Colorful Southwest Utah

Vermillion Cliffs

Southwest Utah is an area full of pleasant surprises.    When we left Lake Powell, we had originally intended to go to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. However, a fire burning in this area had worsened and the North Rim park facilities and roads were closed.

So instead, we ended up seeing some other grand (and colorful) scenery in the southwest corner of the state.   We drove west along Route 89 and made a stop at the Big Water Visitor Center of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.


Here we picked up some useful information.

  • For one, it gave us a helpful orientation to Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, which is a huge stretch of land in southwest Utah. In searching for info on the web, we had found it difficult to sort through where all the various sightseeing and hiking points were within Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Our stop helped clarify things - we learned that there were several Visitor Centers along the southern and northern routes that encircle the National Monument. In addition, we gained a better visual picture of the area for use in planning the rest of our RV travel through southwest Utah.
  • Second, we got a few tips on things to see in the Paria Canyon area along the southern side of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Among these was a short and interesting hike to some hoodoo formations known as the Toadstools (access is about 1.5 miles east of the Paria Contact Station). Another pleasant find was the scenic Vermillion Cliffs in the area of the old Paria Movie Set. This is near mile post 21. We weren't terribly interested in seeing the replica of the movie set (which is nothing much to see), but the scenery is worth making the 5-mile drive to the movie set location. You can also hike across the river to the site of the old Pahreah townsite.
  • Most surprising was the tip that we might be able to get a permit to hike to the Wave. We had read about this unique formation in southwest Utah, and that you needed a special permit to hike in the area. We lucked out and were able to get a permit at the Paria Contact Station for the following day.
The Wave in Utah

The official name of this area is North Coyote Buttes, more commonly referred to as the Wave. The purpose of the permit is to protect the fragile landscape with some controls over who and how many people are hiking in a given day. The area is under BLM auspices.

When you get the permit, you also get a very necessary set of pictures to help you navigate to the Wave. You start at the Wire Pass trailhead and the pictures show you the views you are supposed to be seeing if you are headed the right way to get to the Wave.

As of this writing, the rules were that 20 permits were granted daily: 10 arranged online in advance, and the other 10 obtained in person the day before at a BLM office (at the Paria Contact Station or Kanab Field Office, depending on the season). A lottery system is employed if there is more demand than the allowed number of permits. Procedures may change, so check current info with the Bureau of Land Management.

In any event, we loved our adventure of making the 5-mile round-trip hike to the Wave. The formation itself is amazing, but the hike is filled with scenic vistas and sculpted sandstone all along the journey.

By the way, we boondocked along House Rock Valley Road, a dirt road that leads to the Wire Pass trailhead. We had been given the okay at the Paria Contact Station. We only drove in about a mile and a half off Route 89, and we wouldn't do it again. There are virtually no places to stop alongside the road, and the road is very rough for a big rig.  

The Wire Pass trailhead is about 8 miles down this dirt road - we doubt overnight parking is allowed in the small parking lot there. If you continue until you are 1o miles from Route 89, there is a place called State Line Campground that is supposed to have four dry camping sites available on a first-come, first-serve basis. A better choice would be the campground near the Paria Contact Station, an RV park in Kanab, or just about anywhere else that didn't have you driving an RV on that road.

After our day at the Wave, we spent a night in Kanab and took a ride over to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. Worth a brief stop if it is convenient to your travel plans in southwest Utah. There is a $5/car day use fee. ATV'ers will probably want to spend more time riding on the dunes and the trails in the neighboring BLM land. There is a nice campground at the Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park.

We also made a stop at Pipe Spring National Monument, which is west of Kanab off Route 389, just over the Arizona border. This site offers an interesting glimpse into Paiute Indian and Mormon pioneer life in the area.

Overall, our last minute change in travel plans turned out to be a bunch of pleasant adventures in the very colorful countryside of southwest Utah.

Our RV travel plans next took us to Zion National Park in southwest Utah.   

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