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How to Win the Wave Lottery

How to Win the Wave Lottery

How Do I Win the Wave Lottery?

It is called “The Hardest Permit to Get in the USA” by Outside and Backpacker Magazines.  Your chances stand at roughly 3% on any given day.  People enter month after month for, in some cases, years before winning (if they ever do).  No doubt that The Wave of the Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona is one of the most sought-after destinations in the southwest, and the BLM’s daily quota of just 20 visitors makes it a tough proposition.  Is there a strategy that can be employed to increase your chances?  We sent The Goat out to do a hard target investigation.  This is what he found:

The Setup

In order to lend ourselves the best chances, we started by pegging dates that were during the week. We decided on having an average group size (4), and picking presumably less-popular times of the year.  We divided our applications between the online lottery and the in-person lottery. The in-person lottery is held daily at the BLM office in Kanab, Utah.  We had all four people in our “group” apply online, and sent one of our group to the in-person lottery.  Our goal was to employ a “blanket” strategy to best monopolize our potential chances. We could also properly calculate what, if any, our success rate might be.  Over the course of two months, we employed this strategy following these criteria, and logged our failures and successes.

The Online Lottery

The Wave’s online lottery is where this permit gets it ornery reputation.  With the in-person lottery being highly inconvenient for the vast majority of applicants, this lottery is not far from playing the Powerball Jackpot and hoping to win even a modest prize.  The BLM splits permits 10/10 for the online and in-person for 20 people each day, so you can imagine what your odds might be.  It’s like elbowing through throngs of crazed teenage girls at an NSYNC concert circa 1997.  To play this game of chance visit the BLM’s Wave Permit Page.

The In-Person Lottery

The Wave’s in-person lottery, though inconvenient for most, can give the applicant a slightly better chance.  For our purposes, we camped near the BLM office and tried to be the first to the door at opening time (8:30am, 7 days a week).  In-person permits are typically offered for the next day, although if permits were not filled they may issue you one for the same day.

Kanab Visitor Center in Kanab, UT 745 US-89, Kanab, UT 84741

Playing the Odds

Our success rate at the conclusion of our experiment was quite low, as expected, for the online lottery.  Given the cost of the permit ($7/person if you win, with a non-refundable $5 application fee for each application), and the low chances of winning, this strategy is not so much a strategy as a commitment.  We spent nearly $500 and obtained two permits for middle-of-the-week in late November, and one in early February.  Our final odds of winning, given our failure vs. success rate was a paltry 10%. (20 application, 2 permits).

Though this is higher than the national average, this was our own success rate and not measured against all other applicants.  We imagine that the advertised 4% success rate is perhaps even slightly higher than actual.  That being said, the thrill of victory is tangible in the face of numerous defeats.  Our testers literally cheered and danced when permits were issued.  Worth the sacrifice!

On the flip side, the In-Person lottery yielded excellent success.  Our employed strategy of having a camper near the BLM office paid off nearly 100% of the time.  In fact, the only time it was not successful was when our camper slept through his alarm and ended up being buried in line.  The trick to the in-person permit is this: one person may apply for one permit, regardless of group size (up to 10).  For example, only three people may apply, but they may each have parties of 4 or more, meaning that only two groups would be successful, and only two people from the remaining group would be issued a permit.  For fairness purposes, we gave our permits to those who were behind us.  Pay it forward!

The Goat’s Conclusion

Hiking The Wave is a must for anyone interested in wild scenery, challenge, photography, and of course geology.  Though winning The Wave lottery can be an adventure in and of itself, it is highly advisable to take the plunge.  Persistence, perseverance, realistic expectations, and a disciplined system with a set budget will pay off eventually.  If at all possible, the in-person lottery is absolutely the way to go.  But, if this is not a possibility for you at all, you must bear the challenge of the online lottery, which even when employed with a strategy can be difficult to win.

How You Can Apply for Permits to The Wave

Permits to Coyote Buttes North (The Wave) and South are issued by lottery, both online and in-person as discussed.  For Coyote Buttes North, the cost is $7/person on the permit, and for Coyote Buttes South the cost is $5/person.  For other parts of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, as well as the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness just to the north, permits are free and supplied at the trailheads of Wire Pass, White House, and for other areas such as White Pocket.  Any overnight stay requires a backcountry permit, obtained either at the trailhead or the Kanab Visitor Center.  Be advised there is no overnight camping allowed in the Coyote Buttes permit area.

Permits to The Wave can be applied for four months in advance of your requested date.  You have an entire month to apply, and you can apply for up to three entry dates per application.  If you are successful you will be authorized for one of the days.  There is a non-refundable $5 fee to apply, and you will be notified of the first of the month via e-mail whether or not your application was successful.

Example

Let’s say you wanted to visit Coyote Buttes North (The Wave) in April. Here is the procedure you would follow.

1.  Go to the Permit Page between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31.
2.  Follow the directions, choosing up to three possible entry dates. If successful, you will only be authorized one date.
3.  You will be notified via e-mail the first day in January whether your lottery application was successful or not.
4.  After being notified, you will have 14 calendar days to pay for your permit. You can pay online with your credit card. Your e-mail notification will contain a link to a secure web page, where you can go to pay and submit the remainder of your trip information.
5.  Your permit will be mailed to you four to six weeks after you have paid your fees, unless you chose the option to pick it up in Kanab, St. George, or the Paria Contact Station when you filled out your permit application.

The way the lottery works essentially nullifies any attempt to be an “early bird gets the worm” type of situation, and you have as good of a chance of winning the lottery regardless of your application date or time.  Applications received in the month of April, for example, have equal chances of being selected for permits issued in August regardless of what day in April the application was received by the BLM.

Rules and Regulations

From time to time, people will ask us “can I go to The Wave without a permit?”  The answer here is simply, NO.  Your permit must be displayed visibly on your pack/person at all times, must account for all people in your group, be paid in full, and for the dates displayed on the permit.  Violation of any of these will result in immediate ejection from Coyote Buttes, and a $1200/person fine.  Multiple violations can result in lifetime bans, and even federal criminal trespassing charges.  But what are the chances you’ll be caught in such a remote place?  The Wave, while remote in terms of general ideal, is very popular and highly regulated.

The BLM devotes quite a bit of time and resources to The Wave for safety, environmental study, and conservation purposes.  Though they are not “out to get you”, they will enforce regulations.  The chances of having your hiking party interact with a BLM Ranger in the Coyote Buttes area is almost 100%.  Please, please go through the permitting process.  The more people that violate the regulations may result in stricter rules, less permits, and even a shutdown of the area altogether.

Safety and Transportation

Located adjacent to highway 89A near the Arizona/Utah border, The Vermillion Cliffs National Monument is one of the most spectacular, wild, and unspoiled places in the American Southwest.  Consequently, it is a rugged place that can be difficult to navigate.  Do not even consider visiting The Wave, or any other part of Vermillion Cliffs without 4WD (AWD is NOT 4WD), several detailed maps, a compass, GPS (not in-dash), and plenty of water.  If heading to White Pocket or Coyote Buttes, be prepared to drive in sand, which can be very challenging if you have not done it before.  Many a truck have been lampooned in the sands of Vermillion Cliffs.

Going Guided

So you’ve won the lottery, great job!  Now you need to get there and enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to its fullest extent.  A guide can be an invaluable resource in a place like this, and there a no better than the geologist/guides of Blue Marble Adventure GeoTourism.  We will help you plan your visit from start to finish and ensure that you see all the highlights of Vermillion Cliffs (more than just The Wave).  After your epic adventure we get you back safe and sound, and guarantee an intensely special and memorable experience.

The Final Word

Everybody wants to go to The Wave and The Wave is absolutely worth the visit.  It’s a right of passage for many world travelers and backcountry adventurers.  However, the lottery and regulations can make it tough to see, particularly if the online lottery is your only possibility.  Coyote Buttes South permits are somewhat easier permits to obtain, and still works on the calendar system, giving you the possibility of specifically choosing a date.  Your chances are much higher (like 25% higher), and Coyote Buttes South has some astounding and gorgeous scenery.

White Pocket also is among the most fabulous places in the Southwest, and regarded by some as even more spectacular than The Wave and Coyote Buttes North.  It only requires a day permit and has no lottery, making it highly accessible.  Other areas of the Vermillion Cliffs such as Paria Canyon and the Buckskin Gulch are among the most excellent canyons in the world, with Buckskin Gulch in particular being regarded as the longest, deepest slot in the world.  Whatever your choice, rest assured that just because you didn’t score that permit to The Wave you won’t be missing out on some of the best the American Southwest has to offer.

