I have admired Utah’s canyon country since first visiting Arches National Park with my brother almost six years ago. After moving to Colorado in 2017, this love deepened; I made annual trips to the Moab area for New Years, exploring new places in southern Utah, from Canyonlands to Capitol Reef. My first visit to the Needles District in Canyonlands left a big impression on me, placing the park as “number one” on my list of favorites. Something about its maze-like sandstone spires felt like an endless playground, and each time I return I am reminded of this feeling.
There is a road behind the town I am staying in called Smokey Mountain Road. I have a funny relationship with this road, as it calls for me when I seem to need it most, when the challenges and stresses of the “real world” distract me from my purpose and why it is that I am staying out in the middle of nowhere. I cringe at the fact that I associate the “real world” with work and a schedule, because the true world is out there – in the wilderness. But that is a topic for another time.
The Upper Paria River, while not as famous as its lower sibling, is just as fantastic and magical. It is an important source of sediment for the Colorado River. This canyon is only one of many that produce tributaries to the muddy waters of the Paria.
The journey to this waterfall was one full of questions, minor missteps, and most of all – miles. I had read about these falls on a blog post, with only vague information about where to start and where to head. “Soon you will come to a junction. At this spot you will likely hear the falls to your right…” Sounds straightforward, right? While I had planned on a nine mile day, my starting at the wrong trailhead turned the day into a 16 mile one. For the majority of the hike I trod through exposed and messy terrain, with numerous river crossings and soaking cold boots.
Getting close… right?
Once I reached the confluence about seven miles in, I knew I was getting close. All I had to do was follow this small tributary into the canyon that birthed it, and I would find my destination. When I made it to the aforementioned junction, all I found was a trickle dripping within a small alcove. “Surely this can’t be it?” I asked myself. “If it is, was this trek worth it?” I was utterly confused, yet decided to venture just a bit further into the canyon, as a quick sanity check. I quickly came to a second junction, and although I didn’t hear a waterfall, I could see that a lot of water was originating in this section. A few steps toward this direction and I finally heard it – water crashing onto sandstone, echoing about this large and intimate cove. Needless to say, my earlier question was answered. I took my boots off, found a rock in the sun, and marveled at this waterfall whose name I do not know, soaking up the feeling of pure adventure – and the water flowing between my toes.
Long exposure of the waterfall, showing its dynamics. The water was surprisingly loud, given how limited it was (compared to other falls high up in the alpine).