Buckskin Gulch sans water and mud

Three of us recently did a day hike in Buckskin Gulch. This is a well-known slot canyon on the Utah side of the Utah/Arizona border. The canyon is about 13 miles long making it one of the longest slot canyons in the southwest — and possibly the world.

A climbing move is required to bypass this boulder in Wire Pass -- a tributary of Buckskin Gulch. The pile of boulders at the bottom helps.
A climbing move is required to bypass this boulder in Wire Pass — a tributary of Buckskin Gulch. The pile of boulders at the bottom helps.

In normal years rainfall during the summer, fall, and winter leaves ankle- to knee-deep pools of cold water in the canyon. Hiking through here under these conditions is tricky since the pools are often scoured by the rushing water which may result in one side being deep and the other shallow as the sand or rocks build up. With muddy water it is impossible to see under the surface of the water and a walking pole is used to probe carefully before placing each step. A mis-step can result in going from knee-deep water to chest-deep water in one quick step!

Dry and sandy narrows through Buckskin Gulch.
Dry and sandy narrows through Buckskin Gulch.

Some years, however, the fall and winter months are dry and the canyon floor is dry in the spring. That was the case this year. After a wet fall, a dry winter and spring followed and this allowed the canyon floor to be water free — at least in the first few miles that we traveled.

Reflected light illuminates a far wall deep within Buckskin Gulch.
Reflected light illuminates a far wall deep within Buckskin Gulch.

The first time we did this hike (2004) it was dry and we mistakenly assumed this was normal. Returning to hike in 2005, 2006, and 2007, we were greeted each time with water. So it was a pleasant surprise to return after a few years absence and find it dry.

A narrow beam of light penetrates deep into the narrows of Buckskin Gulch and gently illuminates the side walls of the canyon.
A narrow beam of light penetrates deep into the narrows of Buckskin Gulch and gently illuminates the side walls of the canyon.

What was less pleasant was seeing how visitors to this amazing place have left graffiti along the canyon walls. There was no graffiti the first three times we visited and only one defacement the last time. This time there was graffiti in many locations in the first few miles of the canyon. It is truly saddening that people would do such a thing in a beautiful place.

Exquisitely textured walls found within Buckskin Gulch.
Exquisitely textured walls found within Buckskin Gulch.

Still, we had a great time walking a few miles down canyon, eating our lunch in the cool and quiet narrows of the slot, and enjoying our brief visit to this remarkable place.