Utah - Arizona 2007
Wire Pass – Stateline Campground – The Wave
Not all trips go your way, but they are all adventures.

We planned a two-day side trip in the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness including Paria Canyon and Coyote Buttes area.  We hoped to hike through Wire Pass and up Buckskin Gulch, only far enough to return the same day, spend the night in Stateline Campground, and hike to The Wave on the second day.
 Paria Warning Sign
After a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast in Kanab, we headed to the BLM Paria Contact Station on U.S. Hwy 89 for our permits to The Wave. The agent was very reluctant to issue us a permit as there were severe thunderstorm warnings for the next couple of days creating the risk of flash flooding. After convincing him we were of sane minds and well prepared for the possibility of being stranded for a short time (a 4-wheel drive vehicle, shelter and plenty of food and water), he issued us a permit with a few pieces of advice. Since you can’t tell if it is raining up top when you are in a slot canyon, listen for the thunder. Any sounds of thunder, no matter how far away, get out of the slot. It can be raining miles away and the natural drainage is through the slot canyons and creek beds. 
We headed back down Hwy 89 a short distance to the House Rock Valley Road, which separates the Cockscomb and the Buckskin Mountain, leading to and past the Buckskin Gulch Trailhead with one quick traverse through a creek bed (dry at this time, but it was obvious it could flow pretty good). We continued up road to the Wire Pass Trailhead which was on the left side of the road across from a small parking lot on the right with a bathroom. We decide to go ahead and get started on our day hike and find the campground later.
We made sure to sign in at the register box. The entrance to Wire Pass is just a short easy hike down Coyote Wash, a dry creek bed which was very interesting on its own. We saw plenty of wildlife - two kinds of rabbits, a snake, and plenty of collared lizards. At one point we figured we were following some kind of large cat tracks. After studying the fairly dark looking clouds, we decided to go ahead with the hike. Wire Pass is an easy slot canyon with only a few scrambles. After about a ¼ mile in and two short drops we were photographing a log jam above our heads. That’s when we heard the thunder. We immediately heeded the warning and turned around and headed out. After our first climb back up one of the scrambles, we started to feel drops of rain down in the slot. It was time to run. We pretty much sprinted the rest of the way out and don’t even remember the second scramble except that we were pitching the camera equipment to one another. We were moving fast. Just as we exited, a trickle of water was making its way down Coyote Wash and into the slot. We sought higher ground as we continued further up the wash out of the slot and found a shallow opening high up in the rocks above the creek.  We climbed up and took shelter from the rain. While resting and having a snack, we saw grassy bedding and some small bones scattered around and figured that this was probably the dwelling of a big cat.

Entering the slot    Deeper in the slot    Log jammed in slot

Exiting the slot
The rain shower in our area was fairly light but we could see a major thunderstorm in the distance. Watching the thunderstorms over a distant butte created a “you had to be there” opportunity. We were treated to a vision of watching four very large waterfalls spill one-by-one over the edge of the cliff face. About that time the rain quit and, after a few quick photos, we took advantage of the break in the weather and headed back up Coyote Wash to the trailhead. On our trip out we never saw more than an inch of water in the creek.  In these canyons, it is well known that as little as ¼ inch of rain can run off the slick rock and turn these slots into an inescapable death trap.

Back at the trailhead, we signed out, got in the car and headed further up House Rock Valley Road to find Stateline Campground. Very quickly the road turned down into Coyote Wash and, at this point, it was still dry. A couple of hundred yards later, it turned back up out of the wash. The campground is not very far up the road and off to the right and another trip across the creek bed. This time we noticed the crossing was reinforced with steel mesh and grating.
After picking a camp site, we ate lunch, took a short nap and pouted about not getting to hike.  But, because the sun came back out and everything was drying up, we decide to go back and at least try a short trip trough Wire Pass to the junction of Buckskin Gulch and back. At least we could salvage the afternoon.
Collared Lizard5555    Rock Formation

Flora    Rabbit

It was only a short trip back to the entrance of Wire Pass and in we went. We quickly found out why it does not take much to flood a slot canyon. Immediately we could see changes in the rocks and loose debris from earlier rain. As we arrived at the first small drop there was a good size pool of water at the bottom. Although we figured it was not very deep, it was the first sign of the conditions of the rest of the hike through to Buckskin Gulch. We decide to turn around and head back out. Still not wanting to give up for the day, we ventured over the rocks along the top of the slot. We were able to investigate some interesting rock formations and flowers and then headed out for the evening.
 State Line Sign
State Line Sign Back at the campground, we explored the surrounding trails and paths. Wandering around the campground you pass in and out of two states. Our campsite was in Arizona, the restroom was in Utah and there are signs everywhere telling you that you have crossed the state line.  After we relaxed, had some dinner, met some other hikers and exchanged stories, we settled down for the night. 
Although the night started out well with a cool light breeze and almost a full moon, our adventure continued. Just minutes after Patty suggested we put the fly over the tent, just in case it rained, a storm came down upon us. We dug a trench around the tent to keep the water from washing under us. We spent the night enduring a monsoon in a 4x7 ft tent which, at times was being blown almost flat down on us.  The wind made it quite exciting at times and we could have slept in the car, but we probably would have lost the tent since our weight was keeping it from flying away.
The morning brought some interesting decisions. The weather did not look much better and a quick look out over the terrain showed us that Coyote Wash was now running pretty fast.  We had come to see The Wave and this was the day for our permit. The permits are not easy to get. We checked with the other couple in the campground to see what they were going to do. We all decided to go ahead on the hike. We packed up and headed back to the trailhead. It was only a little over a mile and the first obstacle was to cross the creek just to get out of the campground.  The second was the short drive in the creek bed just before the trailhead. Both turned out to be no problem with the four-wheel drive.
 Climbing to the WaveCoyote Buttes sign
The Coyote Buttes trail starts in the same location as the Wire Pass Trailhead. We signed in only a few minutes behind the other couple and hiked on in.  About half way     to Wire Pass the trail to Coyote Buttes and The Wave heads off to the right. The first mile or so was nice. The sky was overcast and the air was cool. As we followed the cairns and looked for our landmarks, a light rain started. We decided to keep on going as we were on top of the terrain and less likely to risk a flash flood. Shortly after climbing the stair steps of Arizona sandstone, the light rain very quickly turned into another monsoon. We had caught up to the other couple and discussed going on. Although we could have made it to The Wave, we would not be able to experience the views we came to see due to the rain. So again we turned around and headed back to the trailhead.    
Another hiking day washed out (literally). We were supposed to spend another night at the campground before heading on to the south rim of the Grand Canyon for our anniversary and a hike to Phantom Ranch, but could not see a reason to stick around with the weather in the area. We made a quick decision to make the best of time. Who could pass up a trip to the north rim of the Grand Canyon as an alternate plan? The shortest distance to the North Rim was to continue south on House Rock Valley Road through Coyote Valley and the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness area. We didn’t know the condition of the road with the rain but we are adventurous.
What a treat the road turned out to be. The wet ground brought out all the colors in the terrain and rock faces. It looked like someone air brushed the colors during the night. It was another one of those “you had to be there at the right time” moments. The colors and the flowers made the rip to the North Rim spectacular.
Painted Desert

Although, we were washed out of both of our intended hikes we were treated to some fantastic sights due to the circumstances. We will return to these hikes in the future with better luck next time.

Painted Desert Closeup

Mike & Patty Poupart
(Date of Trip: August 26-27, 2007)

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