The Haunting and Daunting White Pocket

Back in 2014 during a visit to the Zion National Park Visitor Center, I opened up one of those fancy coffee table books with the slick pages touting the top scenic destinations in southern Utah.  As I typically do, I thumbed through the pages mentally checking off those I’ve seen, while evaluating the “Wow factor” of those I haven’t.   Most of the glossy, full page photos were of places I had heard of before, many within the National Parks as well as some outside of the park system, like The Wave.   But then, I flipped to a full spread on a place I’d never heard of before….White Pocket.   It looked like some cosmic ice cream truck driver was tripping through the Milky Way when his truck overturned, spilling out giant sized mounds of peach, raspberry, lemon gelato and vanilla soft serve ice cream on top of a field of vermilion sand dunes.   I stared at that photo, thinking “I’ve got to get there somehow,” a destination that’s haunted me ever since.

One of the first few landmarks to indicate I am on the right road.

One of the first few landmarks to indicate I am on the right road.

Crossing through the cattle gate.

Crossing through the cattle gate.

Worn footpath leading into the site.

Worn footpath leading into the site.

These pink "pillows" are polygonal cracks produced by tensile stress, exposed by weathering.

These pink “pillows” are polygonal cracks produced by tensile stress, exposed by weathering.

But research revealed getting there is easier said than done.  The “features” (and I use plural, because there are many) are located down a long, difficult road that requires not only 4WD, but also high clearance.  I felt pretty confident in the Tracker’s 4WD capabilities, but as for high clearance, well, “high” is relative.   There’s a reason why I call it the “Little Tracker.”

The colors are caused by iron-bearing minerals.

The colors are caused by iron-bearing minerals.

Yellow color is produced by the minerals limonite and geothite.

Yellow color is produced by the minerals limonite and geothite.

Reds and pinks are caused by mineral hematite.

Reds and pinks are caused by mineral hematite.

The upheavals are due to soft sediment deformation.

The upheavals are due to soft sediment deformation.

The first fifteen miles of the twenty-five mile drive are just typical rough, pot-holed, wash-board gravel roads.   But oh….that last ten miles!  Deep, loose sand with ruts that eat Trackers for breakfast.  Couple that with the fact that I hate any kind of driving where I feel like I’m not in complete control, or I can’t slow down, pull over, or easily turn around.   In short, visiting White Pocket would translate to “white knuckles.”

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Last spring, fellow blog friends Pam and John, Gaelyn and Bill made this trip with no problems.  But they have a high clearance Jeep.  Pam sent me wonderfully detailed directions, including visual landmarks…things like “You will eventually come to a ranch area.  It looks a place the cowboys stay during the season.  Go straight through the middle.”   These types of directions are extremely helpful, otherwise who drives through the middle of someone’s ranch??   I ask Gaelyn’s opinion.  Her friend Bill lives nearby and has lots of experience with these backcountry roads. She says “the roads are never good, but you’ll be fine.”

Many "tee pees"

Many “tee pees”

The back side of the site has multi-colored walls as tall as a 2-3 story building.

The back side of the site has multi-colored walls as tall as a 2-3 story building.

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Like Kanarraville Falls, I’ve tried for two years now to drum up interest among companions with no success.  It’s too far from the “main camp” near Zion for a day trip, and no one else seems to share my affection for tent camping these days.  Seems like once most people take up the RVing lifestyle, they go soft.  😉   So this will be yet another instance of “Going it Alone.”

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This shearing effect exists due to gravitational forces, changes in ground water, or earthquakes.

This shearing effect exists due to gravitational forces, changes in ground water, or earthquakes.

This calls for a whole new level of “preparedness.”  I already carry some safety gear in the Tracker such as a tow strap, battery cables and some extra fluids, but I will need to step it up a notch for fear of getting “stuck.”   If I have a phobia, it’s getting stuck.  Such a metaphor for life…  I add to my arsenal with a shopping spree at Walmart;  a shovel and some floor mats for traction.   Throw in my Mr. Buddy heater, an extra green propane cylinder along with my camping gear.  I load up all my Lynx leveling blocks and add a 5 gallon container of water to wet down the sand, a tip I got from a Ranger at Lee’s Ferry who used to work at Great Sand Dunes NP, and I am set to go.img_1064 img_1070 img_1082

White Pocket is located in the northernmost part of Arizona, near the state line with Utah.  There are two entrances to reach House Rock Valley Road, the first gravel road you take to reach the turn off onto the unmarked Pine Tree Road toward White Pocket.   One can come from the north off Highway 89 near Kanab, or from the southern route, Highway 89A near Marble Canyon.   Since it’s a much further, rougher road from the north, I decide to base myself at Lee’s Ferry in Marble Canyon (thanks to some excellent advice from hiker buddy Chris.)  I’ll leave the Winnie parked there in the campground while I attempt the 4WD road.

