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Utah's Buckskin Gulch
The superslot. By Peter Potterfield

Photo: Buckskin Gulch, Utah
From start to finish, the Buckskin Gulch offers a subterranean tour of the layer cake that is the Colorado Plateau, beginning with the dramatic red rock of the Navajo sandstone and ending with the strata of the Moenave and Chinle formations. Traveling downstream through each layer, it meanders between fluted rock walls that reflect indirect sunlight in quintessential desert hues. Buckskin is the most impressive slot canyon hike in North America and likely anywhere: a 13-mile (21-kilometer) corridor of stone so deep you can barely see the sky and so narrow it sometimes forces you to remove your pack to get through.

The gulch lies near Kanab, Utah, smack in the middle of the nation's finest region for desert hiking: It's north of Grand Canyon National Park, south of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, east of Zion National Park, and west of Lake Powell. But in the entire region, there's no start to a hike as dramatic as Buckskin Gulch's two-mile (three-kilometer) squeeze through the two-foot-wide passage of Wire Pass. Hikers then follow the sandy bottom of the gulch 13 miles (21 kilometers) to its confluence with the Paria River Canyon, a bizarre underground intersection of two drainages that's as hauntingly beautiful as it is abrupt. Hiking upstream, the narrows of the Paria River extend another five miles before widening and returning hikers to blue sky at the trail's end. In both the gulch and the Paria River Canyon, obstacles like deep pools, rock jams, and quicksand come and go, created and cleared by the frequent flash floods that make the Buckskin different each time you descend it.

Map: Utah
INSIDER ADVICE: Bring a 20-foot (6-meter) rope to lower your packs when descending rock jams.

WHEN TO GO: April to June or September to October

LOGISTICS: Kanab, Utah, the closest town to the trailhead, is about a four-hour drive from Las Vegas. The BLM Kanab Field Office has up-to-date information on gulch conditions and issues permits (U.S. $5 a day; +1 435 644 4600). Start your hike with enough water for two days (two gallons per person); you'll be able to refill once you reach the Paria River. All slot canyon hikes are inherently dangerous because of the potential for flash floods. Check the weather forecast before leaving, and don't go into the gulch if rain threatens.

Staging area: Kanab, UT

Distance: 20 miles (32 kilometers)

Trail time: 3-4 days

Total trip: One week

Difficulty (scale of 1 to 5, 5 most difficult): 3

Do It Yourself cost (excluding airfare): U.S. $150-$250

Adapted from Classic Hikes of the World, copyright 2005, by Peter Potterfield. Published by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

For ten more unbeatable hikes—and all the how-to details to plan your trip—pick up the May issue.

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Photograph by James W. Kay

Additional Excerpts
From the print edition, May 2005

The World's Best Hikes: Author Peter Potterfield's top trail picks
Point, Shoot, and Know When to Run: NG photographer Carsten Peter's incredible life
Pelton's World: A modern-day Easy Rider lays down the rules of the road
"Life's an Adventure" Reader Photo Album: See readers' photos and submit your own


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Related Web Sites

Classic Hikes of the World
Peter Potterfield's new book features stunning photographs of 23 unforgettable backcountry adventures to the world's most enchanting trails—and how to do them right.

Trails Illustrated
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Navigate the globe from your desktop. The National Geographic MapMachine allows users to zoom in on any part of the planet and customize their own printable map.

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May 2005

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