Hayduke Trail Day 28: Climbing Through the Sands of Time

Daily Neat Beat
Day 28
Total Miles: 17.1
Cumulative Miles: 511.4
Day 28 of Hayduke Trail Hike up and along the Paria Plateau

“I found the easiest route to be a slightly exposed climb up and over the nose of rock”,  says our reference source. Yeah right, I tell myself as I try and psych myself up for our climb to the top of the Paria Plateau.

Climbing up the Bush Head Route. The geologic units behind me are well displayed: Chinle at the river level, above that is the reddish siltstones and mudstones of the Moenave Formation overlain by the more pinkish-red Springdale Sandstone and topped by the massive cliff-forming sandstone of the Kayenta Formation

We are headed out the Bush Head Route, another typical Hayduke route that will find the only way through through the cracks and crevices of massive cliffs. I feel like I am crawling through the wrinkles in the earth’s skin, cracked and weathered like a farmers hand, reaching out to lend me a hand.

The cliffs are made up of the Glen Canyon Group with the Owl Rock Member of the Chinle at the river’s edge. The Owl Rock Member of the Chinle in this area is pinkish-orange mudstones and hard thin layers of limestone from inland lakes and soils dated at 205 million years old. As we crawl up the cliffs (and I do mean crawl) we go through up through the Dinosaur Canyon Member of the Moenave Formation first, a reddish slope-forming rock layer with thin bands of mudstone. Then we wind our way through the cliff bands of the more pinkish-red Springdale Sandstone. One of the layers in the Springdale Sandstone appears difficult to get over. But luckily there is a crack to the right of the nose and we happily climb through it. Above the Springdale Sandstone is a massive cliff-forming sandstone of the Kayenta Formation. This is the unit our reference source mentions as the “slightly exposed climb up and over the nose”.  

A crack allows you to get through this cliff-forming sandstone unit

The reference we are using is a pdf created by Clayton Feider-Sullivan for the Buckskin/Paria alternative. His maps and descriptions do a great job explaining the Bush Head Route up to the top of the Plateau. I really enjoy finding these routes but am always a little apprehensive at first. It has gotten easier over time with electronic beta, I remind myself.  But, of course, the route itself doesn’t change, just easier to find it.

Looking back down on the Paria Canyon from the Bush Head Route
Ray climbing up the cliff bands
This part of the Bush Head Route is straight-forward up a talus slope

Once we are up on top we make our way to Bush Head tank. It is the only water source for miles on the top of the Plateau and we only imagine how important this tank is to wildlife. We watch for a while and notice a small wading bird on the far shore. Ray using the Merlin app determines that it is a Solitary Sandpiper, a rare occurrence for this area.

Bush Head Tank
A Solitary Sandpiper, a rare siting and occurrence in this area

Solitary Sandpipers are only seen here during migration and are usually seen alone, hence the name “solitary”. This one is by itself which fits. I ponder why they are solitary. How is this helpful to the survival of their species?

There are video cameras around the tank which I presume have been put there by the National Monument biologists to monitor wildlife use.
A video camera near the tank

I hope they take note of this siting. It is a little spooky being out in the middle of nowhere knowing that someone has a video of you and may be looking at it later. Guess that is just the world we live in today.

From the Bush Head tank, we take a 4wd road that takes us across the Paria Plateau. It is SANDY which makes the walking slower and tougher on the Achilles’ tendon and calves.
Walking in the sand for miles, and miles, and miles….

After another nine miles we come to another tank, Joe’s tank. Another oasis in the desert, this spring and tank is cupped and held gently by the Navajo Sandstone.

Joe’s Tank, another oasis in the desert

The Navajo Sandstone is the rock star of formations in the southwest. It occurs as spectacular cliffs, domes, and bluffs with gigantic cross beds that tell us about ancient winds and deserts like the Sahara.

The Navajo Sandstone creates such unique patterns in the landscape

It is a white sandstone but wears many colors sometimes pink, and shades of yellow, brown and red, depending on the iron bearing fluids that flushed through it after it was formed. It is the beehives of Zion National Park, the “Wave”- so popular to photograph it requires a lottery, and the rooster comb of Cockscomb ridge in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Contorted bedding in the Navajo Sandstone

Up here on Paria Plateau, you don’t see the crowds of people but the Navajo Sandstone still speaks loudly of it’s past here at Joe’s tank. What a place.

The wind starts whipping up in the afternoon and the temperature begins to drop. It feels like we are in the same weather pattern as when we were at Grosvenor Arch. We set up camp at around 6pm knowing we are in for a cold night.
Camp for the evening on Paria Plateau


  1. I got a little nostalgic for a 1991 eolian conference I was lucky to attend. We crawled all over many of those outcrops. Did you find my sunglasses by chance?

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