Canal Trail, Virgin River Canyon
After two short but beautiful stops along the rim and then upriver of the canyon, we started our hike by descending 700 feet or so to the river below the dam along the Canal Trail, named to commemorate the building of the Hurricane Canal at the turn of the 20th century. Sections of the canal were suspended along the cliffsides and tunneled through the mountains in the attempt to control the flooding of the Virgin River but it ultimately failed – which was not the least bit surprising to me after seeing the force of the water above the dam. In any case, the sections of the trail that we used to walk through the canyon had remnants of the canal and one of the original dams but we were there for the natural scenery, not the historical points.
The Virgin River Canyon is incredible. The combination of volcanic activity and the major faulting has produced some spectacular rock, dissected by the once-mighty Virgin River. The tamed blue water that flows below the dam now is terribly pretty and offsets the reds and blacks of sandstone and pumice. Though few of the trees had budded when we were there in late March there was still enough green from the cottonwoods and grasses to complete the picture; I can imagine it’s even more beautiful in late spring.
We hiked for about 7 miles along the canyon floor, turning around at the Pah Tempe Hot Springs, a possibly-privately-owned natural sulfur spring in a section of canyon that had multiple ‘No Trespassing’ signs posted. I waded in anyway, soaking my feet in the warm water and letting my toes get sucked into the silty mud bottom; Tom took photos of me walking through and getting a closer look at the limestone canyon walls. The hike started a bit cloudy but by the time we were on the return the sky was more blue than not and the sun was bright. We ended the day by climbing back out of the canyon through the switchbacks and along the rock walls and were treated to a last view of the canyon from the trailhead. Combined with what I had seen earlier in the morning, it was a phenomenal day.