As always, the best way to experience The Wave, Coyote Buttes, White Pocket, or Wire Pass is with our geologist/guides.  See you on the Trail!

May The Goat be always with you

For The Goat’s Geological Musings visit his personal blog

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How Long Does it Take to Walk Down the Grand Canyon?

How Long Does it Take to Walk Down the Grand Canyon?

How long Does it Take to Walk Down the Grand Canyon

Like many of the questions about Grand Canyon, this one has several different and nuanced answers.  Will you travel by foot, mule, or helicopter?  How much gear might you be carrying?  Are you a fit hiker, or is this your first time?  Are you approaching from North Rim or South Rim?  The Goat is here to break down all of these options!

Hiking

Let’s begin with the most popular, and easily the most rewarding style of travel in Grand Canyon; a good old-fashioned, one foot in front of the other journey into the depths of time and space.

Some Advice before you Begin

First and foremost, the National Park Service (and The Goat) advises that nobody, under any circumstances, should attempt the hike from rim-to-river and back in one day.  Attempting to hike rim-to-river and back in a day has resulted in many deaths over the years, along with countless cases of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, and severe dehydration among other delightful afflictions.  Before we get into the fun, fabulous parts of hiking in Grand Canyon, we must first be clear about this practice.

Inverted Mountains Are Sneaky

Grand Canyon Hikers must remember one mantra; going down is optional, coming up is mandatory.  The NPS must execute hundreds of rescues each year on hikers that run into trouble.  Grand Canyon is a hostile, dry, and unforgiving place that yields no mercy.  Summertime temperatures can reach well over 100 degrees, there is little water on any trails, and even less shade.

Hiking in Grand Canyon is often referred to as “hiking a mountain in reverse”.  That is, your descent comes first, while your ascent is how you must finish.  This can fool hikers easily, as walking down is an easy, breezy, view-saturated adventure that can quickly get out of hand.  Many hikers that find trouble simply started walking down the trail, suddenly realizing that they are five miles down having barely broken a sweat.

Water

Perhaps the most potentially dangerous thing about undertaking any hike in Grand Canyon is the particular lack of water.  Many hikes the world over cross numerous streams, have shade, and/or easy access to clean, potable water.  This is not the case in Grand Canyon, as water sources are extremely limited.  Two South Rim hikes (Tanner, South Kaibab) have no accessible water source of any kind until the Colorado River.

Other South Rim trails (Hermit, Bright Angel) have access to water along the trail, but not for at least 3.5 miles.  Always carry plenty of water when hiking in Grand Canyon.  The Goat recommends a minimum of 3L/person, no matter the distance of the hike.

Spatial Perception

Much like the sneakiness of the inverted mountain, things in Grand Canyon tend to appear much closer than they actually are.  At times it feels as though you could literally reach out and touch the Colorado River, or even just a portion of trail beneath you.  Go to Desert Watchtower on the East Rim.  From the Tanner Trail, you are presented with an astonishing view of the mighty Colorado, a unique rim view in Grand Canyon.  Though the river is over 9 miles away by trail, an optical illusion is presented that makes the river feel close.

This is a difficult lesson for many hikers in Grand Canyon.  Our destination is just right over there!  It looks so close!  Believe us, it is not.  Between the necessarily winding trail, the relentless sun, the lack of water, and the absence of shade, something that optically appears close becomes seemingly further away in reality.  Remember that the scale presented to your senses in Grand Canyon is typically unlike anything you’ve ever experience.  Those of us that have spent years in this wondrous landscape are still blown away by its size and space.  In Grand Canyon, perception is often NOT reality.

Let’s Start Hiking!

At last, we can actually talk about hiking!  Hiking in Grand Canyon is a magical, perhaps even spiritual experience.  The colors, sights, sounds, smells, and ever-changing conditions create an intensely dramatic and memorable experience on even short hikes.  As you hike though 2 billion years of Earth’s history, the Canyon reveals itself step-by-step, both physically and philosophically.  In terms of trails and the time it takes to reach the bottom, here are your options:

South Rim

The South Rim presents most of the park’s developed trails, has the “shortest” routes to the river at the bottom, and is by a wide margin the more popular of the two rims.  There are 4 developed trails from the South Rim, and 1 trail that is undeveloped and unmaintained.

Bright Angel

The Bright Angel Trail is the most popular trail in Grand Canyon.  It traces the path of the Bright Angel Fault, through Indian Gardens, across the Tonto bench, and down to the river in 9.6 miles.  This highly trafficked corridor trail teems with other hikers and rangers aplenty, great for beginners introducing themselves to Grand Canyon hiking.  Hikers can reach the river and Bright Angel Campground in between 4-5 hours.

South Kaibab

The South Kaibab Trail is the steeper counterpart of the Bright Angel Trail, and plunges to the river in an abrupt 6.4 miles.  Holding the distinction as the only trail in the park developed completely by the NPS, it is a more direct route to the river for those looking for speed.  Connecting South Kaibab to Bright Angel via the Tonto Trail is a classic backpacking trip that many first-timers find welcoming.  Hiking to the river along the South Kaibab Trail typically takes between 3-4 hours.

Hermit Trail

The Hermit Trail follows a route forged by Canyon pioneer Louis Boucher, also known as “the Hermit of Grand Canyon”.  Mr. Boucher led a reclusive life at the bottom of the Canyon for roughly 20 years, guiding tourists, mining, and homesteading.  His pioneer route was improved by the Santa Fe Railroad company in the early 1900s, and today presents an excellent alternative to the more crowded corridor trails.  The Hermit Trail descends 8.9 miles to the river, and will take the average hiker between 4-5 hours to reach the bottom.

Tanner Trail

The Tanner Trail is perhaps the most exciting and more challenging of developed routes from the South Rim.  The trail presents sweeping views across eastern Grand Canyon, with views of Marble Canyon and the Vermillion Cliffs to the north.  The Grand Canyon Supergroup, a suite of tilted, faulted, 1 billion year-old sedimentary rocks that symbolize the Great Unconformity are revealed in splendor here, a perspective unique to this part of the canyon.  The Tanner trail is 9.3 miles long, and hikers may reach the river in 4-5 hours.

South Bass

The South Bass trail, set roughly 25 miles west of the South Rim Visitor’s Center, is easily the most rugged trail from the South Rim.  Reached by a 4WD trail, the drive here takes roughly 2.5 hours.  The trail itself was carved by William Wallace Bass, and early pioneer and promoter of tourism in Grand Canyon.  South Rim solitude is found in droves here, wildlife abundant, and views outstanding.  The trail is 12.2 miles long, and will take the average hiker 5-7 hours to reach the river.

North Rim

The less popular, more contemplative North Rim presents Grand Canyon hikers with opportunities for more challenges, more solitude, and a decidedly different perspective of Grand Canyon.  Set at over 8,500 feet above sea level, North Rim is a forested wonderland of rolling meadows, wildflower, and perhaps even a glimpse of one of the iconic symbols of the west, the American Bison.  Access requires longer drive times, and trails here retain a fairly rugged character.  Like the South Rim, do not even dream of attempting a rim-to-river-to-rim hike in one day.  North Rim trails are long, can be challenging, and are generally reserved for more-experienced Grand Canyon hikers.

Much of the Colorado River system that has carved Grand Canyon emanates from the north.  Consequently, in contrast to South Rim, North Rim is “set back” from the river, following long, meandering routes coursed by ancient tributaries.  South Rim’s dramatic and abrupt cliff faces and 4000-foot plunges are a product of the lack of water flowing into the river from the south, while North Rim landscapes are dominated by softer relief.

North Kaibab

Counterpart to the South Kaibab Trail, North Kaibab is North Rim’s most accessible and least rugged trail.  It is the only North Rim trail maintained by the NPS.  The trail is follows a 28 miles route to the river, and most hikers will find that it takes 2-3 days to reach the river.  Keep in mind that this is the least-challenging trail on North Rim.

Nankoweap Route

Notice the use of the word “route”, as opposed to the use of the word “trail” in the name.  This is for a reason, as Nankoweap is really not a trail in the traditional sense.  It is lightly trafficked, unmaintained, and follows an ambitiously-descending ridge along the East Kaibab Monocline.  Hikers descend 14.8 miles along the trail, and average hikers may reach the river in 1-2 days. Get ready.  Get set. Go!

