Fifty Shades of Sandstone

The day after the big adventure in the slot canyon warrants a late start.  Mornings have been cold here in the Paria River Gravel Pit, so the last thing I want to do is put on a pair of wet, cold, sandy hiking boots.  So Chris and I agree to meet up mid-day and explore some of the nearby area.

One advantage of boondocking in the shadow of the Paria Contact Station is being within walking distance of a knowledgeable source of information on things to see in the area, so we make this our first stop.  We are greeted by a very enthusiastic volunteer, who is eager to share her ideas for an afternoon of exploration.

I desperately want to get to White Pocket, and it doesn’t help quell my desires that the  volunteer describes it as “an absolutely otherworldly place!!  A MUST SEE!”  But it’s an all day trip, as it requires a drive back down the rough, rocky, and rutted Houserock Valley Road, then another series of 4WD roads to who knows where, down some pretty sketchy loose sand stretches.  This would be an all day trip, and rain is on the way.  So I acquiesce, with the intention to save this trip for another day.

But I soon realize that the enthusiastic volunteer has missed her calling as a tour guide, and is going to give this same description of “an absolutely otherworldly place!!  A MUST SEE!!”  to a lot of places in the area.   So Chris and I leave the Paria Contact Station armed with brochures, maps, and a full itinerary to cram into the five remaining hours of daylight.

First stop is right in my own “back yard” from the Paria boondock,  just two miles down a gravel road to the Whitehouse Campground and trail head right on the Paria River.  This is the take-out point should one opt to do the entire 20 miles of Buckskin Gulch.   It’s a small campground, and the road would be a bit dicey for RVs, but wow!  What a beautiful place to camp!  The sites are surrounded on two sides by tall bluffs of vanilla and raspberry red swirled sandstone.  On the other side is the Paria River.  This would be a tent-camper’s delight!   If I had more time, I might just leave the Winnie parked in the gravel pit, and bring the tent down for a night on the river.IMG_6100 IMG_6101Second stop on our recommended itinerary is only 2 miles up the road to the Toadstools trail head.  What this trail lacks in distance, it more than makes up for in scenery!   Even without the toadstool “features,” the hike would be worthy in of itself.   It’s an easy meander through the dichotomy of cream, coffee and chocolate layers that resemble caramel swirls drizzled over melting dollops of whip cream atop a Starbucks Caramel Frappuccino.


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Beetle Paparazzi

Beetle Paparazzi

Soon the towering toadstools come into view, lining the bench of sandstone that overlooks more whipped cream.  It looks as if we could scramble off trail for hours here, but the sun is starting to angle low in the sky, and we still have one more stop.  The volunteer-turned-Travel Agent from the Paria Contact Station has instructed that we must make this third stop, the Pahreah Townsite, in early evening light for maximum beauty and lighting.  So we head another 10 miles down Hwy 89, then five miles down a rough gravel, gut-busting, teeth-chattering road requiring high clearance in search of the “townsite.”

The buildings from the original frontier settlement, established in 1870 are long gone, but the lush golden cottonwoods along the Paria River remain.   This is BLM land, so it would make very scenic camping for those with 4WD.

Once a popular movie location used in the filming of Buffalo Bill and The Outlaw Josey Wales, the set was burned by arsonists back in 2006.  But the “big attraction” for me was the colors of sandstone in the backdrop of the Vermilion Cliffs.  Soft lemon and lavender, rose, mauve, mocha, mint green, pistachio and peach, all in thinly banded layers cascading like layers of gelato down the undulating cliffs.IMG_6126 IMG_6129 IMG_6130

But of all the colors in this artist’s palette of sandstone, coral is my favorite.   So a visit to Coral Pink Sands State Park is long overdue, and is just slightly off my path as I head to my next stop, Zion National Park.

It’s a raw, blustery day across the southern edge of the state but that doesn’t stop me from making the 50 mile detour to explore the dunes.    It’s a quiet day in the Coral Sands.  Even the Visitor’s Center is closed.  A biting wind makes for a miserable 100ft climb to the top of the dune.   Near the top, I am being sand blasted.  It feels like an all out assault on my senses.  My ears ache. Hair and sand are whipping into my eyes. My digits are numb as they attempt to grip the buttons on my cold metal Canon. But the disagreeable weather brings a bonus…there is not another person in site!   Better yet, I see…(no, make that HEAR!) no ATVs nearby!   I have the big dune all to myself!  I am like a kid again, playing “King of the Mountain” on the park’s highest dune.  I look around in all directions where I see thousands of tracks where ATVs typically roam, and realize the razor-like cut of the brutal winds is a double edged sword.

The unique coral color in the sand comes from nearby red Navajo sandstone that blows through a notch in the Moquith and Moccasin Mountains.  The high concentration of iron oxide is what gives the sandstone its fiery color.

I love being surrounded by the coral pink sea!  I even briefly contemplate taking some of the sand as a souvenir, but then reconsider the “Leave No Trace” principles.   However, two days later after I have left the area, I realize my attempt was futile, as I am still finding coral sand “souvenirs”  in my shoes, my socks, my pockets and my pants!IMG_6131 IMG_6136 IMG_6137 IMG_6142 IMG_6155 IMG_6156 IMG_6159 IMG_6162

20 thoughts on “Fifty Shades of Sandstone

  1. I remember cavorting across these dunes carrying an umbrella! And, yes, I actually used it. It sprinkled for all of about two minutes. Great memories!

    Virtual hugs,


    • Judie — cavorting with an umbrella brings up quite an image! With the wind on top of those dunes, I am surprised you didn’t use it for a parachute! 😉

  2. Two of my favorite nearby locations. Toadstools is so sclupturally fantastic. The VC at Coral Pink has a collection of sand in bottles from around the world.

    • Gaelyn — I had read about that sand collection, and was looking forward to seeing it. I was disappointed to find the Visitor Center closed. Still not sure why. Seems too early yet…

  3. These are all stops on my list!! The colors are just amazing! I don’t believe there is anything as beautiful as southern Utah! Love the blowing sand you captured in your photos:)

    • Lisa — Yes, I agree, the skies and the beautiful clouds make the landscapes that much more evocative! Weather has not been as favorable this year as last, but the bonus is the beauty! We drove through SNOW today!

  4. Magnificent photos! Those colors are so vivid it makes one wonder if it’s a real place or a painting. Keep wandering, my friend. Keep me envious!

  5. ” If I had more time”
    Suzanne, you have all the time you need. Take the pressure off and enjoy what you are doing.

    • Thanks, Allen — I had a “VIP Birthday Party” to attend, however. I was racing back to Zion to help Box Canyon Mark celebrate his 65th. But now the pressure is definitely off!

  6. Reading your Paria Posts gave me such a sensation of Deja Vu …your descriptions and pictures brought me right back into the swirls of red. We have dear friends who for many years spent a number of months volunteering at the Paria Contact Station and they were our personal guides down those sandy 4-wheel drive roads to hidden trailheads and mystical rock formations. Unfortunately, during our April visit Buckskin gulch was a flowing river…but they did manage to share a few of their Secrets. Enjoy your hay making time in Southern Utah. We are off to Anza and Joshua Tree in a few days, Any favorite spots there??

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