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.
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?
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.
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:
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:
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:
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:
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!
Next up: Final red rock post, I promise!