Mar 24 2018

Virgin River Gorge: North Side

Categories: Arizona, Desert, Hiking

It had been nine months since I tried out anything in the Virgin River Gorge. The previous spring I climbed up a razor sharp ridge on the south side of the river that you can read about here. During the winter of 2017 I made a few exploratory hikes from some of the few places I could find to pull off the interstate without getting killed. One of the hikes paid off nicely, so the next week I came back with Maree and a lot more time. This post combines both of those trips.

As a refresher for those who have never heard of the gorge, it is a major canyon on the Arizona Strip where Interstate 15 runs between St. George and Mesquite. The highway is very twisty and inclined so driving through it is spectacular but offers little chance for looking around.

Not long after the Virgin River enters the gorge from the north there are outcroppings of sandstone beneath the high limestone cliffs. I think it is the Aztec Sandstone that is present in Valley of Fire. The limestone is likely the same as the Muddy Mountains, which are thrust on top of Valley of Fire. The sandstone layers in the gorge seem to be wedged in between great thicknesses of the limestone, and they are tilted at an angle.

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If I was into rituals this is where I would do it.

Not far from the highway is the first outcropping of the Aztec Sandstone. On the left you can see a distant, high sheer cliff. I decided to see if I could get up there. Looked like a good place to be.

This place by itself is a fun place to wander around.

Much of the walk is rocky so it was a real treat to find this area of flat open ground.

As you get near the back of the canyon the sandstone breaks into stair steps.

Yellow stripes and pink stripes.


Our hike involved heading towards the northern cliffs of the Virgin River Gorge and exploring the Aztec Sandstone along the way. Much of the canyon wall is unapproachable but I noticed in the back of a side canyon an unlikely breakdown in the terraces that might possibly be climbable, and offer access to some high cliff views.

Additionally, we had visited the rim of the canyon previously. On that trip I was looking straight down from the top of the cliffs and I had spied a really neat tower formation with a hidden grotto in the center of it. The shape made the tower look like a throne. I double checked this formation later on Google Earth from different angles and it looked like another worthwhile feature to use as a goal.

Behind a wall of cliffs is this neat formation with some water running along it in winter.

Maree climbs up past some Flinstone rocks.

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A very neat trench that was too short.

This cool tunnel was big enough for two people and a husky.

It ended up on top of a ledge with a nice view.

Behind us this grotto was hidden from view except from one angle and was a tricky climb. As a result there were no cows and the plants were very nice.

This chockstone was actually useful for climbing.

Looking down from above the grotto at the stream area we first climbed up to.

Some strange splash like features in the rock. They were all over the place in one area.

This was even weirder. It looked like a dinosaur tail drag splattering through wet mud.

I couldn’t help bring this one home. It was already broken into pieces in a ditch. Notice that it seems to be the opposite impression of the type of formation in the picture above it.

Basically all the rocks in this area were really cool.

Some more neat fossils, this time in limestone.

I left Maree to look for rocks with Kona and climbed much higher. By this point I was more than 2/3 up the canyon, and it looked like with enough time I could climb all the way out of the gorge. To the right is a hole between two huge boulders that was the only way to get by.

Walking through the hole led to this unlikely open flat area high above the canyon.

These markers always remind you that you aren’t cool.

A great view looking far down the Virgin River Gorge! I made up to the same level of the cliff I spied from below. Yes, you can walk out on that promontory.

The lowest areas of the Aztec Sandstone are very nice in the evening light.

If you make it back this far by sunset you’ll get back to the car before dark.

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