The spectacular scenic beauty of Paria Canyon is known nationwide. Hikers are drawn to its colorful, winding corridors of stone; its narrow, constricted gorges and its stunning display of seven major geologic formations exposed like the pages of a book. If hiking downstream from Whitehouse to Lees Ferry, you will pass from younger formations into older encompassing 85 million years of geologic time. A fascinating geological adventure awaits at any trail head.
The Jurassic Navajo Sandstone is 1200 feet thick in Paria Canyon and is the most prominent formation. It is composed of crossbedded eolian sandstone deposited over millions of years as huge sand dunes migrated across a large desert broken only by an occasional oasis. Where the Paria River and Buckskin Gulch have cut through the Navajo Sandstone, slot canyons have formed. The Navajo Sandstone is very resistant in this desert environment and forms sheer cliffs and conical hoodoos.
In lower Paria Canyon, the Jurassic Kayenta and Moenave Formations underlie the Navajo Sandstone and consist of maroon sandstone, siltstone and shale. Thin beds of light-colored limestone add a ledgy, slope-forming appearance. These formations are water-lain as evidenced by their horizontal bedding. Paria Canyon is wider in its lower reaches because these formations are more easily eroded.
Around Lees Ferry, the Triassic Chinle and Moenkopi Formations are exposed. The Chinle Formation consists of pink and reddish-purple sandstone; gray and green shale; and purple beds of volcanic ash with a dark brown conglomerate at its base. The Moenkopi Formation is the oldest formation exposed in Paria Canyon. It consists of dark reddish brown siltstone and mudstone. These formations were deposited in lake, braided stream and mud flat environments.
The Paria River and its tributaries are located on the Colorado Plateau, an uplifted region of nearly-horizontal sedimentary rock. The Paria Canyon drainage system is bounded by the East Kaibab monocline or Cockscomb on the west and the Echo Cliffs monocline on the east near Lees Ferry. The Cockscomb folds and faults the formations down to the east while the Echo Cliffs monocline bends down to the west. This created the Paria Plateau/Marble Platform as a separate plateau within the Colorado Plateau.