We stayed at the Stateline Campground, a very nice, free BLM campground on House Rock Valley Road that is also the northern terminus of the Arizona Trail. In addition to the AZT, it provides great access to Buckskin Gulch, the longest and deepest slot canyon in the country, possibly the world. The Wire Pass trailhead is just up the road a bit and leads into the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.
To do an overnight in Buckskin Gulch or Paria Canyon, you need advance permits. We did not have those, so we self registered at the trailhead for a day use permit and started walking up the wash. I was expecting the narrows of Wire Pass to start immediately so it was a little confusing at first, but the wash actually stays wide for a mile or so before the narrows begin.
From research ahead of time, we knew there were two, possibly three, “obstacles” to get through Wire Pass. There were a few places where a chock stone blocked the way, but only one that had a significant enough drop on the other side to take a minute. I took my pack off, lowered myself on my stomach over the rock until my toes could touch the jumble of rocks and logs below it, and then climbed down. Firecracker passed me the packs and followed.
The pass widened for a few minutes and then narrowed again, leading us to a larger wide spot at the confluence with Buckskin Gulch, 1.7 miles from the trailhead. There were lots of petroglyphs on the wall there so we spent some time checking them out before heading south into Buckskin Gulch.
It quickly narrowed into a twisty canyon, with cool new patterns on the wall around every bend. The ranger had told us that we wouldn’t be able to get far without getting wet, and it was only ten minutes or so before we could not skirt around a puddle. There were nine crossings in quick succession, but they were all below knee level, not waist level like he had said. We had neoprene socks and pants just in case but ended up not needing them. The water was very cold, but the crossings were short and as long as we stayed moving, our feet warmed up again.
The bottom of the canyon was a mix of clay and sand. There were so many footprints in there that we could usually find a drier path where people had gone before. The canyon widened occasionally to let in some sun and we took our breaks where it was warmer. It was a very slow hike as there were lots of pictures to be taken.
We reached our turnaround time just as we reached a long pool that we could not see the end of. We estimated that we’d gone 5 or 6 miles into the canyon. The way back was a little bit faster, although the different angle and lighting still made me want to take pictures constantly. Probably fortunately for me, my camera battery started dying and forced me to be more judicious with my shots.
We returned to the confluence with Wire Pass with plenty of daylight left and decided to head north in Buckskin Gulch a little bit. It wasn’t nearly as pretty or deep as what we had already gone through so we didn’t go far. We headed back to the confluence and up Wire Pass again.
Getting back up the one obstacle we had climbed down took a little doing. There were no hand holds on the other side of the rock so I basically inched my torso over the rock by pushing my feet against the walls, until I had enough weight leaning in the right direction that I could scramble over the rest of the way. We called that move “the slug.” Firecracker fell backwards, scaring the daylights out of me, because the rock she was standing on was loose. She managed to turn midair and make the fall more into a jump, landing just about perfectly and only bruising her thigh.
Back at the trailhead, we cooked up some dinner and enjoyed the view.