A worthy substitute for “The Wave” – White Pocket, Utah

One reason for extending our stay in Kanab was to get a spot on a guided tour at White Pocket Recreation Area, situated in the Paria Wilderness within Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.  Some parts of this vast and unusually beautiful area in southern Utah are remote and isolated, and just getting to them on unmaintained backcountry roads can be as challenging as the hike!

At the top of the list of well-known natural wonders for many hikers and adventurers is the unique landscape of “The Wave” near here on the Utah/Arizona border.  Because of its appeal and delicate nature, it’s protected and currently only 20 hikers per day are allowed access.  Lucky for us, we won the BLM’s lottery for a coveted spot there in 2017, and here’s my post about that amazing trek.

We think an excellent substitute for that hike is White Pocket , which as of now doesn’t require a permit.  A 4X4 vehicle is mandatory to get there, and if you do it on your own be sure to visit the BLM office prior to your trip to learn all you can, including current conditions along the way.  We knew our Honda CRV had no chance of making it, so we booked an all-day tour with Dreamland Safari, based on a good review by our friends Dave and Faye.

The long and dusty rough road to White Pocket

Orion, our guide/driver, took a circuitous 2-hour route from Kanab to our destination.  The first hour followed US 89A back to the Utah-Arizona border, where we entered the south end of House Rock Valley Road.  The second hour was over bumpy and rough roads, with stretches of deep soft sand.  Orion was knowledgeable and enthusiastic, pointing out landmarks and telling many stories non-stop along the way.

We stopped at an ancient pueblo area where Orion aired down the tires on the SUV for our trip through the deep sand.  While there we checked out the hundreds of pieces of sherd (broken pottery) left behind by previous inhabitants:

Orion placed these brownish-black balls in my hand, which at first I thought were deer droppings.  But it turns out they are “Moqui Marbles” (concretions).  They are composed of iron oxide and sandstone that formed underground when iron minerals precipitated from flowing groundwater. They occur mostly here in southern Utah.  How cool is that?

Moqui Marbles

After the long drive we finally arrived:

I was happy to discover that Orion had an interest in wildflowers, and he even brought along a book that we used to identify several of them that we found displaying their colors along the way.  Although I had seen most of them on previous hikes, I was impressed that he wanted to learn about plants and flowers.  I quizzed him about the birds we saw, but he said that would be his next study 🙂 Anyhow, I digress.

He called this White Pocket Monolith, although it looks small in the picture

The extraordinary geology at White Pocket is not easily explained and I won’t attempt to try.  What I do know is that the variety of formations are outcrops of underlying Navajo sandstone, eroded to form unusual and amazing shapes.  Millions of years of wind and rain made the amazing landscape we saw today:

Outcrops at White Pocket as seen from the parking lot, marked for reference below

Orion first led us to the northern formation, #1 in the picture above.  In this area, white or light gray is the dominant rock color, and it looked like a divided bread dough waiting for the yeast to rise:

A lone pine tree amidst leavening bread

Lichens create art on stone
It looks like a duck to me
A rock teepee

We were free to roam around for a while, which we did.  We continued to area #2, where the red sandstone heaved and dripped to make the entire landscape look as if it was covered with cake icing, or maybe like a painter was cleaning a brush or mixing paint:

Swirls brushed the sandstone
It looked like milk was stirred in, maybe a mocha?
Steve is going for a slice of the giant marble cake
A sand dune frozen in time
That little water pocket gave this place its name

After lunch (included in the tour cost), Orion led us to the west side (#3).  As we crested a small rise…

…we stood for a while in awe.  The swirling, twisted, multicolored natural artwork was simply jaw dropping!

The details here are worth observing, let’s take a closer look:

Amazing what the wind has done here
Pam and Sue – doesn’t this look like the pastry Kouign-Amann?
The most photographed formation here, a slice of a carrot or marble cake?
A determined bush somehow survives
Ripples of time

Cross-bedding of Navajo Sandstone.  The sky and clouds helped make our pictures pop!
According to Orion, the red dots are incomplete iron concretions
The most incredible and diverse formations we’ve seen at one location

Orion pointed out “The Wave”, over there where the sun is shining.

As you might imagine, our cameras were on overdrive.  This area was stunning, mind boggling, fascinating and more – our pictures don’t do it justice!

