Paria Canyon – Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area
The Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona are a place most people drive by and think “wow, what beautiful and colorful cliffs,” and move on to other destinations. Well they’d be right, but there is much to see and do in beyond the cliffs. The Vermillion Cliffs are at the edge of the Paria Plateau and are part of the Paria Canyon – Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness and Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, the key word being wilderness. Wilderness areas are officially set aside by the government because they have special significance and have no improvements or human habitation of the area. This makes places like these very special, because they’re largely untouched by man and give one a real sense of place. It reminds us of what the area was like before it was settled.
Geology of the Vermillion Cliffs
The Vermillion Cliffs are capped by the same sand dunes (Navajo Sandstone) that make up much of Zion National Park, as well as the vermillion-colored Moenkopi, Moenave, Chinle, and Kayenta rock formations. The rock has been hardened over time by infiltrating carbonate which has cemented the rock, resulting in the cliffs you see before you. The Vermillion Cliffs are the second of five “steps” in the Grand Staircase that reach up to the pink cliffs of Bryce Canyon National Park.
The Paria River cuts through the Paria Plateau exposing the Vermillion Cliffs on the east side as it enters the Grand Canyon at Lee’s Ferry. The river has eroded some amazingly colorful sandstone and siltstone that is not to be believed unless you see it yourself. The Chinle Formation is the rock formation that produces some amazing colors incluing reds, purples, grays, and whites. It’s the distinct bands of color and alternating nature of the colors that looks so amazing. The landscape looks like the badlands of South Dakota except even more vibrant. Buckskin Gulch is the prime attraction in Paria Canyon. It’s a side canyon within the narrows section of Paria Canyon and is one of the longest and deepest slot canyons in America.
The wilderness area is also home to Coyote Buttes and the famously photographed “Wave.” The Wave is similar to that seen in the Valley of Fire State Park, but admittedly more dramatic and far superior. The Wave is also exceedingly hard to get access to and physically see. In order to see the wave, you have to “win the lottery” so to speak. You literally have to sign up for a lottery drawing to get permits to hike to it, legally. Then it’s a several mile trek in the harsh desert climate on a trail with poor signage. Then you have to enjoy it and get out, no overnight camping. But from what I hear and see in photos, it’s worth it.