North Bass

The North Bass Trail is, of course, the North Rim counterpart to South Rim’s Bass Trail.  William Wallace Bass, pioneer of Grand Canyon, carved this route as part of his efforts to promote tourism in Grand Canyon.  The trail follows faults, rock falls, and sublime canyon scenery 14.5 miles to the river.  Hikers may reach the river in 1-2 days.  This is perhaps the quintessential trail in Grand Canyon, as it contains just about everything hiking here has to offer.  Try an exciting Rim-to-Rim backpacking tour on the Bass Trail, complete with a pack rafting adventure!

Seeing Grand Canyon on Muleback

The National Park Service maintains a mule farm on both North and South Rims.  Visitors to Grand Canyon may elect to have their gear carried to their campsite by pack mule, a decidedly easier alternative to carrying your own gear.  Please consider your choice carefully when selecting a mule outfitter.

Several private companies have been fined and banned from Grand Canyon for animal abuse and cruelty.  Check the Park Service’s website for more information about mule rides in Grand Canyon.  Contact us to learn more about mule-assisted backpacking tours.

Imbibing in a mule-assisted trip to the river certainly takes a load off, however it does not save time.  Hikers must still make their way on foot, or on the back of a mule whose goal is not speed.  Mule trips down to the river typically take between 4-5 hours.

See Grand Canyon by Helicopter

One of the fairly new enterprises in Grand Canyon is the proliferation of helicopter tours.  They are popular particularly in western Grand Canyon, where helicopters buzz through the air almost constantly.  The Goat’s opinion is this — get your butt off your couch and onto your feet.  Need more information?  Please look elsewhere :). Helicopters create several problems in Grand Canyon.  Helicopters create pollution, both noise and exhaust. They destroy any perceived wilderness experience.  They damage wildlife patterns, and best of all (sarcasm) they crash!  In the past 7 years, there have been 3 helicopter crashes that resulted in fatalities.  The most recent of these was near Peach Springs in 2017, when 5 passengers and the pilot died.  One woman was rescued, and is scarred for life both physically and mentally.  Take my advice — don’t contribute to the proliferation of industrial tourism in Grand Canyon.

Fitness

Surely you’ve heard this numerous times, but please be in reasonable physical condition.  Undertaking any hiking in Grand Canyon is a decidedly physical challenge, and it will increase your enjoyment as well as decrease your chances of trouble if you are in shape.  For more information, see our blog post regarding training for hiking in Grand Canyon.

Guided Grand Canyon Hiking Tours

Perhaps the very best way to see and experience Grand Canyon is by hiring a professional guide service.  Hiking with people who know the Grand Canyon intimately vastly improves your experience and understanding of this unreal place, and not having to deal with logistics, food, gear, and all that madness only enhances the trip.

Blue Marble Adventure GeoTourism provides everything need; geologist/guides with actual geology degrees and professional certifications, backcountry meals inspired by professional chefs, top-of-the-line gear, and outstanding customer service.

The Goat’s Final Word

There you have it, folks.  You asked how long does it take walk down the Grand Canyon, and we have outlined virtually every possible eventuality!  Whether by foot (awesome), by mule (still awesome), helicopter (not cool), from North or South Rim, by land or bey sea, you now have some idea of how long it takes.  Happy Hiking!

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How Hot Does It Get In The Grand Canyon?

How Hot Does it Get in the Grand Canyon?

With the summer months officially upon us, it has come time to discuss one of the most-asked questions this time of year: how hot does it actually get in Grand Canyon?  The answer is one word, three letters: H-O-T. The Inner Gorge regularly sees temperatures hovering over 110 degrees, and the Phantom Ranch Ranger Station, a popular destination any time of the year, has recorded temperatures as high as 116 degrees.  Grand Canyon is one hot spot in the summertime, my friends.

Why is it so hot?

Several reasons contribute to temperatures in the depths of Grand Canyon.  They may seem fairly obvious, but our bet is that some may be surprising.  Many of our guests are not accustomed to traveling in the American Southwest, and are sometimes surprised at the heat.  The temperatures may be doubly surprising given that elevations at either rim are well over 7000 feet above sea level.  Let’s examine the culprits.

Climate

First of all, and most simply, it’s a desert.  Grand Canyon sits on the Colorado Plateau, a saucer-shaped uplift in the Earth’s crust.  The Plateau is sandwiched between two mighty mountain ranges, the Rockies and Sierras, both of which impound much of the moisture in the region.  The Colorado Desert, as it is known to ecologists, lies adjacent to the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Mojave Desert of California.

Though not as arid as its cousins to the south, the Colorado Desert is a desert nonetheless.  Average annual precipitation across the Plateau is just 10″ in the lowest, hottest spots, The region is studded with laccoltith (granitic dome) mountains that receive snow, but the lowlands are hot and dry places, indeed.

The Rocks

Given its desert nature, much of the Colorado Plateau is a wilderness of naked rock.  Vegetation in the lower elevations is sparse, lending very little shade.  The bare rocks “breathe” heat, inhaling the solar radiation, then exhaling back out into the atmosphere.  The darker and more dense the rock, the more inhaling and exhaling take place.

The rocks of Grand Canyon’s Inner Gorge, known as the Vishnu Metamorphic Complex, are prime candidates for this breathing action.  Their color (very dark, essentially black in most places) and density (metamorphic rocks are extremely dense) make them enormously susceptible to heat absorption.  Given their location in the depths of Grand Canyon, it is no wonder why the inner canyon can feel like a blast furnace in the hottest months.

Even the lighter-colored, less dense sedimentary rocks found in Grand Canyon such as sandstone, shale, and limestone, are very inefficient cooling centers.  No matter where they are in the canyon, the rocks cannot escape the sun, and hikers in Grand Canyon cannot escape the rocks (yay!).

In essence, Grand Canyon behaves like a giant, incredibly scenic parking lot.  The same action that occurs in the vast expanses of concrete jungles known as cities, also occurs here in Grand Canyon and across the naked rock wilderness of the Colorado Plateau.

Elevation Changes

Grand Canyon is a massive, inverted mountain.  The summit of this mountain, the Colorado River, lies at roughly 2000 feet elevation.  The base, respectively North and South Rims, are at impressive elevations of 7500 and 8500 feet.  As you may imagine, this creates significant differences in temperature.  The rule of thumb climbing mountains in in the upward direction is 5 degrees for every thousand feet.  This same rule of thumb applies to inverted mountains.

A nice summer day on the North Rim might be 80 degrees.  This same day temperatures on the South Rim may be a warm, but still relatively comfortable 85+ degrees  Six thousand feet below at Phantom Ranch it will be a balmy 110 degrees.  Temperatures in the sun may exceed 130 degrees.

The forested rims, particularly the lush North Rim, are in climate zones more similar to places like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Rocky Mountain National Park.  In contrast, the Inner Gorge lies in a climate zone similar to that of Saguaro and Joshua Tree National Parks which are located in the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts, respectively.

Is there any way to beat the heat?

Staying in the cool pine forests near the Grand Canyon’s North and South Rims is the best bet to beat the heat in the summer.  South Rim regularly sees temperatures in the 90s, but shade is easy to find.  Cool breezes often blow through the stands of ponderosa pine, making a picnic overlooking the canyon very pleasant.

The North Rim is cooler, typically seeing high temperatures in the low-to-mid 80’s.  Stands of aspen forest tremble in the breeze, and at 8500 feet nights get quite cool.  A trip to North Rim is a great way to spend a summer day.  Summertime stars at either rim are a sight to behold.

But I still want to hike….

Hiking in Grand Canyon in the summertime, as you may gather, can be a interesting proposition.  The Goat’s advice is to get out early.  Starting a hike before dawn is a summer rite-of-passage in Grand Canyon.  Avoid hiking during the hottest times of the day (10AM-4PM).  If you are out on the trail during those times, it is a good idea to seek shade where available.  Drink plenty of water (3-4L/person), and eat salty snacks that help your body to retain moisture.  Nuts, Jerky, and cheese make a fantastic meal on the trail, but avoid food high in sugar.

Is it a good idea (or even fun) to go backpacking in the summer?

