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Canyon Hiking Bull Valley Gorge
Bull Valley Gorge is a great starting point for everything from a short day hike to an intense three or four day foray into the heart of the Paria River drainage.
To get there take the Kodachrome Basin road (paved) south, out of the town of Cannonville. In a about three miles a dirt road takes off to the right. Drive past this road and in less than a half mile another road takes off to the right (west). This is the Skutumpah Road. It ends at the Johnson Canyon Road near Kanab. Turn onto the Skutumpah Road and travel for about five and a half miles to get to Willis Creek. You'll know you are at Willis Creek because the road drops down into a small valley and the creek bottom has been cemented where it crosses the road.
Willis Creek flows year-round and the water makes the hike more interesting. However, don't drink the water without treating it first. With all the cows in the drainage there is a good chance you would get sick. Just downstream from the road, Willis Creek tumbles over several small waterfalls and into an almost cave-like slot canyon. The kids will have a great time playing in this area. Downstream the slot becomes deeper and narrows up. With the water, pine trees and narrow-walled canyon, this is a great place to take some photos.
Willis Creek canyon widens and then slots back up several times before it dumps into Sheep Creek. This hike can be as short or as long as you want. Hike for a mile or two and then retrace your steps or put on the backpack and hike down Sheep Creek and into the Paria River canyon.
If you drive past Willis Creek for not quite two miles you'll come to an extremely deep, narrow canyon and a precarously built bridge. This is Bull Valley Gorge. Bridge construction seems to have involved wedging some boulders into the narrow canyon and then dumping smaller rocks and dirt onto the larger rocks to bring it up to road level. This isn't the safest or best built bridge in the world but if you are careful you won't have any problems crossing.
Back in 1954 a pickup truck slid off the west side of the bridge and dropped into the narrow canyon. About half way down the truck wedged itself against the walls. Three people were killed in the accident. The truck was wedged so tightly that it is still there, though now partly buried by rocks and debris sliding off the edge of the bridge.
To explore Bull Valley Gorge, park in the wide spot on the right side (west) of the road just before the bridge (if you are coming from Cannonville). Stay on the right side (north) of the canyon and hike about a quarter mile upstream. Although the canyon is several hundred feet deep at the bridge, it quickly shallows and at the top end you will be able to walk right into the canyon. A few hundred feet into the canyon is a dry fall of about 10 feet. It's not too hard to scramble up and down but a short piece of rope to lower packs and to help less sure footed individuals would come in handy here.
Bull Valley is a tremendous slot canyon with narrow walls, commonly less than six feet wide, that rise up quickly until you are buried deeply in the striated walls of the Navajo Sandstone. Again you have several options. Explore the slot portion of the canyon and then backtrack and come out the way you went in, or, hike down Bull Valley, up Sheep Creek, and out Willis Creek. This is a long hike of about 16 miles so plan on it taking all day. If you aren't in top shape, make this a two day hike. Taking two days is better anyway because then you have time to explore the area. Bull Valley Gorge can also be the starting point for a longer hike into the Paria River canyon.
If you enter Bull Valley Gorge just after a rain, expect to get wet. Some of the pools will require deep wading and there will be lots of sticky mud. Be prepared to get wet even though for most of the year the canyon will be dry.
Before undertaking any of these hikes it is vital that you check the weather conditions. If it even looks like there might be a possibility of rain in or around the drainage areas for these canyons don't go on the hike. The flash floods that come through these canyons can be unbelievable fierce and if you are caught in one of the slots when a flood roars through, your remains won't ever be found. If possible, plan your trips for spring, fall or early winter when there is little chance for thunderstorms and then keep an eye on the weather.