South Canyon and Vasey's Paradise Day Hike

August 1995

Part of a quick 4-day trip, I drove up to Vermilion Cliffs, Az to visit my friend Alan Dannenberg, who at the time was living there and working as the maintenance guy for the motel. Besides the obvious things that need to be taken care of at a motel, he had the challenging duty of maintaining the water supply to the motel. The supply begins at a spring up at the 4500' level in a canyon behind his place (below), then comes down the canyon via 2" galvanized to a tank outside the compound. The run is over 3 miles long!

The Vermillion Cliffs Restaurant and Bar is THE spot to hang. Not only is the food great and plentiful and inexpensive, but the bar stocks over 150 different beers from all over the world. The regulars are river rats and desert dogs, and they're all philosophers! If you're ever out that way, make sure you stop in and say hi to Maddie who's a fixture there.

I arrived there Friday night just as the kitchen was about to close (10pm). However, they fixed me up a fine plate of Italian sausage and spaghetti with marinera, salad, garlic bread and plenty of conversation.

I had first met Alan at the mouth of Cathedral Canyon while hiking in the area about two months earlier. Not accustomed to finding people at the bottoms of little canyons in this part of the world, and being a city boy, I was a little wary of this guy who looked for all the world like a redneck / hippie / biker / mass murderer. However, within a few minutes of chatting with him, I discovered a guy who had been around the world, was well-read, eloquent, introspective (as required) and working on his Masters' at Northern Arizona U. But he wouldn't let any of that get in the way of having a good time! He invited me back to the Vermilion Cliffs lodge to try their food and enjoy their wide selection of great beers. I was hooked!

After a 20+ mile drive, the entrance to South Canyon (looking SW)

A bit of detritus fallen from the wall in South Canyon, about 4 miles above the river, and that's me on top

Deep in South Canyon, a small chokestone obstacle about 1/2 mile above the river, with Alan scoping it out.

At the mouth of South Canyon, looking downstream (S) on the Colorado River, with Vasey's Paradise in the background

Looking out (E) of Stanton's Cave toward the Redwall Limestone across the river

Approaching Vasey's (looking SE)

Alan treading gently at the base of Vasey's (looking S)

Another view of Vasey's (looking NW)

Me standing amid the ruins just north of the mouth of South Canyon (looking W)

We descended into the canyon at 12:30 am, arrived at the river around 3pm as the sky was clouding up and darkening. The temperature, already cool for an August day, was even chillier now that the sun was obscured. What made it even more interesting were the intermittent rain drops. After an hour or two of exploring Vasey's, Stanton's Cave and the ruins, we started back up the canyon. Just after we made it through the terrifically narrow, chokestone-jammed lower stretch of South, the rain began to fall more steadily. There was no lightning, no thunder, and now that we were in the wider part of the canyon, the potential hazard due to flash flooding was pretty small. Made the arduous climb back out to the jeep by 8pm, just as it was getting really dark.

Total distance was about 14 miles round-trip, and about 1 mile vertical. Soaked and cold, we climbed into the Jeep, turned up the puny heater as much as possible, and high-tailed it back to HQ for quick showers and a change into dry clothes, then another fine, warming dinner at the lodge.

Where's Alan now? Last anyone had heard, he had moved to France to teach English and to fall in love with a girl there.

Back to Exploring!