If you are planning a backpacking trip below the rim during the summer, know what you are in for and prepare for it.  Following the general hiking guidelines outlined earlier is a great start.  Plan your trip so that you will be near water, if possible.  Many hikes from the North Rim have water along the trail, and the Colorado River makes a wonderful and very welcome swimming hole.

Packing correctly is quite helpful as well.  A wide-brimmed hat is key, along with sunglasses and clothing material that wicks moisture.  Synthetic garments work well, and avoid wearing anything that absorbs moisture such as denim or cotton.

What is the best time of year to hike in Grand Canyon?

If you can swing it, Grand Canyon hiking is best enjoyed during the cooler months.  October to April are the best times, with November to March being particularly spectacular.  Although it may be chilly on the rim, hiking in the canyon during these months presents daytime temperatures in the 50s and 60s, absolutely perfect for hiking.

Be advised that North Rim is open from May 15 – October 15.  In the off-season there are no services available, and access is quite limited.  In order to access North Rim during the winter, hikers must approach the rim on foot, in snowshoes, or on cross country skies.

Despite summer being warmer, there is no such thing as a bad time to visit Grand Canyon.  Simply hiking along the rim to take in the astounding views is a great summertime activity, but hiking below the rim can be highly enjoyable too.  Following our hiking guidelines will ensure that your backpacking trip or day hike is a safe and fun experience that yields stories and memories to last a lifetime.

Going Guided

Exploring Grand Canyon with a guide service is hands-down the best way to enjoy the canyon.  This is true any time of the year, but is especially true when the temperature starts to rise.  Blue Marble Adventure GeoTourism’s guides are certified in CPR and backcountry medicine in addition to being degreed geologists.  This depth of medical knowledge is the key to keeping our guests safe on the trail, particularly when the conditions are not ideal.  Hit us up for more information, or to join an epic backpacking or basecamp hiking tour.

Hiring an outfitter has several benefits.  Namely, we worry about all the other stuff while you enjoy your adventure!  Food, navigation, top-of-the-line gear, and deep knowledge of the landscape is the coup de gras.

The Goat’s Final Word

Grand Canyon presents the intrepid adventurer extraordinary experiences with unique challenges.  Even without the heat, hiking in Grand Canyon can be demanding and requires preparation paired with realistic goals.  Summer heat is certainly among the challenges one will find here, but it can be managed fairly easily by hiking smart.

In fact, the heat offers hikers the opportunity to really slow down and enjoy the vistas unraveling before their eyes.  Hiking by moonlight is an extraordinary experience that not only beats the heat, but presents an altogether different perspective on this wondrous place.  Trust me, wandering through a moonlight-bathed gorge while a Great Horned Owl hoots from the cliffs above is a sublime experience.

Slow down, find some shade, drink some water, and chill.  Post up under a sprawling cottonwood tree.  Have a well-deserved splash in the river or under a waterfall.  Take cues from Grand Canyon wildlife.  Do you see them going hard in the heat?  No?  Then you shouldn’t either.  Above all, don’t force anything.  If you feel hot, slow down.  Don’t be afraid to take care of yourself, your body will thank you.

Contact us for information about Grand Canyon hiking, or step into a geologic time machine on one of our epic Grand Canyon hiking tours

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How Long Is The Havasupai Falls Hike?

How Long Is The Havasupai Falls Hike?

How Long is the Havasupai Falls Hike?

Hiking down to the shimmering waters of Havasu Falls is on the bucket list of most outdoor enthusiasts.  Who wouldn’t want to take the plunge into some of the most iconic waters of the American Southwest?  Inviting as they seem, however, getting to Havasu Falls is not particularly easy, cheap, or for the faint of heart.  The trail is quite long, steep in places, and mostly in the sun.  This is not to mention the sometimes dizzying exposures along two ridges.

Here are the best ways to get to Havasu Falls, as dictated by The Goat:

By Foot

Hiking, as usual, is The Goat’s recommended method of travel.  It allows one to truly experience nature and the wilderness was meant to be; unobstructed by whirring motors, and metal boxes on wheels.  Though there are other means of travel to reach Havasu Falls (two of which are covered later in this post), hiking is by far the most rewarding.  In addition to the physical rewards, the scenery is outstanding, and a multi-day backpacking trip allows hikers to explore the area deeply, which is not to be missed.

Several small tributaries to Havasu creek have carved intricate canyons of their own.  Though the waterfalls and turquoise waters are the main attraction, the creeks, chives, falls, slots, and defiles off the beaten path are well worth the time to explore.  Here, we outline the particulars of the main hike from its main (read: only) trailhead.  Please do not attempt to reach the falls by any other routes or trails.

The Numbers

Length: 10 miles one-way
Difficulty: Strenuous, especially coming out of the canyon in the summer
Optimal Seasons:

If you can get a permit, GO! (Read more about Havasupai Permits here). This is one of the most coveted permits in the world, and getting one is no easy task.  The best season to go is the date your permit says.

Permits:

As of 2019, the Havasupai Tribe has changed and streamlined its permit process.  You MUST reserve permits online, there is no longer a number to call.

Cost:

Once again, the tribe has changed things up a bit.  New in 2019, the only kind of trip available to reserve as 4 days/3 nights.  You can no longer customize your trip length.  The rates are $100/night during the week (mon-thurs) and $125/night on the weekends (fri-sun).  This means, on average, a 4 day/3 night trip the Havasu Falls will cost you somewhere between $300-$375 per person on the permit.

The Hike

Hiking down to the village of Supai and Havasu Falls is absolutely the way to do it.  The 10-mile hike from Hualapai Hilltop to the campgrounds is reasonably difficult, so plan on hiking 4-5 hours down, and 7-8 hours back up.  The weather can be very warm, and there is NO water along the trail.  Bring at least 3 liters of personal drinking water, and remember there is no water until you reach the village of Supai, 8 miles down the canyon.

The trail starts quickly, with 1 mile of switchbacks descending 2000 feet into the canyon.  Be aware of mules and horses on the trail as you make your way, they can be unpredictable.  Always yield to animals.  One of the most unfortunate things along the trail is the observation of animal caracasses; the pack animal situation here has become untenable (more on this later).  You may reserve pack animals in the village of Supai, or at the campground.  Stay on the side of the trail to avoid spooking the animals, and respect their handlers instructions..

Animals and Wildlife

There can be other wildlife (as if pack animals are wildlife) on the trail the you will want to stay aware of.  Rattlesnakes, scorpions, and poisonous spiders are part of the desert ecosystem here.  Do not put your hands in a place where you can’t see them.  Do not, under any circumstances approach or in any way disturb rattlesnakes in particular. The most commonly-treated snakebite injury is on the hand.  Would you like to guess how a rattlesnake bites a person on the hand?

Hikers may also catch a glimpse of bighorn sheep, California condors, Red-tailed Hawks, and copious numbers of lizards and rodents such as chipmunks and ground squirrels.  Do not approach or attempt to feed wildlife.  The rodents may carry the Hantavirus, which is a particularly horrific, Ebola-like virus that can result in death.  Also, keeping wildlife wild is what makes wilderness what it is and was meant to be!

Continuing Down the Canyon…..

The hike meanders on the trail for 7 miles before reaching the village of Supai.  The first 3 miles of this trek offers very little shelter from the sun.  At length, hikers reach the terminus of Hualapai Canyon at the junction of Havasu Canyon, where the famous turquoise waters of Havasu Creek first appear.  From this junction, you have just 1.5 miles to reach the village of Supai.

The Village of Supai

The village of Supai, where the Havasuapai Tribe has made their home for the better part of the last 800 years, is a small and quaint place.  Services are very limited.  There is no cell phone reception (but you probably knew this from the moment your phone lost reception below the canyon rim), and even the mail comes by mule train to this day.

There are some options for supplies, however.  In addition to the campground office,  there is a convenience store stocked with items like chips, jerky, gatorade/water, and other snacks provisions (bacon!).  This a great place to recharge for the last 2 miles of the trek to the campgrounds.  There is also a diner, grocery store, and more in the town, so take a moment to explore.

The Last Leg to the Falls

Departing from Supai, hikers descend for an additional 1.5 miles down Havasu Canyon. Come around a bend, and wait for a figurative punch in the face.  The outstanding scene around the corner, the famous Havasu Falls, comes into view.  Cascading nearly 150 feet over cliffs of travertine, Havasu Falls plunges into the blue-green waters with a thunderous might.   This view alone will make every step of the journey worth it.

