Distance: 1.8 miles (one way)
Difficulty: Easy, but a few hurdles
Best time of year: Fall, Spring
Last hiked: 2016 May
I knew there was rain in the forecast, but I had also never really poked into any slot canyons in the Vermillion Cliffs area. Since I was nearby having just come off the Arizona Trail, I wanted to change that. I was looking at getting into Buckskin Gulch a bit via Wire Pass before any flash flood danger.
I parked at the Wire Pass Trailhead, paid my fee, and began across the road down the flat wash. An optional side trail parallels the wash only to rejoin the wash a short distance later. It’s a wide, easily walkable wash with low rusty sandstone hills covered in lots of different high desert vegetation. This creates an aesthetically pleasing palette of oranges and greens below what is frequently a bold blue sky. I had that sky for the moment, but the weather forecast two days prior said something different. As a result, I didn’t want to spend too much time potentially hiking 10 miles into deep slot canyons. For this reason, I didn’t poke around as much as I might have, despite having a wonderful hike.
Down the wash the sandstone hills begin to grow a bit bigger. More striations in the ancient sandstone dunes become more apparent until about one mile in. Here the towering cliffs of a lighter color dominate the horizon while the sides of the wash you’re in begin to take on more of the appearance of a canyon. Larger boulders become more scattered around the wash. The wash itself is now beginning to become a less smooth walk thanks to sand now at the bottom. Sand and sandstone – it’s a combination that almost always holds the promise of something new and exciting; a sight completely unfamiliar to most people. It’s the ancient combination that keeps adventure-seekers giddy.
The wash drops down a few feet, and an invisible slot canyon is revealed to you. The sandstone walls shoot up around a tiny crack that slithers up dozens and dozens of feet. The path is narrow and descending, and soon reaches a roughly ten-foot drop where some scrambling skills are required. The walls only get a little tighter as you weave and slide through vertical waves of sandstone before it opens up into a clearing. It’s not the last one though (more slots of course being the reason why you’d hike this trail anyway).
A few more narrow and less dramatic slot canyons await, broken up by small openings until you reach the final slot. Massive vertical cliffs close in around you and cut off the sky. It’s through here that anyone with a backpack needs to earn their advancement. Through tight turns and twisted sand, it curves through the cliffs with just enough room for an eager hiker to squeeze through. And then it opens up.
Sharp sandstone cliffs spread out and rise in front of you, a large alcove eroded away on the south side of the canyon. Just beyond is Buckskin Gulch. I reached the junction and looked north, then south, then at the sky. Ultimately, I decided to play it safe and head back despite mostly clear skies. In either direction were more darkened slot canyons beckoning directly to my curiosity into their enigmatic darknesses. What unique rock formations are just through those tiny slots? I’d have to find out another time. I was uncertain about the weather and the tight squeezes didn’t encourage taking chances. Heading back the same way, I wove back through the slots, but now I knew I had a bit more time to play with. I chatted with a few friendly people along the way and took in a few more photo ops before moving on to more adventure up the highway.
From Kanab, Utah, head south (east in this area) on Highway 89 for just over 38 miles. Turn right onto House Rock Valley Road and head south for 8.4 miles. Look for The Wave Trailhead parking area on the right. If you reach the Stateline Campground, turn around and head back for one mile.