In the far north of Arizona, the Vermilion Cliffs provide the most visible feature in one of the five new BLM-administered national monuments that were established in 2000. Like the others, the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is marked only by a few signposts and is likely to remain without any particular visitor facilities or other improvements - this is a place for people to explore by themselves, though still most tourists zip by on US 89 or US 89A, en route between Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell, without stopping in this scenic region.
Much of the area is an isolated plateau, flat and sandy, with just a few scattered ranches and occasional 12th century Anasazi remains - known as the Sand Hills, access is very limited and there are no obvious attractions here. The most interesting parts are the edges, as at the top is the Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the Southwest, followed by the lower Paria River Gorge, a deep, watery canyon that rivals any in the much more famous Zion National Park. The west edge of the plateau is formed by a long ridge of eroded, upturned strata (the Coxcomb) which has much colorful, weathered rock formations including 'The Wave', while the south and east edges are formed by the Vermilion Cliffs themselves, which must be one of the most spectacular and extensive cliff faces in the US - unusually colorful because of the especially variegated Chinle Formation that forms the lower strata, the escarpment runs for over 30 miles and reaches heights of 2,000 feet. Further to the southeast, the land is quite flat for 100 miles or more though is split by the Colorado River, at the start of its Grand Canyon.
Locations: There are three main sites in or adjacent to the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument:
Coyote Buttes - a recently-popularized region containing eroded rocks of many colors and forms, including 'The Wave'. In summer 2008 a dense group of over 1,000 dinosaur footprints was identified nearby.
Lees Ferry - once the site of an actual ferry across the Colorado River, this small settlement near the Paria River confluence is now popular for camping & hiking, and is the starting point for raft trips down the Grand Canyon.
Paria River - this forms a lengthy narrows section through reddish Navajo sandstone, starting just south of US 89 in Utah and meeting the Colorado River at the start of Marble Canyon. The majority falls within the national monument, downstream of the confluence with Buckskin Gulch.
The Vermilion Cliffs: Besides these three areas, most people visit Vermilion Cliffs National Monument when driving along US 89A between Lees Ferry and Jacob Lake on the Kaibab Plateau - 40 miles of impressive scenery with the cliffs on one side and the vast, level plains around Marble Canyon and House Rock Valley on the other, followed by a steep climb into pine forest at the edge of plateau. Apart from the Ferry, the road passes just one other settlement, Cliff Dwellers, which consists of a few adobe buildings nestled amongst crumbling rocks and oddly shaped boulders, including a restaurant, lodge and gas station. There are plenty of places for free primitive camping along dirt tracks either side of US 89A, mostly on the southeast side, for example near milepost 548 where a short side track leads to a corral, also used as the trailhead to Soap Creek. Apart from camping beneath the cliffs or just driving past them, one obvious goal is to climb to the top, but the sheer Navajo sandstone restricts easy routes to just three, one at Bonelli Spring, reached by a side track near milepost 561, and two a few miles away near Jacob's Pools, one of which is described below.
Hike to the Plateau: Jacob's Pools and nearby Rachel's Pools are a series of small springs at the foot of the Vermilion Cliffs that were once used by, and are named after, the family of John D Lee who founded Lees Ferry. The area is reached by a 2 mile side road that leaves US 89A between mileposts 557 and 558, near a historical marker commemorating the Escalante-Dominguez expedition of 1776. The road passes through an unlocked gate and ends at an abandoned stone house dated 1951, next to an old corral and other relics, which is a good place to park, or camp. The shortest route from here to the top of the cliffs is to walk eastwards along a disused track parallel to a fence, across then beside a small drainage and up to one of the springs - an area of dense bushes and trees from which a small stream flows. A trail begins when the track ends, leading up a slope left of the springs, across a flatter rocky area then ascending a longer slope of increasing steepness. It trends right, climbing more gradually then sharply once more to the base of the sheer Navajo sandstone layer, finally cutting back northwest along a cairned track to the foot of a narrow crack in the top of the cliffs, which has a number of petroglyphs and inscriptions of early travelers etched on the rocks at either side. The path continues up the crack then fades away once at the top. This part of the plateau is mostly sandy apart from scattered rocky outcrops, mostly eroded beehive/teepee formations. Views from the edge encompass countless square miles of the Colorado River valley and the more distant Kaibab Plateau, though all this expanse is rather featureless and the scene is not particularly good for photography.
Hotels: The nearest towns with hotels close to the Vermilion Cliffs are Page and Kanab.
||Extensive, 2,000 foot high escarpment on the west side of Marble Canyon that forms the east edge of a large, little-visited plateau. Popular sites in the vicinity include Coyote Buttes, Buckskin Gulch, the Paria River and Lees Ferry
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