If you can, pry yourself away from the mesmerizing view and continue to the campground, a short half-mile beyond the falls.  The campground has running water and trash receptacles, please use them both responsibly (more on this later).  Bringing additional water bladders and water bottles can cut down on the time spent at the faucet.  There is but one faucet, and lines will form at any time of year.  Be smart, plan ahead, save time.

While at the Campground

Havasu Falls and the surrounding area is a very popular place.  Do not come here expecting solitude, or anything that could be considered a “wilderness experience”.  While it is intensely beautiful, it is that beauty that makes it very crowded.  On any given night, during all times of the year, expect to share the campground with somewhere between 300-400 other people.  Also expect a nearly constant din of helicopters landing and taking off, as this has become a very popular method of reaching the falls.

Trash

There are several things you can do while at Havasu Campground to minimize your personal impact.  Rule one:  Pack it in, pack it out.  If you bring it, take it the hell out (please).  Do not flick cigarette butts, toss napkins or do your dishes in the creek.  Do not act a fool.  Over the years, especially as the popularity of this place has grown, guests here have acted fools; don’t be them.

There are trash receptacles at the campground itself, along with more in Supai.  Don’t be one of the rubes who comes to this beautiful place only to treat it as their personal dumping grounds.  Please contribute positively towards a future where everyone that comes here can enjoy its pristine beauty and granduer without having to stare a pools full of popped intertubes, discarded bras, cigarette butts, and beer cans.

Trail Distances:

Hualapai Hilltop to Campgrounds – 10 Miles

Hualapai Hilltop to Supai – 8 Miles

Supai to Campground – 2 Miles

Campground to Mooney Falls – 0.5 Miles

Mooney Falls To Colorado River – 8 Miles

By Mule

Mules and other pack animals such as horses have long been used to transport gear, supplies, and people up and down the canyon walls of Havasu.  In recent years, this practice has been adopted by several private outfitters that run trips to Havasu Falls.  Due to crowding, jostling, and overall irresponsibility and disregard, this pack animal situation has become untenable.  What exactly does that mean?  It means that there have been numerous cases of serious animal abuses, from dehydration and starvation, to squalid trail and living conditions, to outright physical abuse and death.

The Goat strongly advises against using any company that offers pack animal-supported tours.  The long list of serious offenders (which we won’t mention here out of professional respect), reflects a culture of lack of accountability.  There are ZERO companies that offer pack animal-supported tours that have a 100% clean sheet of responsibility.  You may contact us directly for more information on this malpractice.

By Helicopter

There has been a massive increase in the popularity of getting to Havasu Falls by skipping the hike, instead opting to ride a helicopter.  The Goat cannot stress how much he detests this practice, and bids adieu to anyone wishing to do it.  You may do what you please, but we cannot and will not instruct, offer information to, or otherwise involve ourselves in an industry that actively degrades and disrespects the sanctity of wilderness.  Also, get off your lazy butt and walk down if you want to see something beautiful.

Going Guided

****As of 2019, the Havasupai Tribe has placed a moratorium on all commercial guiding into Havasu Canyon.  Due to overwhelming popularity, overcrowding, and lack of regulation, the tribe thought it best to place a hold on all guided tours until a proper management plan can be outlined.  Contact us for information regarding self-guided tours, and other means of support for trips to Havasu Falls.

The Goat’s Final Word

Havasu Falls and the four azure waterfalls that accompany, are some of the most beautiful, unique, and stunning scenes the world has to offer.  The journey to reach it is challenging, but extraordinarily rewarding.  Please follow and respect the permit regulations and requirements, and once there please have reverence and respect for this truly special landscape.  The tribe has significantly altered the permit process, and placed restrictions on commercial guiding companies in order to combat the overrunning of their homeland.

Going to Havasu Falls and exploring the fantasy-like landscape is an absolute bucket list destination; a destination that any hiker who wishes to explore Earth’s most special landscapes would want to check off.  However, getting there takes advance planning, commitment, and respect.

For more information on the Permit Process, visit the Havasupai Tribal Website

Like our blog?  Check out our guided tours through geologic time to Grand Canyon, Utah Canyon Country, and Arizona Red Rock Country!

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Why Did the Grand Canyon Become a National Park?

Why did Grand Canyon become a National Park?

The answer to this question seems obvious.  Simply put, it is the Grandest Canyon on the planet.  Scenery aside, Grand Canyon is a treasure trove of resources that scream for preservation.  To truly answer the question though, we must delve into why any National Park exists.  It’s not just the scenery that makes Grand Canyon famous, but the pioneers that preserved it.  The story of Grand Canyon’s journey to National Park status is as deep and wide as the canyon itself.  Henceforth, come as The Goat tells the tale of the how the National Parks, and Grand Canyon itself, came to be.

Grand Canyon from the south bass trail

Why are there ANY National Parks?

A National Park is an area that has been set aside for preservation and public use by an act of the President or Congress.  Most importantly, it is closed to industry and private development.  However, the story of the National Parks begins, as many stories in the development of the Western United States.  Pioneers, prospectors, and the railroad were the driving force.

The purchase of land by the US Government in the early 1800’s opened the land.  In these wide-open spaces, places were discovered unlike any on Earth.  Soaring mountains, deep canyons, active volcanoes, and extraordinary landscapes were the norm. The discovery of gold in California sparked a massive westward expansion in 1849, and flooded the wild lands with pioneers and opportunists.  Many of those that didn’t strike it rich realized the potential for preservation of these beautiful places.

Political Movement and Conservation

In the 1870’s, a political movement known as “democratic liberalism” had washed over the nation.  Americans were concerned with the perceived ravages of unchecked capitalism, and Congress responded.  The Congress enacted the Forest Service Act, one of many new laws passed aimed at social reform.  The new law allowed the Federal Government to set aside areas like Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Sequoia National Forest for protection.

Yellowstone became the first National Park in 1872, and the party had just begun.  Using the Forest Service Act, the Yellowstone National Park Act was cemented into law in March of that year, and kicked off a generation of conservation that created many of our most famous National Parks.

The First National Parks

Yellowstone was, of course, the first National Park created in 1872.  However, many other parks came before Grand Canyon.  Sequoia was set aside for protection in 1890, along with Yosemite.  Grand Canyon National Park was created in 1919, but by then, Rocky Mountain, Crater Lake, and Hawaii Volcanoes among others had already been established.

The Antiquities Act

In 1906, Congress created the Antiquities Act.   The act gave the President power to establish National Monuments, by using land already owned by the Federal Government.  It paved the way for the creation of the National Park Service in 1916, and the NPS now manages 61 National Parks, and many more National Monuments.

Grand Canyon Grandview point

Grand Canyon Becomes a National Park

The cultural history of Grand Canyon dates back several millennia, but the first Europeans to arrive in the Grand Canyon region came after the Mexican-American War of the 1840’s.  Trade and transportation routes opened up in the American Southwest and began to approach the North and South Rims of Grand Canyon.

The story of Grand Canyon becoming a National Park begins, as many stories in the settlement and development of the Western United States, with pioneers, prospectors, and the railroad.  Grand Canyon was an unknown wilderness for the first five million years of its existence,  but that was about to change.

Early Pioneers and Exploration

Early Pioneers in the area included Bill Bass and Ralph Cameron. Louis Boucher, better known as “The Hermit”, built a wonderful trail into the canyon’s depths.  John Wesley Powell, “The Father of the American Southwest”, was the first to navigate the Colorado River from Lee’s Ferry to Pearce Ferry in 1869.  His book, The Exploration of the Colorado River and its Canyons, documents the journey.

Powell’s voyage was important in mapping Grand Canyon. It was was the key to unlocking the unknown. There was little known about the inner canyon before.  Powell took 11 men on the expedition, and 8 finished the journey.  One man became ill, and another injured himself.  Two men gave up, and climbed out of the canyon near Toroweap.  They were never seen again, and it is unknown what happened to them.

Powell was the head of the US Geological Survey at the time.  His expedition opened the canyon for more intensive geologic research, and scientists from around the world came to study the canyon.  The rocks in Grand Canyon hold many secrets.  Two billion years of Earth’s history is contained in its walls.  Above all, Grand Canyon is a window into time.

Mining and The Railroad Come to Grand Canyon

The Union and Pacific Railroad arrived in the 1870’s, and along with the Santa Fe Railroad began to provide transportation to and from Grand Canyon for tourism and industry.  Several mining claims were established in the canyon, most notably the Last Chance mine below Horseshoe Mesa.  Last Chance was one of the only mines that was profitable.  The profits, however, were short-lived.