I need a shadow-selfie just to believe I am really here!

I need a shadow-selfie just to believe I am really here!

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I take my time packing my camping gear.  I tell myself “no need to rush, with no cell signal, it’s going to be a loooong night.”   But truth be told, I am procrastinating due to a bit of apprehension.  I go over my list several times, have one last conversation with the Lee’s Ferry Ranger, and then it’s time…

I hear footsteps behind me....a bit unnerving.

I hear footsteps behind me….a bit unnerving.

img_1103 img_1132img_1136The first fifteen miles have me feeling good.  I have my Hawaiian Hula cassette playing in the Tracker, which always calms my nerves.   I am finding all the landmarks that Pam has described, and my confidence is high.    But then I come to the final ten miles.  I pull over to engage the 4WD and lock in my front hubs at the first sign of soft sand.   But once it gets started, there is no stopping for ten grueling miles.   I can feel the rear of the Tracker dragging bottom in the sand, so I have to drive like a bat out of hell to maintain momentum…the very contrary thing my mind tells me to do.   “Slow down!  Slow DOWN!!  SLOW THE F*#$ DOWN!!!”   But no, I have to speed up in order to maintain a steady speed, or I’ll be stuck there forever.

"Red sky at morning, sailor's warning."

“Red sky at morning, sailor’s warning.”

Note the Asian woman in red raincoat for scale...

Note the Asian woman in red raincoat for scale…

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The road has a lot of big rocks and curves, so it’s like driving an obstacle course…careening through the sand, banking curves, dodging cedar trees.   Just about the time I decide I don’t have the guts for it, and begin looking for a place to safely turn around, I meet a man coming in a truck camper from the opposite direction.  It’s the first time I have slowed down in miles, but I have no choice, as it’s all “single track.”  My hands are visibly shaking.  I tell him I am giving up and turning around.  He asks, “Why would you want to do that?  It doesn’t get any better, but it doesn’t get any worse.  You may as well keep going!”   So I did…

Ah, for a wider angle lens.

Ah, for a wider angle lens.

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There’s only one other car in the parking lot when I arrive…a group of Asians.  Only one of them speaks English.  I ask if they weren’t scared driving that road.  He says, “No, I have five people to push!”  Good point.

It’s a beautiful evening with an incredible sunset, the sun dropping low in the sky under wispy cloud cover.   By time I pitch my tent, the Asians have left and two older men with a car load of camera equipment have arrived.   We are the only two tents in the area.    There is a late-rising thumbnail moon, and the stars are more brilliant than I remember ever seeing.  I try taking some photos using the Tracker as a tripod, but once again my nighttime point and shoot photography falls short.img_1157 img_1176 img_1177

Unfortunately, I awake to cloudy skies the next morning.  Rain is in the forecast for the following day, but today was supposed to be “partly cloudy.”   They should have dropped the “partly.”   But the three of us head into the site in hopes that conditions improve.   With only one other tent in the area belonging to the two photographers, I am surprised to see the Asians come marching in single file, all wearing bright red rain jackets and carrying large tripods over their shoulder.   They have spent the night further down the road.img_1161 img_1180 img_1188

The cloud cover thickens, and the Asian says it’s going to rain.  I say no, the forecast says not until tomorrow.  His red raincoat proves to be a wise choice.

I had planned to spend a good part of the day exploring further, but it suddenly occurs to me that the heavy cloud cover and beginning drizzle might discourage other tourists.  Heavier rain is predicted for tomorrow.   I don’t want to be the last car at the end of the road, in case I get stuck with no one behind me!img_1185 img_1197 img_1204

The drive out is just as harrowing as the drive in.  I planned to attempt some photographs of the crazy road on the way out, but that is out of the question.  I never slow down all the way out. With only two cars behind me, there is no time to lose.

