Vermillion Cliffs National Monument protects 294,000 acres in northern Arizona. The landscape is dominated by the Vermillion Cliffs, a formidable solid wall of rock that stretches for over 30 miles.
The Vermillion Cliffs rise nearly straight up 3,000 feet above the desert floor. They consist of sandstone, siltstone, limestone and shale that have eroded over millions of years to expose hundreds of layers of richly colored rock. The cliffs appear mostly red in the daylight but can also appear golden in the setting sun.
We found an incredible isolated camp spot beneath the cliffs and surrounded by desert and mountains. There were no other people for miles.
As we traveled east, the cliffs appeared more eroded and varied in color.
The original Navajo Bridge on the right was built in 1929. The bridge spans 834 feet and rises 467 feet above the Colorado River. At the time, it was the only roadway crossing the Colorado River for 600 miles, and therefore its opening was a huge event attended by hundreds of dignitaries and citizens. In 1990 it was determined that the bridge was no longer sufficient to carry the larger, heavier modern vehicles, so a bigger and stronger twin bridge (as seen on the left) was built and completed in 1995 at a cost of $15 million.
Hence the original bridge was closed to vehicle traffic and opened exclusively for pedestrians, providing us with a stunning view of the Colorado River on its way down toward the Grand Canyon.
It’s one thing to view a natural feature such as Vermillion Cliffs from a distance. But you cannot really appreciate it’s immensity until you actually climb it.
We climbed about 400 feet up to an old mine, which based on its location may have been for extracting uranium.
What appeared to be a solid face of Vermillion Cliffs was actually penetrated by deep, narrow canyons whose walls seemed to plunge straight down.
We enjoyed our lunch atop one of the plateaus with a great view of the Colorado River cutting through Marble Canyon (the horizontal gorge in the distance) just before it enters the Grand Canyon.
Sometimes I let Theresa and the dogs walk ahead so I can snap long distance photos of them. But eventually Darby will start to lag behind and wait for me to catch up. She’s such a little sweetheart and prefers to have her entire pack together.
California condors have the largest wing span and are the heaviest of any North American bird. Their wings can stretch over 9 feet, and each bird can weight over 25 pounds. California condors were placed on the federal Endangered Species list in 1967, and their worldwide population dropped to 22 in 1982. Their numbers have grown to over 200 today thanks to a reintroduction program high on top of Vermillion Cliffs. Since December of 1996, officials have released condors every year. Each condor is fitted with a radio transmitter and is monitored daily by field biologists.
Through binoculars and our camera’s telephoto lens, we were able to spot up to 8 condors flying high above Vermillion Cliffs.
We were especially excited about our hike down Soap Creek into Marble Canyon, through which the Colorado River flows just before it enters the Grand Canyon (most of this hike is technically in Grand Canyon National Park). The canyon walls quickly rose high above us.
The hike grew increasingly difficult as we had to scramble over house-sized boulders (notice Theresa in the photo above dwarfed by massive rocks). In many cases we had to try a few different routes before we found the right way to scramble down a section of rocks, with the important consideration of being able to climb back out again on our return trip. About halfway through our hike, our pace slowed to the point where we started to question whether we could complete the hike and exit the canyon by dark.
Unfortunately our plans to see the mighty Colorado were dashed when we came upon a gorge that required a tightrope walk along a narrow ledge 30 feet above a shallow pool, followed by a rappel down a rope that someone had left attached to the rock. That was a little beyond our comfort and skill level. Here Theresa is looking down upon the pool in disappointment.
So we got out of the wind and stopped for lunch on the canyon floor. When we looked up, coincidentally we happened to spot these amazing pictographs about 20 feet up on the canyon walls (pictographs are painted, petroglyphs are carved). The pictograph on the left appears to be a bear with its sharp claws.
Later we spotted this baby rattlesnake, which was about a foot long and still developing its rattle. Notice the triangular-shaped viper head, which is usually a good indicator that a snake is poisonous. Even though he was a little fellow, this snake was very aggressive, turned to face us, lifted his head off the ground, bared his fangs, and slowly slinked away, the entire time facing us with a menacing look. Daddy Rattlesnake would’ve been so proud.
World-famous Buckskin Gulch is the longest and deepest slot canyon in the southwest United States and may be the longest in the world. It’s one of the main tributaries of the Paria River, which itself is a tributary of the Colorado River that carved the Grand Canyon. The Buckskin Gulch slot canyon is an amazing 20 miles long. We hiked the Wire Pass shown above, an even narrower slot canyon that leads into the middle of Buckskin Gulch. The walls are over 100 feet high and as narrow as 2 feet in some places. The main danger of slot canyons besides claustrophobia is flash floods. Storms more than 50 miles away can send a 100-foot-high wall of water speeding down the canyon and kill any unsuspecting hikers.
On our final day a powerful storm blew in over the mountains. Once again the wind rocked our RV all night long.