Most prospectors in Grand Canyon quickly realized that they could make far more money with tourism, and improved routes down into the canyon.  Mules and horses carried tourists and their trappings down into the canyon, where a camp awaited.  After that, tourism grew quickly, and soon the railroad companies became interested.

The first train to arrive at Grand Canyon’s South Rim pulled up in 1901.  El Tovar Hotel was completed in 1904, and was immediately heralded as the finest accommodation in the west.  The railroad stop literally paved the way for the development and growth of the burgeoning park, and people flocked to take in the views.

Grand Canyon Becomes Protected Land

First, Grand Canyon was protected under the Forest Act in 1882, to the chagrin of many would-be industrialists.  Then, President Theodore Roosevelt used the Antiquities Act to establish Grand Canyon National Monument in 1908.  The newly created power protected the canyon from any and all private claims.  Finally, Senator Henry Ashurst of Arizona introduced the bill that officially made the Grand Canyon a National Park in 1919.  It is now one of the most popular places on Earth.

Grand Canyon has seen tens of millions of visitors since its designation.  In 2018, visitation hit an all-time high at over 6.4 million, and it is the 8th-most visited Park in the system. National Parks such as Golden Gate Bridge and the Lincoln Memorial are also designated National Parks, and places such as these the most total visitation.  After that, Grand Canyon sits behind only Great Smoky Mountains in terms of the natural National Parks.

Going Guided

Hiking and exploring Grand Canyon, or any of the National Parks, is a special experience.  Although it is possible to see these places yourself, hiring a guide is a great idea.  For instance, guiding services provide logistical support, and plan everything for your best possible trip.  They provide a great safety net on the trail, and are trained in backcountry medicine. Above all, they provide a depth of knowledge of the region that turns a walk into a true adventure.

Blue Marble Adventure GeoTourism provides all of the support you need, and pairs that with expert geologist/guides.  Our backcountry meals use fresh ingredients, and are planned by a professional chef.  Furthermore, we provide top-of-the-line gear and passion for the places we explore.  In conclusion, you can visit National Parks, but going with a guide can create and even more memorable experience.  Don’t be shy, and call us!

Grand Canyon Horseshoe Mes

The Goat’s Final Word

As you can see, the real answer of how Grand Canyon became a National Park is not so obvious.  The question why is an obvious answer, but how is the real answer.  The scenery and beauty at Grand Canyon are magnificent.  In other words, the clear need to preserve this special place is made obvious the moment you approach the rim.  However, it took gumption and years of political action that brought us the National Parks.  Therefore, visit the National Parks.  They are magical places.  Marvel in the surroundings, and appreciate how they came to be.

Why did Grand Canyon become a National Park?  The answer is simple.  How though?  Fortitude.  Commitment.  Perseverance. Dedication to a cause.  The actions of a relentless band of rebels.  The same actions and fortitude that carved the entire National Park system.  In conclusion, action.

Read our blog!

For adventure hiking vacations in a geologic time machine, see our epic tours in Grand Canyon, Utah, and Arizona!

For geological musings read The Goat’s geology blog.

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Top 10 Geologic Adventures of a Lifetime in the American Southwest

The Bucket List Countdown

Everyone has a list.  A daily list, a chore list, a grocery list, an assignment list, a to do list, a list of…..?  None of these lists are fun, nor do they really do anything to further joy and appreciation of the beauty of the natural world.  This is where the bucket list comes in.  A life to do list, a list of things that if we accomplished them we would pass into time and space as happy souls; souls that knew there was nothing more that they needed to accomplish. That, my friends, is the only to-do list that you should really pay any mind.

What we have here is the Top 10 places to see in the American Southwest before time and space claims you for their own.  These 10 locations not only encompass everything that makes the Southwest special, but are places that fill us with wonder, joy, mystery, energy, beauty, and a sense of being that can only be achieved by realizing just how special a place our Earth is.

The foundational specialty of the top 10 is the mind-bending geologic scales that they present to us.  This is not a comprehensive list but rather one compiled of The Goat’s personal tastes and experiences.  Come along on a journey through time!

10.  Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area provides almost limitless opportunities to hike, backpack, boat, swim, and recreate (hence the name).  Though much of its splendor has been covered by the waters of Lake Powell behind Glen Canyon Dam, the area remains a splendrous wonderland of rock and scenery.  Coursing from the seasonally-populated town of Hite in the north to Glen Canyon Dam itself, GCNRA traverses a stark and beautiful land along the former path of the Colorado River.

Among these fabulous places are Coyote Gulch, Choprock and Neon Canyons, and West Canyon among others.  These canyons in particular still display the outrageous scenery and fairy tale-esque environments that Glen Canyon held before being impounded by the “beavers”.

Slickrock country abounds here, with canyons carved into orange and red-hued Navajo Sandstone and the aptly-named Glen Canyon Group.  The rocks here are of Jurassic age, and record tidal mud flats and incredibly vast wind-blown desert sand dunes, which is thought to be the largest desert in recorded geologic history.

The Goat’s advice: get off the lake and into the canyons if you truly want to see this fantastic place.  The Canyons of the Escalante, part of the northwesterly arm that extends from the Colorado, holds many remnants of the entombed wonderland. However, many features (such as the famous Rainbow Bridge) can be reached by boat which is a fun way to see this stark rock paradise set against the blue waters of Lake Powell.

Main Attractions:

Deep, sinewy slickrock canyons replete with arches, natural bridges, waterfalls, ancient ruins, and Lake Powell.

How to Get There:

For the easiest lake access, head to the town of Page, Arizona and one of the many marinas.  From nearly anywhere else along its boundaries in southern Utah, GCNRA can be accessed by foot via countless canyons.

Optimal Seasons:

Hiking in Glen Canyon is best enjoyed from March to June, and late September to November.  Lake Powell is a wonderful summertime destination.

9.  Bryce Canyon National Park

Set in south-central Utah, Bryce Canyon contains deeply carved amphitheaters and ubiquitous hoodoos draped in orange. Erosional remainders of ancient freshwater lakes, these hoodoos create a fairyland of rocks that is extraordinarily unique.  Many of the hoodoos sit in deep basins that appear almost like large theaters, beckoning to audiences to watch their show.

Bryce Canyon checks in as one of the smaller National Parks at just over 50,000 acres, but contained within it is jaw-dropping scenery that will surprise and delight.  Before you leave, you may feel as though you have 100,000 new hoodoo friends, as each one of them seems to take on a certain unique persona.

This area was covered by large, freshwater lakes in the Pleistocene between 8-10 million years ago.  Regional tectonic uplift and and erosion by dripping water, wind, and time has sculpted this outstanding landscape.

Main Attractions:

A veritable forest of the geologic oddity known as the hoodoo.  The hoodoos here are erosional remains of once-cohesive blocks of sandy limestone that have been carved slowly by the forces of geologic time.  Other features, such as spires and buttes, tower above the trails that snake their way through the golden-tinted hoodoos into secret grottos and cavernous alcoves.  Truly stupendous!

How to Get There:

Take Utah Highway 12, a National Scenic Byway, south from Escalante, or north from Panguitch, Utah.  The nearest major airport is in St. George, Utah, about 4 hours from the park.

Optimal Season:

The best season in Bryce Canyon is late spring to early fall, but winter brings snow and chilly weather.

8.  Bears Ears National Monument, Utah

In the southeast corner of the state lies one of our newest National Monuments, Bears Ears.  Conferred by President Barack Obama in December of 2016, the designation of Bears Ears has been a source of controversy and conflict.  This controversy boiled into a nearly 85% reduction of the monument in 2017 by the current White House occupant, Donald Trump.  The reduction is being litigated in Federal Court, and a final decision on the boundaries of Bears Ears awaits a judges gavel.

Bears Ears, named for twin buttes that stand sentinel over the 1.6-million acre Monument, is an absolute treasure trove of cultural, geologic, and ecological resources.  Though its claim to fame are the thousands of ruins and relics left behind by generations of Anasazi Puebloans, the landscape itself is incredibly diverse and nearly unrivaled in its scenic value.

Bears Ears contains three distinct provinces: the lowlands of the Valley of the Gods, Cedar Mesa and its gashing Grand Gulch, and the Fable Plateau home of spectacular Dark Canyon and the famous Bears Ears.  A short climb up the Bears Ears reveals sprawling views across much of the Grand Staircase to the southwest, north to the Canyonlands and the Orange Cliffs.

