Twenty-five adventurous explorers set out May 21 on a quest for knowledge, while discovering the history and mystery of the old Paria townsite during the Amazing Earthfest’s ATV ride.

Co-sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, the 22-mile round-trip ride down Paria Breaks Road featured world-class scenery and talks by Monument archaeologist Matt Zweifel, botanist Raymond Brinkerhoff, and public affairs officer Larry Crutchfield.

The group gathered at the intersection of Highway 89 and Monument route 586, unloaded their machines, and talked about safety and driver etiquette before beginning their trek for the Paria Movie Set site, where they met Zweifel.

Along the way, the group stopped to take a look at a climate station used by fire forecasters to help determine current fire conditions. In addition to these climate stations, the Monument has 19 stations of its own, the highest concentration of climate data collection across the Colorado plateau. 

Brinkerhoff took advantage of the stop to talk about the Monument’s efforts to improve rangeland health and the role plants play in soil conservation and rainwater retention.

Once at the Paria Movie Set site, Zweifel began with a bit of the movie-making history of the Paria before moving on to the Paria Cemetery and the old townsite.

Bordered by a vermillion-colored steel fence, headstones surrounded by bright orange wildflowers, the cemetery stands as a testament to the hard life of the early settlers. Yet, as Zweifel explained, Father Time had all but erased the site from the landscape until the descendants of those buried there and Bureau of Land Management staff teamed up to identify the cemetery using modern equipment and erected the fence to delineate its boundary. A monument was erected at the site to provide visitors with a brief history and headstones were placed over the graves.

From the cemetery, the group headed for the western bank of the Paria River, directly across from the old Paria townsite. Zweifel had planned to hike over to the site for his talk, but recent rains had left the Paria swollen and too dangerous (and cold) to cross. 

So from afar, Zweifel talked about the 1,000-year-plus history of attempts to settle the area. He spoke of efforts to farm the area and how floods ultimately took back the land; of gold mining and even secret caves possibly used by Nazi spies (or so goes the legend). When there were no more questions, the group headed back to the staging area, stopping for lunch along the way.

LaMar and Carol Sullivan joined the ride. “It was really wonderful getting out with the BLM staff getting to share in all this knowledge,” said Lamar. “Sign me up for the next trip!”