I arrive back to the Winnie without incident by around 2:00pm.  I don’t typically drink so early in the afternoon, but I toss back a couple of glasses of “relief” while watching the rain clouds roll in from across the canyon…img_1213 img_1219 img_1221 img_1224

(Note:  A special thanks to Pam and Gaelyn, and an added shout out to Adam and Jenny at YourHikeGuide who sent me a map of the area in pdf format.  Your words of encouragement were greatly appreciated!)

Another "Lunch with a View" tribute to Pam.

Another “Lunch with a View” tribute to Pam.

40 thoughts on “The Haunting and Daunting White Pocket

    • Annie, would you really?? I obviously asked the wrong companions. 😉 Had I known, I would have taken you with me! I even had a spare tent and sleeping bag!

  1. Holy Moley, Gal! You got Gary all fired up to see White Pocket. We’ve been all around that area, but there is NOTHING like that in the areas where we have been. What wonderful pictures that got those juices all fired up.

    I found an outfitter (Paria) that does three-day photo workshops to both places, providing all of the equipment that we don’t have any more – the stuff from “ye olden days of exploration” have long since been given away.

    Gives him something to shoot for!!! ;->

    Virtual hugs,

    Judie

    • Yeah, Judie! Glad we got Gary fired up! haha!! I looked in to those outfitters, but none were going by the time I made it down into Utah in November. I think the last one was mid-October, which should be lovely as would spring. Not too hot, and low sun in the sky for great photos.

  2. Enjoyed your photos of that lovely area. I am sorry to hear our Subaru won’t make it down that road. I have wanted to go there for a long time, but guess it will have to wait until we get a class A and can tow a Jeep. :-) Unless you want to test the Tracker again next fall!

    • Gayle, sure, as long as I don’t have to do the driving! The Tracker handled it much better than I did.

      I shouldn’t have said the Subaru wouldn’t make it. With Jim’s steely resolve behind the wheel, it probably would, but you might want to hide your eyes. 😉 Especially if you could catch it after a rain when the sand is harder packed. But it’s as much about the clearance as the 4WD. The Tracker clears about 12 inches, and I could have used another two or three!

  3. Wow. Gorgeous! I am glad you made the trip and published it. It does not sound like I would have high enough clearance to make the trip. Seeing it through your camera lens will have to do. Thanks, Russ

    • Mindy, with yours and Chris’ nice jeep, I’ll bet you wouldn’t have any trouble finding some companions from the red rocks gang who would love to ride along!

  4. Where did that come from? You know I hang around Lees Ferry but I’ve never heard of White Pockets. Doesn’t sound like the new rig is going to have enough clearance :-( Beautiful pictures as always!

    • John, the turn-off to House Rock Road is about 30 miles from Lee’s Ferry CG, back toward Jacob Lake. Then it’s 25 miles inland on gravel and sand from there. I’ll send you the maps if you are interested. And if the Tracker made it, I KNOW that new ride can make it!

  5. When I read the White Pocket blogs from Pam And John and Gaelyn it also called as a destination. It’s still on the Wish List :( The experience you have shared will do nothing but move it up the list! I would be more concerned about a flat tire, or breakdown then getting stuck in your Tracker.

    • Jeff, I did think about that….but I’ve got five new tires and a relatively new engine. 😉 Sometimes, you just gotta cast your fate to the wind…or in this case, the sand!

  6. I have followed your blog from beginning to end. I have seen things in your pictures that I will never see with my own eyes. Thanks for taking me along. I am unable to hike for any distance due to back issues. I can ride bicycle without significant pain. Would love to ride in some of the places you have ridden. Probably will never happen, so another thanks for the pictures. I admire your photographic ability and your unabashed comfort in going it alone. You have gone places I will never go, so it was wonderful to go along on your journeys.

    On another note, my wife and I are making preparations to go to Alaska next summer. Any advice? I want to go back over your blog and review pertinent posts but would be open to advice from anyone that has been there.

    • Thank you for the nice comment, Joe, and for following the blog! I’m sorry to hear of your back pain. I used to suffer from that as well, but hiking actually helps alleviate the pain for me, I suspect because it helps strengthen those core muscles.