Tent camping at the Dark Canyon in the Grand Canyon

Valley of the Gods and San Juan River Country

Sitting at the base of Cedar Mesa and the historic Moki Dugway is the Valley of the Gods.  Sometimes referred to as “Little Monument Valley”, Valley of the Gods is filled with large buttes and mesas sculpted into shapes that truly resemble sitting deities watching over their domain.  Slightly to the southwest flows the San Juan River on its way to meet the Colorado River, goosenecking through the Monument Upwarp.  The Upwarp is a massive wrinkle in Earth’s crust, remnant structure of the forces that built the Rocky Mountains.  The core of this structure has been eroded and dissected, leaving the landscape beheld today.

Cedar Mesa

Up the Moki Dugway, a twisting, narrow “highway” climbing the sheer sandstone cliffs, sits Cedar Mesa.  This is the most popular place in the Bears Ears, with many miles of well-trod trails into Grand Gulch, its canyon.  Contained within Grand Gulch is the hundreds, if not thousands or ruin sites left by its former denizens, the Anasazi.  The tribes abandoned the area under mysterious circumstances, leaving behind structures, petroglyphs, and pottery; many of these relics are in excellent condition.

The Fable Plateau

The final northernmost slice of Bears Ears is the Fable Plateau, a soaring mesa topping out at nearly 9000 feet.  The mesa is carpeted with forests of aspens, fir trees, and wildflowers in the summer.  Hidden in the back of beyond, a stunning landscape awaits.

Dark Canyon, perhaps America’s last wilderness frontier, is a little-explored and deep defile rivaling Grand Canyon in its scale and beauty.  Sheer red and orange walls dive precipitously to its depths, where the narrows rarely see full sun; thus Dark Canyon.  Revealed in this utterly surreal canyon is 100 million years of Earth’s history, recording sand-blown deserts to large rivers, and ancient seas that teemed with life.  Set directly east of Canyonlands National Park, Dark Canyon is a hidden gem that rivals the most popular National Parks for scenery, and far surpasses them for wilderness solitude.

Main Attractions:

Bears Ears boasts looming buttes in the Valley of the Gods, ancient ruins in Grand Gulch, and wild, wooly, spectacular scenery in Dark Canyon.  All of this can be see unencumbered and without a soul in sight.

How to Get There:

The small towns of Bluff and Blanding in Utah provide good jump-off points to the Fable Plateau and Cedar Mesa via Highway 95 west.  valley of the Gods is best accessed  by heading south from 95 down the Moki Dugway.  The nearest airports are Grand Junction, Colorado or Flagstaff, Arizona.

Optimal Season:

Bears Ears can be enjoyed any time of year, but spring and fall are best.  Summers are hot, but tolerable.  Winters can bring snow to the Fable area, but is generally tolerable.

7.  Waterpocket Fold, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

The Colorado Plateau is a geologist’s paradise for several reasons.  It is the preeminent showcase of relatively undisturbed sedimentary strata on the globe.  Bound by mountains on all sides, including the mighty Rockies, The Plateau has somewhat mysteriously remained largely intact and undeformed since at least the Triassic, or roughly 250 million years.  However, there are deformation structures within the province. The largest, most spectacular of these is a monocline known as The Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park of Utah.

The Waterpocket Fold is a 100-mile long upwarp in the Earth’s crust, remnants of the powerful geologic forces that built the Rocky Mountains.  These tectonic forces, known as the Laramide Orogeny, resulted in numerous monoclines, or single-flexure folds, across The Plateau. The Waterpocket Fold is by far the most impressive.  To see this fold is to truly behold the power of Earth’s processes; those that can thrust mountains thousands of feet into the sky, and those that can bend hard rocks like silly putty.

The names of this surprising feature come from two histories:

The fold gets its name from the countless divots on its domed head that collect water after rain; thus water pockets.  It is also called “Capitol Reef”:  “Capitol” from the Navajo Sandstone domes resembling government buildings in Washington DC, and “Reef” from its standing as an incredibly formidable barrier to travel similar to coral reefs impeding boat travel in the ocean.

Main Attractions:

The Waterpocket Fold is the particular feature of interest in, or better yet is, the Capitol Reef.  Within its impenetrable cliffs are arches, natural bridges, creeks with waterfalls, ruins, petroglyphs, deep canyons, and outstanding natural scenery.  The fold gets its name from the countless divots on its domed head that collect water after rain; thus water pockets.

How to Get There:

Capitol Reef National Park is near the town of Fremont in central Utah.  Highway 24 runs directly through the park.

Optimal Season:

Spring and fall are best, but Capitol Reef is nice any time of year.  Summers are warm, but tolerable.  Winter can bring snow and cold, although this brings intense beauty,

6.  Zion National Park, Utah

How does one describe perhaps the most dramatic cliff and canyon topography on the planet?  Try this: it’s like walking into the most dramatic cliff and canyon topography on the planet.  The walls of Zion Canyon stretch up nearly 2000 feet over its floor.  With its main access being from the bottom-up, very unique in the world of canyons, Zion presents an astonishing perspective that truly makes one feel minute.  Zion owes its drama to (what else), its geology and the incredibly specific sequence of events that occurred.

What happened here?

Zion sits on the southwest margin of the Colorado Plateau Province, directly at its border with the Basin and Range Province.  The Basin and Range is a vast area of the southwest from essentially Las Vegas down to Phoenix and out west to Los Angeles that has been subjected to extensional tectonics.  That is, the crust is literally pulling itself apart like silly putty.  Zion’s location is the reason for its existence.  With the Basin and Range faulting and pulling downwards to the southwest, the Virgin River has been forced to flow out and down at a high rate while the margins of the Plateau “bounce” back up in buoyant resistance to the gravitational pull of the Basin and Range.

This dual-headed action has resulted in the extraordinary and incredibly dramatic landscape, and is also the reason that access is from the bottom instead of the top, like most canyons.  Zion is an incredibly special place that presents a spectacle nearly unmatched on the planet.  Why is it only #6 on this list, you ask?  Crowds, plain and simple.  Summer is when the throngs of people descend like locusts, when it’s over 100 degrees most days.  Despite being one of the smaller National Parks, it receives roughly the same visitation as much larger parks like Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Yosemite.  Ever tried to jam yourself into the crawlspace of your attic in the summer?  Welcome to Zion!  If you would truly like to enjoy this place fully, visit in the off-seasons such as spring or fall.  Winter, when the cliffs are covered in snow, is particularly special.

Main Attractions:

Zion Canyon is the main attraction here, with massive, soaring walls of red-orange sandstone glowering down at the valleys below.  “Yosemite Dressed in Red” also boasts arches, mesas, buttes, exhilarating cliff hiking, and in the northern Kolob Canyon part of the park, less crowds.

How to Get There:

Zion can be accessed easily from Las Vegas via I-15, which is partly why it’s so popular.  The towns of Rockdale and Springdale are quaint, if not touristy, little towns right at the mouth of the canyon.

Optimal Season:

Summers are hot and crowded.  Winter can be snowy and chilly, but drives away the crowds and drapes the red walls in crisp white.  Spring and fall are the best seasons.

5.  Arches National Park, Utah

Made famous in Edward Abbey’s classic Desert Solitaire, the Arches is an intensely special and truly one-of-a-kind place.  Home to the largest concentration of natural rock arches in the world, Arches National Park is a stunning and mind-bending.  Over 2000 arches have been discovered here, and more wait in the wilderness.  The iconic symbol of Utah, if not the entire canyon country, is Delicate Arch.  Presiding over a large amphitheater and framing the La Sal mountains to the east, Delicate Arch is truly magnificent.

Like most of the places on this list, Arches is the result of a very specific set of geologic events.  First (and most importantly) vast deposits of salt were laid down as ancient seas filled and evaporated in ceaseless cycles of oscillating climate.  Salt behaves strangely, not like other rocks as you might imagine.  It “flows” when subjected to pressure, and deforms very easily.  This deformation combined with upward flow has resulted in the incredibly and precisely sculpted arches, which would not exist without it.

Main Attraction:

Simply put: the Arches.  Arches National Park also contains other incredibly unique salt deformation structures such as domes, strike valleys, grabens, and undrinkable saline springs.

