As soon as we leave the pavement and turn onto the sandy, backcountry road, we roll down the windows and let the warm spring air blow through the Jeep. With the chill of winter just recently behind us we, sigh contentedly as the warm desert air blows over us.
The road we follow ends at a barb-wire fence and here we disembark from our vehicles and don our daypacks, which are filled with water, lunches, cameras and a few first-aid kits.
There are 15 in our group, having arrived in three vehicles. Our destination on this perfect spring day is the Paria Overlook. The Paria Overlook is a particularly stunning, inspiring view. From the overlook, hikers will stand on one of the Paria Plateau’s many edges and look down the length of Paria Canyon’s last five miles to the spot where it merges with the Colorado River near Lees Ferry.
There are two ways to reach the Paria Overlook. One is the hiking route that me and my friends are taking today, and there is also a Jeep trail that will take you to the edge of the Paria Plateau, which is also known as the Paria Overlook. The overlook from the Jeep trail is about three miles west of the overlook at the hiker’s route. I’ve been to both. During the cooler seasons – March, April, May, September and October – I prefer the hiking route. The path winds through one of the most scenic areas in America and at a hikers’ pace it reveals itself tantalizingly slow. But during June, July and August it’s simply too hot to walk, and it’s then I prefer the Jeep trail.
As we progress southward toward our destination, the route we follow ascends steadily ledge to ledge, plateau to plateau. As we climb, the view behind grows steadily more beautiful and majestic, for behind is the Grand Staircase-Escalante with its multi-layered cliff walls. The higher we climb, the more of it we can see.
Our route takes us past beautiful juniper trees, which have spent the last two to four centuries being twisted by the wind into helixes wound tight as rawhide lariats. We traverse into washes, scurry over sandstone walls and weave through sandstone fins and curtains.
And east of us – the perfect landmark – Navajo Mountain lies on the eastern horizon like the front site on the end of a rifle, and as we continue our journey we view it bracketed through the rear gunsight of sandstone fins, rock outcroppings and juniper trees.
I am hiking on this beautiful spring day with the Happy Hiking Club, a group of friends from
Our route takes us past beautiful juniper trees, which have spent the last two to four centuries being twisted by the wind into helixes wound tight as rawhide lariats. We traverse into washes, scurry over sandstone walls and weave through sandstone fins a
Page and the surrounding area who meet every Friday to explore, by foot, the many amazing canyons and vistas that surround their fair city. I really like hiking with them.
Their members are curious. They are not put your head down and make miles kind of hikers. No, quite the opposite: they’re heads up and aware. And appreciative. They never just hike to their destination, but instead meander like a river with ADHD, as they investigate a rock fin they find peculiar, or a gnarled juniper tree juxtaposed photogenically with a long, desert vista. They stop at every scenic point to appreciate the view, which equates to dozens of stops as we slowly progress to the overlook.
After hiking for a couple of hours, we reach the overlook, and even though I’ve seen it before and I’m expecting it – it’s still breathtaking. Paria Canyon was formed from centuries of the Paria River cutting through Navajo Sandstone. Paria Canyon is 38 miles long so there are numerous places from where one can stand on its edge and look down into it. But the most scenic, most majestic spots are located along the canyon’s last five miles. For it is there that it offers the longest views along its length.
Our group spends about 15 minutes gazing off its edge, looking down at the canyon floor which lies several hundred feet below us and taking photos. When we’re satisfied, we continue our journey to a different spot along its edge, and we reach it after another 20 minutes hiking over sandstone ledges. The second viewpoint is even more spectacular than the first one because we have a wider, longer and less interrupted view of its expanse and because of that we can see a fuller range of the cliff walls and the way they catch the low-lying spring light. From here, we can look down the length of Paria Canyon’s last three miles where it merges with the Colorado River at Lees Ferry.
The Navajo Sandstone’s iron oxide-rich walls are custom built to capture the soft, red-orange light of the spring sun and, I must say, it’s doing a remarkable job at it. The canyon’s right (north-facing) wall is enveloped in deep, purplish-blue winter shadow.
“I need to come back to this spot with my kids and camp for a couple nights,” says one of my hiking companions, George Hardeen.
“I was just thinking the same thing,” I tell him. “As beautiful as this is, can you even imagine what it would look like as the sun was setting.”
“Absolutely,” he says. “I’m imagining it right now.”
“Yeah. Me too.”