October, 2015 Edition

View current issue

Tie-Dye Teepees

Exploring Another Landmark in the Vermilion Cliffs

It was late November with clear blue skies and crisp, but not cold, autumn air. A perfect day for hiking deep into the Arizona desert. My friend Kyle Walker – who has been guiding desert excursions in northern Arizona since 1999 – told me he knew the perfect place to go. Our destination that day was a place called The Teepees.
The Teepees are two large outcrops of sandstone rocks, where every rock has been eroded into a conical shape similar in appearance to the Teepees of Plains Indians. Except these “teepees” are made of petrified sand and they stand 200 feet tall. The rock is comprised of iron-rich sandstone, yet each layer of sandstone contains varying levels of iron. In addition they may contain hematite or other minerals which color the rock different colors as they oxidize. The result being the sandstone varies in color from dark purple, to red, orange, brown, and yellow.
“With the colors all swirled together giving it a tie-dye affect,” as Walker described it.
No geological formations like them exists anywhere else on the planet.
During my 10 years living in Page, I have rather vigorously explored many of the terra firma treasures that surround it, though I hadn’t been to The Teepees, but I had heard about it numerous times, especially from my photographer friends who loved shooting its strange shapes in the soft light of spring and autumn.
“I’ve heard of that place ever since I moved here 10 years ago,” I told my friend Kyle. “What makes it so great?”
“First and foremost the photographic potential is exceptional,” he said. “Two hundred teepee shaped rock formations, and all of them smoothly weathered makes for some really great photography. But that’s just the half of it. It’s a beautiful walk before you even get to it.”
The Teepees are located inside the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, in northern Arizona, which is home to several other famous landmarks: North Coyote Buttes, better known as The Wave, South Coyote Buttes, Buckskin Gulch and Paria Canyon. No permit is needed to hike to the Teepees, but a $6 fee is required which can be paid at the trailhead. Dogs are allowed on this trail, but there is a $6 fee per dog.
We started

Dr. Seuss would love this place. And you will too.

our hike about 9 a.m., leaving from the Wirepass Trailhead – the same trailhead that hikers visiting The Wave and Buckskin Gulch leave from – and for the first hour of our hike we followed the same trail as those hiking to The Wave, but then veered off the trail and traveled over raw, trail-less desert toward our destination.
The hike was indeed beautiful. We traveled through a desert that alternated between low sand dunes and upthrust sandstone formations vegetated with purple and silver sagebrush, pinyon trees, narrow-leaf yucca, wild mint and Brigham tea, with long, unbroken views of the desert. The low humidity level allows one to see forever.
After two hours of hiking we reached the South Teepees. We spent about an hour among the conical hoodoos, first hiking around the perimeter of the group of rocks, and then diving into the center of them. While the adults enjoyed themselves taking hundreds of photographs, the kids and teenagers in our group entertained themselves climbing up and down the gritty walls of the teepees and exploring the secret hallways between them.
Dr. Seuss would love this place. And you will too.
If you go: The distance from the trailhead to South Teepees is about a four mile hike, and 90 percent of it is over energy-depleting sand, or ridges of upthrust sandstone, and because of that it’s not something you want to attempt in the high heat of summer but it’s a great hike for fall, winter and spring. A summertime hike to the Teepees is simply too hot to be enjoyable.
A hike to the Teepees and back will take you about six or seven hours round trip, depending on how much time you stop to take photos. A person who is in reasonably good shape can hike from the Wire Pass trailhead to the South Teepees in 90 to 120 minutes. Once you’ve reached the South Teepees it is only another 15 minutes of walking to get to North Teepees.
An additional upside: Because of the challenge involved to reach the Teepees, you’ll very likely have the place to yourself once you get there.
I prefer the North Teepees a little better than South Teepees and logistically it’s also considerably easier to do.