Saturday, October 10, 2015

White Pocket: Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, Arizona

Essence: Permits are not required to wander at whim all day on ancient dunes. Climb globular dunestone with characteristic polygonal cracks. Wildly contorted stony swirls are polychromatic: rust, apricot, ocher, butterscotch, and tawny yellow. Walk ever so cautiously, careful not to step on paper thin, gravity defying fins. Climb and circumnavigate "The Butte," highpoint of White Pocket.
Travel: I have been on all the roads to White Pocket. Following is the easiest route. You will need 4WD, high clearance, and a lot of patience. From mile marker 25.7 on U.S. Route 89, about five miles west of the Paria Contact Station, turn south on House Rock Valley Road. Zero-out your trip meter. Pass the Wire Pass TH at 8.4 miles and Stateline Campground at 9.9 miles. On a decent dirt road, pass Lone Tree, road 1079, at 16.4 miles. (Yes, you can get there from Paw Hole but I've gotten stuck every time by deep sand on a steep incline.) Turn left/east at 20.2 miles. The sign for 1017 is just up the road. At 23.3 miles, stay straight. Here, 1066 (1081 on some maps) veers left, a primitive road experience. Pass 1085 at 26.4. In just another 0.1 mile, at 26.5 miles, bear left on 1087. This is Pine Tree Pockets with a cluster of old ranch buildings and a corral. From here, the going gets tough. The primitive road is a mix of ruts, and soft, deep sand. At 30.5, bear left on 1086. Open and close a rickety barbed wire fence at 30.9 miles. At 32.9 miles see White Pocket Butte. At 34.5 miles, 1323 comes in on the left from Poverty Flat and Cottonwood Cove. At 35.4 miles stay straight. Reach the trailhead at 36.0 miles. The large lot is suitable for camping but a better site is at road's end, a half mile further. No water, no facilities. Trails Illustrated No. 859 will help you find the TH. Allow two hours from Hwy. 89.
Distance and Elevation Gain: 3 to 8 miles; 7 miles for the route on the map below; 500 to 1,500 feet of climbing, it's up to you
Time: 3:00 minimum; all day is optimal
Difficulty: Off-trail; navigation easy; mild exposure on The Butte to the ridge of ocher towers
Maps: Poverty Flat, AZ 7.5 Quad; Trails Illustrated: Paria Canyon, Kanab No. 859
Latest Date Hiked: October 10, 2015
Quote: I've always regarded nature as the clothing of God.  Alan Hovhaness, American composer

Allow curiosity to dictate your way in fanciful White Pocket. (THW, photo)

Route: There is no defined route. Below is a copy of our GPS track. After meandering among lower elevation features, map-center, we climbed the north ridge of The Butte before circumnavigating the escarpment. Lastly, we discovered a petroglyph panel at the northeast edge of White Pocket. 

A wide, sandy path bears west from the parking lot, elevation 5,670 feet. An informative placard explains that this region was once covered in shifting sand and complex dunes. Today's cross-beds are solidified windblown deposits.  It is less than 0.2 mile to the rock and there ends any notion of a trail. Instead, we spend the day walking on exhumed desert sand dunes. Standing here, we decide to climb the camel hump, image-right, and have a look around.

The dominant elements at White Pocket are globular mounds of polygonal white Navajo Sandstone, the most prominent rock layer exposed by uplift and erosion on the Colorado Plateau. Cracks and fissures are produced by tensile stress and exposed by weathering. These features make scaling even steep pitches easy. (THW, photo)

The highpoint, what regulars call The Butte, is magnetic. But first, as indicated on the map, we enter the stony dunefield. Weaving here and there, propelled by wonderment, we explore the perplexing, intricate labyrinth.

Frozen curlicues and whorls, cell patterns, fins, and cross-bedding are mesmerizing. The bizarre nonsensical pandemonium was formed before the sand became rock in a process called soft sediment deformation. White Pocket is simply strange, strengthening its appeal.

This area is a maze so be sure to get lost. Every dead end yields a mind-altering vista. (THW, photo)

Ivory, apricot, rust, and brick, are intermingled with overlying white rock. The color palette is attributed to iron-bearing minerals within the sandstone. (THW, photo)

Topping out on the tallest globular biscuit, this is the view east toward the bluff with the petroglyph panel tucked at its base.

West is The Butte. Climbing the north slope is not for everyone. However, circumnavigating the escarpment yields even more mind-boggling features.

Follow the fence line to the monolith. The barb wire barrier is collapsed at the east wall.

Upon reaching the north slope, ascend the red cross-bedding using nature's stone switchbacks. Friction up the grey sandstone pitch. There are plenty of climbing features; sticky shoes are helpful. (THW, photo)

Pass by an unexpected and undisturbed live sand dune. Top out on the ridge of ocher towers, shown. (THW, photo)

Pictured is one of several towers on the east-west running ridge located north of the highpoint. We clamor up two of the tiny saddles between towers. The drop on the south side is precipitous.

The image below shows the summit of The Butte at center, less than 100 vertical feet above our point. We learned later that it may be possible to scoot around one of the towers and into the bowl to the south. Then scale what looks like an improbable pitch to the summit. It is very exposed. (THW, photo)

We circumnavigate The Butte while scouting for another route to the top. We descend the north slope and cut west through a weakness in the ridge.  The landscape is dazzling. Walking south, we simply follow the shifting, natural sidewalk. The west side is characterized by massive fins and row upon row of stone scallops.

The angular south end has butter-smooth, vertical walls streaked with color. A Utah-blue sky holds the land in place. (THW, photo)

We walk east through scratchy plants to a small, well-defended knob. From this perspective, The Butte is armored with an encircling barrier wall. In the image below, the ridge we scaled is on the right.

To locate the petroglyph panel, walk to the bluff at the northeast edge of White Pocket. The panel is located on the outside wall of a ground level alcove just before the fence line. Etched into desert varnish are bighorn sheep, deer with elaborate racks, small anthropomorphs, and sharpening grooves or counting slashes. Soot ceilings indicate this was a dwelling site.
(THW, photo)

"White Pocket" is a curious name. Perhaps it references the swath of sandstone bubbling out of the piƱon-juniper and sage-blackbrush flats.

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