White House campground, we packed up and headed just a short ways up the White House road, then parked the vehicle. We were going to use some of our early morning idle time to explore an interesting feature that I had heard tell of during my research into the Vermillion Cliffs region. Known unofficially as 'The Nautilus', it is a small and somewhat fragile little slot canyon made out of pearly white Page Sandstone. The short, somewhat spiralling nature of the slot is what has given it the name of The Nautilus, in reference to the spiral characteristic of the shell of the marine cephalopod called the nautilus.
Searching for the Nautilus
The internet had a few pictures and only a vague description of where to locate the Nautilus. Apparently, the park service has been asking people not to give too detailed of instructions, for fear of over-visitation and damage. I'm going to do the same with my description of the Nautilus.
After parking our rental vehicle, we did some exploration, looking for a particular hump of white Page Sandstone in which the Nautilus is located. After some amount of walking and poking around, we located it. The slot itself is quite hidden from view unless you are quite close to it.
We approached the slot from its upper end, where a flat section of Page Sandstone is suddenly channelled into the curving notch of the Nautilus. We carefully descended through the slot, which is only about 50 feet long, to its lower end. There are many nice angles from which to take in this beautiful spiral of creamy white sandstone.
The gap of the walls of the Nautilus are never very far apart, and Arn and Kyle felt inspired to clamber to the rock above the slot and make a daring-looking jump across the top of it.
After a fifteen-minute exploration of the Nautilus, we headed back to the rental car, and continued on up the White House road to where it reaches highway US89 and the Paria Ranger Station.
Below is a video sequence containing a few scenes from our walk to, in, and around The Nautilus. Click directly on the image below to start it.
Video, Visit to The Nautilus - Click on video above to start
It was shortly before 8 a.m., and the ranger station's parking lot was packed with cars and people. As you may recall, I promised that I would explain why we had time to burn this morning before getting our current canyon conditions from the ranger station. This crush of people was the reason why. You see, the Paria Ranger station is the location of a particular, very popular hiking 'lottery' -- the lottery for the infamous formations known as 'The Wave'.
Paria Station Packed
For those of you who don't know, The Wave is an area of fantastically scenic wavy bands of sandstone. Situated not too far away (in the Paria-Vermillion Cliffs region), The Wave has, over the last ten years, become phenomenally popular - attracting loads of visitors from all over the world. The park service has instituted visitation quotas per day, and most are all snapped up months in advance. The park service, however, keeps a few visit permits available on a first-come, first-serve basis for the following day. And when there are more people who want the first-come, first-serve permits than there are permits, they hold a lottery to see who gets the permits. There is nearly always a lottery. Perhaps on a Christmas Day with a snowstorm, there isn't a lottery.
I myself have never been to see the Wave, owing to the fact that I plan my trips generally a few months in advance - much too last minute for advance Wave permits; and I'm not into waiting around in a lottery in which I stand a less than five percent chance of winning. I will eventually go and see the Wave myself, but with an advance permit when I do.
Packing for a Backpack
Anyway, the lottery was held at 9am every morning; the crush of people swarming the rangers until the lottery was well and truly finished meant there was no point even attempting to go into the ranger station until it was all finished. Hence our late get-up time, our visit to the Nautilus, and now, our lazy organization of our backpacking gear, which we did in the lot outside the ranger station. This included filling all of our water containers from the handy water faucet at the edge of the parking lot.
Andrew demonstrates packing
One final note about The Wave's permit lottery: As of November 2011, the location of the lottery is being moved to the Kanab Ranger station, about 40 or so miles to the west [of the Paria Ranger station]. Nine a.m. in the morning at the Paria Ranger station will once again be a quiet and peaceful time...
When the lottery crowds finally died away, we went into the ranger station and inquired about the next few days' conditions. We already knew in general that the forecast was excellent, but we wanted confirmation, as well as some other hikers' reports of conditions in Buckskin Canyon itself. The weather forecast was indeed still perfect - no chance of rain, nice temperatures (perhaps even a little too warm), and clear skies. The canyon conditions were listed as "Muddy, many pools, up to thigh deep". Hmm... sounded like similar conditions to when we went in 2008 -- except, of course, the water wouldn't be nearly so cold!