How to Get There:

The Arches are easily accessed from the town of Moab, Utah.  Moab has an airport and many amenities like hotels, restaurants, and shops.

Optimal Season:

Avoid the summers, as it is interminably hot and crowded.  Winter can be chilly, but Delicate Arch draped in snow is a sight to behold.  Spring and fall are the best seasons.

4.  Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah and Arizona

A rose by any name is still a rose.  Nowhere is this saying more true than at The Staircase, or The Escalante if you prefer.  The scale and twisted geology of this place is almost overwhelming at times, and its remoteness only adds to its splendor.  Despite having 1.3 millions acres contained within the monument, it only houses 15-20 developed trails. making backcountry travel and navigation skills a must to see much of the area.  The Staircase is about as wild as it gets in the Lower 48.

Wild sandstone hoodoos, mesas, and almost hauntingly twisted sedimentary formations greet visitors at every turn.  The sediments in the Grand Staircase, named for its star-step like appearance from afar, record geologic history from the Permian to the late Cretaceous, or about 175 million years.

Recently this monument has come under attack from the Trump “administration”.  Like Bears Ears, the Grand Staircase has seen a reduction in its size by over 50%.  Surprising to nobody, mining companies have moved in to claim areas once made off-limits by the monument.  Contact us to find out how you can help this special place be saved.

Main Attractions:

The Grand Staircase has it all.  Here, explorers can find the heart of canyon country.  From deeply-incised canyons to 10000 foot mountains, there is something for every adventure appetite here.  Several new species of dinosaurs have been discovered here, as well as 650 species of bees, some endemic to GSENM.

How to Get There:

There are several points of access into the Grand Staircase.  The town of Kanab, UT is the largest and provides the most amenities.  The towns of Escalante and Boulder are classic canyon country towns.  Page, AZ also offers good access.

Optimal Seasons:

There is a place for every season in the Grand Staircase, although summers are pretty warm.  However, summer can be fabulous in the watery canyons, and cooling off under a showering spring is an excellent activity.  Spring and fall are the best times to visit, and winter should probably be avoided.

3.  Canyonlands National Park, Utah

This is where the canyon country puts on its grandest display.  Canyonlands National Park can be described in one sentence: this place is nuts!  From the Island in the Sky to The Needles to The Maze, Canyonlands forcefully makes a case for the most spectacular scenery on the planet.

This massive park, one of the largest in the National Park system, is divided into three distinct provinces.  We’ll begin there.

Island in the Sky

This district is wonderful for first-time visitors to the park.  It provides expansive views to the other two, more remote districts and contains many easily-explored and very famous features.  Mesa Arch and Upheaval Dome are wonderful features to explore.  Grandview Point elicits outstanding, sweeping views from atop vertical cliffs plunging 1000 feet straight down.

The Needles

The Needles District explores carefully-sculpted geologic features known as hoodoos.  Cut into multi-hued Permian-aged (280Ma) rock, this district retains the distinct look of a giant pincushion.  Hikers can approach the Colorado River from here via a few different, rugged trails.

The Maze

Perhaps the most remote place in the lower 48, The Maze is precisely what it sounds like.  A dizzying network of canyons and rock, The Maze is reserved for the most adventurous canyon country explorers.  Not to be missed here is the Chocolate Drops, the Alligators Teeth, and the Land of the Standing Rocks.

Main Attractions:

There are too many to list here.  Canyonlands is impossible to experience in a day or two, especially with the incredible variation between the districts.  The Maze is easily the least popular, and Island in the Sky the most popular.  If you have one day, do overlooks at Island in the Sky.  Upheaval Dome is also not to be missed.

The Needles contains outrageous arches and rock formations, though most are accessed by relatively long (4+ mile one-way) trails.

The Maze is the absolute definition of wilderness and requires commitment just to get there.  Enjoy!

How to Get There:

The easiest access into Canyonlands is from Moab, UT.  Moab provides access to Island in the Sky and the Needles.  If you want to access The Maze, be prepared to drive for at least 3-4 hours over 4WD roads.

Optimal Season:

Spring and fall are the best seasons to visit the Canyonlands (noticing a pattern?).  Island in the Sky can be a fine summer destination, but the Needles and Maze should be approached carefully.  Winter can be a dramatically-fabulous time to visit, but stay out of the water.

2.  Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

Home to perhaps the most famous geologic formation in the world, Vermillion  Cliffs is one of the most sought after destinations in the southwest.  Known for its difficult access, remote location, and stunning geology, this is one place that cannot be missed.

Look at your screensaver right now.  Pick up a postcard.  There’s a good chance the picture on it is from the Vermillion Cliffs.  The Wave, the most famous, graces much of the marketing material for the American Southwest.

How Was the Wave Formed?

Although it is named “The Wave”, water has little to do with this feature.  It is carved in the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone, interpreted as a massive, Sahara-like desert.  Wind, time, and small amounts of seaonally-flowing water has sculpted The Wave to its current beauty.  Permits to see this feature can be hard to come by, but it is certainly worth the wait.  Read our blog covering how to get permits to see this feature.

There are several other destinations here, however, including the longest, deepest slot canyon in the United States (Buckskin Gulch), the outstanding White Pocket, and Paria Canyon.

Main Attractions:

Nakedly exposed geology is on tap here, and The Wave itself, along with the mind-bending formations found all across this outstanding wilderness, are musts for anyone interested in beauty.

How to Get There:

Best access is from the towns of Page, AZ or Kanab, UT, but all access requires 4WD and knowledge of how to use it.

Optimal Season:

Spring and fall are the best times of the year to visit (once again).  Summers are very hot, but if a permit to The Wave is involved the date on your permit is the optimal season.  Winters are chilly and can bring snow, but also create rare and fantastic photo opportunities.

1.  Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Truly the Grandaddy of them all, The Grand Canyon does and will always reign supreme as the jewel of the American Southwest.  Overwhelming in its grandeur, humbling in its splendor, inspiring in its presence, this canyon is absolutely nothing short of grand.

There is very little to say about The Grand that has not been said in hyperbole for over 100 years.  Teddy Roosevelt immediately designated it for protection shortly after his visit in 1904, and people have been coming in droves to gaze upon one of the official natural wonders of the world.  Nearly 6 million people per year Grand Canyon, but it is not hard to find solitude on the trails and away from the busy parts of the park.

As one walks down the trails here, keep in mind that for each step is worth nearly 100,000 years.  The rocks at the rim are roughly 260 million years old, and the rocks at the Colorado River in the inner gorge are roughly 1.9 billion years old.  That means with 16,000 steps, you will have traveled 1.6 billion years back in time when you reach the river.  Not bad for a day.

There is a lifetime’s worth of hikes, backpacking trips, and even scenic drives that await for the novice to the seasoned traveler.  This is most certainly THE bucket list item.

Grand Canyon Colorado River

Main Attraction:

A giant freaking hole in the ground, but a ridiculously beautiful hole.

How to Get Here:

Access South Rim from Flagstaff or Tusayan, AZ, and access to North Rim is best from Kanab, UT or Jacob Lake, AZ.

Optimal Seasons:

Seasons vary depending on activity and location.  Late spring to early fall are optimal times on both rims, but fall to spring is best for being in the Inner Gorge.

Going Guided

Oftentimes the best way to experience these nearly overwhelming places is on a guided tour.  Guides provide several things: safety, security, logistics, transportation, food, water, and a depth of knowledge gained over years of experience in these wild lands.

Many of the places listed here require keen navigation skills, lack water, and can present difficult challenges with climate, wildlife, exposure to heights, and elevation changes.  Hiring a guide can eliminate all of those potential issues, and allow guests to simply enjoy their surroundings.  Blue Marble Adventure GeoTourism provides outstanding service, top-of-the-line-gear, professional geologist/guides, and handles all logistics.  Guarantee your best trip ever!  Go Guided!

The Goat’s Final Word

There it is, the best geologic adventures in the West.  The naked rock wildernesses of the Colorado Plateau provide limitless and life-changing experiences.  These 10 locations are not only the best adventures in the southwest, they represent some of the best adventure and scenery in the world.

The bottom line: immediately drop that foolish chore list you are holding and start dreaming beyond your gutters.  The greater world waits for you, but don’t wait for it.

Like our blog?  Check out one of our guided tours through geologic time to Grand Canyon, Utah Canyon Country, and Arizona Red Rock Country.

Explore Further, Be Wild, See Through Time — Blue Marble Adventure GeoTourism