It was a long and tiring day, with the drive itself being a large part of the adventure.  And with no designated trails to follow, our explorations were almost limitless.  So fret not if you can’t get a spot on “The Wave” hike, White Pocket is every bit as awesome at this wild playground in southern Utah!




  1. “Wow” is right! What a stunning place! The colors, the formations, the wide open views, the fact that you seemed to have it all to yourself! Your photos are absolutely stellar!

    But what’s really odd is, after reading this post, I have this crazy craving for baked goods – perhaps a pastry? Or some marble cake? Maybe a mocha to top it off???


    Honestly, I have little hope that we will be fortunate enough to see the Wave (though, we’ll certainly throw our name in the hat again next time we’re there), but this looks like a pretty wonderful alternative. It’s definitely on “the list”!!

    • Ha ha ha, at least i did not describe it as milk infused tumeric 🙂 I must have been craving for some pastry when I described the formations. Yes, I do say, White Pocket is an excellent alternative. The only downside is the long rough ride to the area.

  2. I remember Faye and Dave talking about White Pocket. Looks amazing! Too bad we can’t get there with our own vehicle. Southern Utah never ceases to amaze me with her unique and stunning beauty. Thanks for taking me there.

    • I know, I would not drive my vehicle there, the road is rutted in addition to some deep sand. Southern Utah has all the goods for a sensory overload.

  3. What a fantastic landscape and your photos are absolutely spectacular! I’m reading this as I’m drinking my morning coffee, and now I’m really hungry with all of your descriptions of cakes and mochas, LOL!

    We’ve always wanted to hike The Wave but with a slim chance of winning the lottery, this really does look like a great alternative. In some ways, it looks even more interesting with all of the different rock formations. I’m thinking even if we could get to White Pocket ourselves in our Tundra (it’s 4-wheel drive) it might be more fun to go with a guide who knows all of the cool places to go. I’m so glad you guys shared this adventure!

    • White Pocket is naturally restrictive to visit but when you do get a chance, it is totally an amazing place to scramble around. Our cameras cant figure out which to focus, so much variety in the swirling and twisting of rocks. I was thinking of the pastries that I just had when I was composing this post. I even thought of describing the swirl as milk infused Turmeric drink.

  4. It does look like a kouign amann! I’m so glad you got there and photographed it so beautifully. Our trip on that nasty road was aborted by gathering storm clouds so we never made it to White Pocket. This last trip to Kanab opened up so many wonderful places to us….I can’t wait to return.

  5. I should just copy and paste what Laurel & Laura have said; we all seem to think the same things (no surprise there!) Your food descriptions of all the formations have made me leery of taking TBG in there — we wouldn’t be able to carry enough real food to keep him from starving along the way 😀 I don’t know if we’ll ever really get ourselves out there, but your adventure sure makes us want to try when we go through that area. Simply unbelievable visually. What an amazing experience for you guys!

    My favorite flower was the “I Forgot.” Are those related to Forget-Me-Nots? You always make my jaw drop and alternately tickle my funny bone.

    • Ha ha, I did forget about the flower and I have no more time to research it. Cakes, pastries and milk infused turmeric or dripping ice cream. I sure wish that you explore the Kanab area or in fact submit your name in the Wave lottery. Who knows your names will be drawn out!

  6. So glad you got to visit this amazing place. It’s nice that you don’t have to hike miles to be able to wander. It opens the beauty up to so many. We were blown away by the way the reds and whites swirled together with foamy edges. Yes, that most definitely looks like our pastry! Yum!! It is a long drive but so worth it. We went from Page.

    • That must have been also a long drive from Page, then a rough one from House Rock Valley Road. It was a bit pricey but worth every minute including the rough ride.

  7. Glad you enjoyed White Pockets!!! We so miss the west, but thanks to you we can get a western fix once in a while. Thanks!!

    • We remembered how much excited and amazed you were when you also explored White Pockets. And We did not call any other outfitters but Dreamland, although $$$$ we were happy with their service.

  8. Wonderful photos of a peculiar location. I like the flowers and plant that look like sea horses. I wonder what they’re called.

  9. That was an awesome post. Your pictures are always awesome, but this one is off the chart. This one is certainly on our future travel list.

    • Thank you Shawn 🙂 Yes, it should be on your list, but I think it will be a while for you to visit Utah, since you are having too much fun with your boat!

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