      Although I have been to Alaska twice, once on a 2-week car camping trip in 1993, and again on a cruise ship in 2008, I have never been north or south of the 48 states border in the RV. There are a ton of people who have gone. Maybe Jeff, one of the commenters here can offer some advice. He went this past summer. His blog is https://ruffinitwithrufus.blogspot.com

    • Joe,
      My darling wife and I made the trip to AK in our View in 2015. I’ll let you in on a secret: The driving is trivial. Any car or truck in reliable condition will make the trip without breathing hard. The key is “reliable.” What can turn a drive into a journey is the remoteness of the area. If one encounters trouble or has a vehicle malfunction, proper help, tools, or spare parts might be a long way away – either in space or time. We carried only the barest of extra parts – an accessory drive belt and a fuel filter – but I had confidence in the Mercedes chassis. What I wish we would have taken: a headlight bulb. When one burns out, it might be 400 miles until another can be found.
      Enjoy the trip.

  7. Oh My Gawd!!! Breathtaking photos, amazing place, hands shaking on that drive. I remember rides like that one in my Dakota…but, would our Tracker do it? Ours is newer but not sure about the clearance….Never heard of this place, now I have to have to have to one day go there. We have the camping gear ready for the tracker for times like these, but like many, haven’t used it in years. I am just blown away by this one, Suzanne. You are amazing.

    • Thanks, Sue! I did think about you while I was there, as I know how you appreciate geology as a soil scientist. Throw in a few red rocks, and it’s heaven, right?

      It’s not necessary to camp there unless you want to do so. I just wanted the late evening/early morning light for photography rather than the higher direct sun, which is why I stayed overnight. And the star gazing made it worth it. But it could easily be done as a day trip from either Lee’s Ferry or Kanab/Paria. If my 1994 Tracker made it, I am certain yours would too, as the later models were bigger and more sturdy…not like a toy car like mine. haha! Just maintain a steady speed, and don’t stop in the deep sand! Thanks for the comment.

  8. Oh, Suzanne, your photos of this spectacular place are amazing. I was thrilled you made it out and got to spend the night. I can’t get over all the water in the tanks. It was bone dry during our visit. I love seeing the water. I forgot to mention your lunch with a view photo in the previous blog. I’m glad someone is having amazing lunch with a view times:) It won’t be too much longer til we’ll be back finally having lunch with a view!! Great views!! Glad we could help you out with directions:)

  9. Nice to see the old rickety gate has been replaced. You did it!!! And your photos are amazing. I want to see it again with water. And would definitely tent camp to spend the night but not take the truck camper out there. Another great lunch with a view.

  10. Thanks for sharing a place that I had never heard of. Great pics. It does look like melted ice cream. To bad the sun wasn’t out to make those colors jump out. I think you need (or have rightly earned) a new tag line – “Fearlessly going where few have dare to wander.”

  11. Wow! I give you extra credit for this one. I have a BIG Dodge Ram 3500 4 wheel drive and I’d be leery, too. I was in south Georgia recently, driving the back roads; some with newly dumped deep sand. I described it in my blog as driving in the snow–same feeling. I could feel the back wheels start to spin and go into slides. I have driven my daughter to work at the hospital in black ice at 5 a.m. and stopping for any reason is not an option (not even traffic lights) – your encounter of another vehicle reminded me of it.

    I don’t know if it would work in sand, but I keep Kitty Litter in the truck to help with traction in ice or snow. I’ve never had to use it, but more than one person has told me that it would work. I think I would put it on the floor mats to get started. Any way, just a thought. Your pictures are beautiful, as always.

  12. WOW!!!!!! Ok I am adding that to bucket list. We do enjoy going to places where high clearance 4X4 is required and also enjoy the tent! That looks like a place to spend several days and do some hikes to see even more. I have never heard of it before………………………just WOW!!!!!! Thanks for your beautiful photos and your narrative.

  13. Amazing places I get to see through you!!! Thank you for another wonderful essay on the beauty of the west!!! Thank you!!!!

  14. I am totally enhanced by both the pictures and the story which accompanies them. Once again you have exceeded my expectations of that part of Arizona which I love and thought that I had explored, but your explorations are fantastic. What fantastic shapes and colors. Your fortitude in continuing where many of us would hold back brings out my envy for such enthusiasm and courage. right on!!!

    • Allen! I thought I had lost you! Glad to see you are still with me…Hope all is well there with you and Deede, and you are looking forward to a happy holiday. Suzanne

  15. I would hop on a plane in a heartbeat if someone asked me to tent camp with them there!! Just gorgeous, it would be so amazing to pull the tent flap aside and see all those formations.

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