Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness


The 112,500 acre (455 km²) Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness is located in northern Arizona and Southern Utah, USA, within the arid Colorado region. In 2000 the area was incorporated into the new and larger Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The wilderness is composed of broad plateaus, tall escarpments and deep canyons created by wind and water eroding the native sedimentary rock.

Among the best known features are the Paria Canyon, the Vermilion Cliffs, the Coyote Buttes and The Wave. Of these the Vermilion Cliffs are the dominant feature rising as much as 3,000 feet (910 m) above their base. They consist mainly of richly coloured strata of sandstone, siltstone, limestone and shale visible in the sheer escarpment towering above boulder-strewn slopes and rugged arroyos (dry creek beds). Paria Canyon is known for its towering walls, huge red rock amphitheatres, sandstone arches, wooded terraces and hanging gardens. The Coyote Buttes are a series of pyramid-like formations each made up of swirling bands of sandstone, sometimes giving them the appearance of whirling dervishes. Dinosaur tracks and fossil burrows of desert-dwelling beetles have been found in this area. The nearby Wave, true to its name, is famous for its colourful undulating form.

It is believed that the area was first inhabited about 12,000 years ago. From approximately 200 AD to 1200 AD the area was home to the Anasazis and later to the Paiute people. ‘Paria’ (originally spelled ‘Pahreah’) is a Piute word that means ‘salty’ or ‘muddy’ water. These two civilizations have left behind petroglyphs and pictographs that can still be seen on many of the rock walls.

Native plants range from wetland plants such as cattails and reeds, through to dry zone rabbitbrush and Indian ricegrass. Trees commonly include willow and ash while the most impressive are the pinyon pines and juniper trees. This rich variety of vegetation supports a similarly varied population of birds and animals. Birds include several raptors, chiefly the bald and golden eagle, peregrine falcon and the recently re-introduced California condor. Animals include mountain lion, bighorn sheep, and many smaller species.

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