One of the places I most wanted to visit on this trip was White Pocket in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. We first heard about it on our trip to Kanab last year, and I’ve kept it in the back of my mind for a future trip. I didn’t do any research until the weekend before the trip, and in doing so discovered that it’s not very easy to reach. In fact, people often get stuck trying to get there. Cell service is available, but spotty and you might have to climb on top of something to get a strong enough signal to call out. After hemming and hawing for a while, I decided I wanted to go badly enough that I was willing to pay for a tour. Why ruin a perfectly good day (or days) by getting stuck when we could be ensured of a smooth, anxiety-free trip? Zach didn’t quite see my side of it, but since I offered to pay he didn’t have much room to argue.
Taking a tour is definitely outside our usual wheelhouse. Typically we like to do everything ourselves. This evolved primarily out of a need for thrift, but also because we’ve become more self-sufficient. But tours have their place and I often forget that. I looked around at the different companies in Kanab and settled on Dreamland Safari Tours. Truthfully I wasn’t very discerning. I chose Dreamland because they offered the cheapest one day tour at $175/person and allowed at least one dog to tag along. So, I called them up and made sure Truman would be able to join us, then made the reservation online. Biggest chunk of change I’ve ever dropped on something like this, but I was thrilled to be going. (Keep in mind some of my decision-making skills are hampered by the uncertainty of our future…)
Our Airbnb was close enough to the Dreamland office that I elected to meet there for the tour (otherwise they will pick you up). We met our guide, Brett, a little before 9am. We were the only clients, so as soon as Brett was ready to roll we departed. We took the scenic route through Kaibab National Forest before coming to House Rock Valley Road. We stopped along the road at a viewing area for California condors which nest in the Vermilion Cliffs. We were fortunate to see several circling above the cliffs. The California condor was nearly extinct when the Peregrine Fund and BLM began to breed them in captivity and then release them in the national monument. Still endangered, their numbers have grown. The latest captive-bred condors were released at this spot in September.
From there we began our journey to White Pocket. From House Rock Valley Rd. we followed another dirt road, fairly well-graded, and I thought Zach was going to give me grief if it ended up being an easy drive. Thankfully, we soon reached the deep, soft sand I’d read about, and Zach wasn’t so certain the Forester would have made it. Brett thought we could have done it – though we definitely would’ve pushed some sand along the way – but we weren’t as confident. Eventually White Pocket Butte appeared on the horizon which meant we were close.
In Vermilion Cliffs NM, the Paria (Puh-ree-yah) Plateau is a defining feature. Primarily comprised of sandy plains with scrubby bushes and juniper trees, there are various outcrops of Navajo sandstone which have been contorted by the elements into interesting shapes and designs. North and South Coyote Buttes (where The Wave is located) are the more well-known examples of this. White Pocket is similar, though the hues are more white and grey than red and orange. While a permit is required for both of the Coyote Buttes, none is currently required for White Pocket.
White Pocket only covers 1 square mile, but I managed to take 140 photographs. I tried to post only my favorites, but it’s still a lot.
There were only a handful of other people when we arrived shortly after 11am. Brett led us around the entire formation. He could tell us anything we wanted to know and then some. He was familiar with the geology of the landscape, and it was clear he has a deep fondness for the region. He even led us to some petroglyphs and pictographs on the nearby cliff side. He gave us some time to wander around on our own before lunch. For quite a while we were the only people out there. It was sublime.
We had a simple lunch and returned to the formation for a final chance at exploration and photographs. There were many more people crawling around, and I was so grateful we had arrived earlier in the day. Brett proposed leaving early and stopping at the Pahreah Ghost Town on our way back to Kanab. We were game.
Brett took us on a detour on our way back and we skirted the southern end of South Coyote Buttes. Then we were back on House Rock Valley Rd. driving toward US 89. The Paria River Valley is most spectacular for the banded hills which line the river valley. Part of the Chinle Formation, the hills are brilliantly colored in green, purple, red, and white. The Pahreah ghost town barely exists while the movie set which used to attract tourists was burned by arsonists in 2006. It’s a stunning area, although we were there at the wrong time of day for any decent photographs.
With that we drove back to the outskirts of Kanab and bid farewell to Brett. It was a fantastic day, and I’m glad I was able to cross White Pocket off my bucket list.