It was a cold early December start at 4 a.m. for a 2-hour drive into the back country to the Paria Wilderness. It snowed the night before so the wilderness was layered with fresh snow. I was thrilled even though it meant braving the cold freezing temperature. I had seen photos of the Paria Plateau but nothing prepared me for what I was going to see at first hand.
The access road to South Coyote Buttes area is known for its deep sand and many vehicles have been stuck especially during the summer season. Since it was winter and the ground was frozen, we had no problems. Even then, driving the road (if you can call it a road) in the dark can be quite challenging. But Charly, from Overland Canyon Tours, knew the area like the back of his hand. We made it to South Coyote Buttes without any mishaps although there was a harrowing moment when Charly had to skilfully negotiate the SUV between huge boulders that had fallen on the narrow House Rock Valley Road and the cliff edge.
Nevertheless, we made it to South Coyote Buttes with plenty of time to spare to catch the first light on the Cottonwood Tepees.
I hiked into the Paria Wilderness, braving almost zero degree temperatures and wind chill. I was awe-struck with the swirling, twisted red sandstone that contrasted with the white snow. At times, it seemed eerie with the blowing wind and snow flurries dancing across the deserted bizarre landscape. No words can adequately describe this wild land. This is raw nature at its best!
Later at midday, Charly drove to another breathtaking location – White Pocket. Carved by wind and water, the whole area is a mosaic of colorful swirling sandstone, checkered board rocks, hexagonal bedrock that is almost brainlike – an amazing cacophony of rock shapes, patterns and colors! Photographer Gary Ladd aptly described the area as preposterously photogenic. For me, it is simply out of this world!
Charly Moore, the guide of the day, is quite a character. A tattoo artist and owner of the outfitter company, Charly has an intimate knowledge of and is passionate about the area. For the day trip, Charly did not provide just a brown bag lunch. He prepared a delicious spread of tuna salad, pumpernickel bread, cheese, lunch meat, green apples, and piping hot chocolate. Quite a gourmet meal for dinning in the outback! I can’t wait to sample Charly’s fillet mignon which is on his menu for an overnight camping trip.:-)
The only thing that spoiled an otherwise perfect day in the Paria Wilderness was seeing the pristine area dotted with black lumps. Can you guess what they were?
Yes, there were dung…cow dung all over! It seems that the authorities have allowed free range cattle to roam the area. Ironically, the area is protected and restricted to limited visits by people (read about the permits here) which I feel is the right thing to do as the area is very fragile should be kept in its pristine condition for many generations to enjoy its beauty. But who is going to pick up after the cattle? Some cow sense!
We stayed until the earth shadow appeared on the horizon and the low winter sun cast its last light. I was reluctant to leave this extraordinary place.
In his book, Arizona, photographer David Muench noted that “we need wild places where we will not see houses, cars, fences, signs, bullet casings, or even trails. We need places where there is no trace of human interference, because these places will then serve as a standard. We need these places because they cleanse us. Whatever pressures and frustrations we have in our lives in the cities, we can lose them out there. When we walk in beauty, all the garbage in our lives disappears.”
This was exactly how I felt after spending a day walking the Paria Plateau. I was so absorbed in its immense beauty that time stood still and all my cares of the moment went away. What a wild, timeless and spiritual place!