The Quest for White Pocket
Story and photos by Deb Miller Marschke
Last fall in September of 2016, Steve and I decided to go on a noodle in Northern Arizona. It was kind of a last minute, seat-of-our-pants adventure. Ideally, we were interested in an area southeast of Kanab, Utah that is known as Coyote Buttes. This geographic area contains the famous feature “The Wave” which now adorns calendars and art galleries nationwide. We were fortunate enough to get the required permit to hike to the Wave some years ago, but these permits are tricky to acquire and take some orchestration. The Wave steals all the thunder from the Coyote Buttes area as a whole; this geographic zone is a wonderland of sculpted colorful sandstone. We considered the possibility of targeting Coyote Buttes South, but it was still too hot, and we didn’t have the necessary permit. It was too late to get one as they were all booked up.
I scoured my maps for more possibilities. During my investigation, I found promising leads to an area called “White Pocket” so we decided to shoot for that. I cobbled together enough information to get us there, but there was not much on the internet that answered all of my questions. So by design, there was going to be an element of surprise or spontaneity in our endeavor. This geologic area actually overlays the Utah/Arizona border so it’s in two states. We accessed the area by driving south from UT High.way 89, east of Kanab, and left the pavement on The Honeymoon Trail (this is a historic 1870’s Mormon route). You can also select the Great Western Trail as these two trails converge and cross. We hopped onto route 1065 and looked for our access trail. We needed to get into an area called Poverty Flat. We choose the route that began at Lone Tree Reservoir 1079 and cuts in to Paw Hole trailhead.
There is a long way in, and a short way in. The short way was touted as being one of loose sand, and challenging. And it was !!! We drive a custom modified 1978 Jeep CJ, there are not many places we can’t go. The trail degraded into the worst sand we have ever driven in. Not only do you have to negotiate sand, there are sandy hills to climb. We had to have our “A” game going to get through this stretch, but we conquered it without drama. It is a beautiful drive nonetheless. We arrived at Poverty Flat Ranch and decided to set up a primitive dry camp in the abandoned ranch site. Aptly named, it’s remote & arid, and just the right price (free!) in Vermillion Cliffs BLM.
In the morning we set out to find White Pocket. We found that this surrounding area was littered with Moqui Marbles (hard little sandstone balls covered with iron oxide). They are fascinating and fun to find. Some lay along the route and appeared to mimic the stone patterns found in the famous Death Valley Racetrack, leaving little paths in the sand as the weather moves them about. It was hard to resist harvesting them like Easter Eggs. The White Pocket area was only about 3 miles from our campsite, but there are no signs to guide you. We could see the buttes of White Pocket from the road, so we just headed in that general direction on the existing dirt roads until we found ourselves at the parking area. We were immediately distracted by all kinds of geologic features, so after scrambling around we had to govern ourselves to walk the short distance to White Pocket. No trail guide is necessary, you can see it from the parking area about a thousand feet distant.
All I can say is – WOW! Once we were in the feature, we were in com.plete awe. Some of the sandstone is whitish, but mixed in are reds, oranges, and yellows in all configurations of crazy designs. Mother Nature was at her artistic best on the day she created White Pocket. We climbed on and around this spectacular display for hours. Every direction and angle was different, which sucked us in and kept us hiking. It’s not an expansive area, but there are lots of little nooks and crannies that will keep you busy for as long as you’d like to ex.plore. You won’t get lost per se, but you will be lost in the beauty and majesty. Our eyes were filled with “Awesome.”
There is an interpretive sign on lo.cation which explains “ Approximately 190 million years ago, this area was part of a region covered with deep, shifting sand and complex dunes comparable to the modern day Sahara Desert. The dune field encom.passed parts of Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Colorado, and Wyoming. The large-scale, high angle, crossbeds which can be 25 feet wide are characteristic of windblown deposits and are examples of what was once a large dune field. At that time, periods of monsoonal moisture supported plant and animal life. Organisms left evidence of their exis.tence in this area in bio-turbated beds. BioTurbation in this area is caused by the mixing of sediments by ancient, bur.rowing insects and spiders. The various shades of pink, red, yellow, and brown rocks are due to the oxidation of iron bearing minerals within the sandstone. The red and pink colors are attributed to the presence of the mineral hematite, while the yellow and brown colors are produced by the minerals limonite or goethite .The beautifully swirled ap.pearance of the rocks at White Pocket are due to an exceptional exposure of unusually soft sediment deformation and slump sediments. Soft sediment defor.mation occurs when separated layers of sediment are folded and or sheared due to gravitational forces, changes in ground water, or earthquakes. Thick massive beds at White Pocket have char.acteristic polygonal cracks produced by tensile stress and exposed by weath.ering processes. Many theories exist regarding the origin of polygonal cracks, including thermal contrac.tion, moisture cy.cles, and the drying process of these sediments.”
I have included some of my favorite photos, but White Pocket is a place that needs to be fully enjoyed in person. The alternative route in can be accessed via AZ Highway 89A east of Jacob Lake near House Rock Valley Road, east on road 1017. I know this because we encountered a commercial tour van from Kanab before we left, and that’s how they made it in without getting stuck. That is a considerably longer trek. The area can also be reached by parking near Paw Hole and day hiking – my sources said 4 miles roundtrip in the full sun and some sand. We actually had to depart from White Pocket that day because the September afternoon had grown hot, so ideally I would recommend visiting when the temperatures are in the 60’s – low 70’s so you don’t get seared in the “sandstone frying pan.” Budget an entire day for this because there are tons of features to distract and keep you busy, we had to skip some things and leave them waiting for our return next time.
A tip I can give you is to get the maps produced by Trails Illustrated. You can get them easily on Amazon. These maps were the best resource for navigating in this area and finding an effective route. The Trails Illustrated map to use is "Grand Canyon East", but I also had Grand Canyon West and other areas, which was really helpful while exploring. The atlas maps by DeLorme and Benchmark did not have enough details for the types of trips we DE'ers do. ~ Deb
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