Searching for America: Paria Canyon
Lucy Connors continues to chronicle her journey across America, this time recalling the beauty of Paria Canyon.
Five days and fifty miles backpacking through the desert. I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d gotten myself into, but thru-hiking Paria Canyon was a once in a lifetime opportunity.
The canyon systems breathe. As the wind shifts direction, it flows in and out along the canyon walls, emphasising the feeling that the desert is not as barren as one might expect. Paria Canyon has the Paria River running through its trenches and sustaining an abundance of vegetation. Everything was so much greener than I thought it would be. There was life everywhere you looked, not only in the natural world, but also in the historical sense.
On our very first day of hiking, we reached a panel of petroglyphs that had been carved into the canyon walls thousands of years ago by Native Americans. These petroglyphs depicted bighorn sheep, spirals, people with lightning rods coming out of their heads, and there is almost no knowledge of what any of it meant. Whether they were communicating with others that used the canyons as a passage through the desert, alerting them to the direction of migration, or whether the symbols were just art – a symbol of life, enjoyment, and the human desire to be remembered – we still don’t know.
The canyon systems breathe. As the wind shifts direction, it flows in and out along the canyon walls, emphasising the feeling that the desert is not as barren as one might expect
It felt utterly surreal to be following in the footsteps of thousands of years of history, first those of the Native Americans and then those of the Pioneers. We came across an old pump system abandoned at the bottom of the canyon. The pump had been created by a farmer during years of drought to bring water up the canyon walls from the river and save his cattle, but the very moment he finished it, the rain came back. This was a stark depiction not just of the innovation and determination it took to live in such a harsh area, but of the cruelty of nature and timing. The pump remains in the canyon unused to this day.
You could have told me I was on another planet during this trip, and I would have believed you. Walking through the bottom of the Paria was the most magical and beautiful experience I have ever had. An early morning hike through Buckskin Gulch – the longest slot canyon in the United States – allowed us to witness how the colours of the walls shifted from orange to red to golden as the sunrise slowly filtered in from above us. At the other end of the day, I ventured into ‘cowboy camping’ to stargaze. I have never seen the stars either so magnificent or magnified and was entirely disoriented by the new size of the constellations. Two shooting stars cut through this confusion and added more icing on the cake of how magic this trip felt.
If I have just spent a year searching for the heart of America and the true riches of this country, then here is where I will find it: in the natural wonder and untouched history of these canyons.