Friday, August 29, 2014

Another World, Part 6 - White Pocket

                                                                       Beautiful riot.

                                                                                    -- Army of One

Sitting out in the middle of the Paria Plateau wilderness of northern Arizona is yet another world.  It's called White Pocket.  It's not a national park -- or even a state park -- because it's too remote and difficult to reach, but it has some of the most bizarre, unreal, fantastic, and yet beautiful formations I've ever seen! 

It's a spectacular outcropping of red, pink, and white contorted sedimentary rock layers laid down about 190 million years ago in the early Jurassic period when most of Utah -- as well as parts of Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, and Nevada -- was covered with deep, shifting sands and complex dunes comparable to today's Sahara Desert (see map).

White Pocket is not part of any mountain range or other prominent feature.  It's just sticking out of the Paria Plateau, surrounded by dirt and scrub trees and bushes.

You can drive to within 1/4 mile of the site, but it's a treacherous drive.  Here's what one website says:

It is quite difficult to get to the White Pocket, and a high clearance four wheel drive vehicle is definitely needed due to deep sand.  If your vehicle gets stuck, or breaks, if you injure yourself, or if you get lost you may die. I strongly recommend that if you visit these areas you go with another vehicle, have a good spare and extra gas and water, and have a satellite phone or PRB. A GPS will also help keep you on the right road.

Fortunately, I was riding with my friend, Duke Breitenbach, who knows the way.  To get there, we drove to the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, then took a dirt road for about 9 miles, then drove another 15 miles on what they call a "two-track":  a pair of ruts in the very sandy (and occasionally rocky) ground.

The road twists and turns across the top of the Paria Plateau.  For a brief (40-sec.) video of driving on this road, click here.

Occasionally you encounter some oncoming traffic:

Once there, it's an easy but slow, sandy 1/4-mile walk from the parking area to the formation.

And then you enter another world . . .


No one really knows how all these weird formations achieved their current shape, but the consensus seems to be that over the millennia the separate layers of soft sediment (sandstone) were folded and sheared initially by wind, and then by gravity, earthquakes, and/or changes in ground water.

As a result, we have beautiful flowing layers . . .


sometimes even perpendicular to each other . . .

as well as contorted, muddy-looking formations . . .

And then -- to top it all off (literally) -- there's a thick layer of stuff that looks like brain matter (or cauliflower) with polygonal cracks:

You may remember from an earlier post (June 26, 2014) that we have seen a similar formation before . . . Checkerboard Mesa in Zion National Park:

In addition to the large formations, there is beauty in small things at White Pocket.  Colors and patterns . . .

And tenacious lichens and plants find ways to survive in this austere environment:

And then there are the moqui marbles.

These are small bits of sandstone cemented together and coated with iron oxide in the form of hematite and goethite.  They weather out of the Navajo sandstone and collect on the ground.

In the image below (taken at Snow Canyon State Park near St. George, Utah) you can see the marbles emerging from -- but still embedded in -- the sandstone.


White Pocket has millions of them.  They collect in "puddles" (see very bottom of the image below) . . .

 . . . and in the grooves of the polygonal surface rock:

In some places they literally cover the ground.  In the image below, the dark stuff from the lower center to the right side of the image is actually millions of moqui marbles:

One last observation about White Pocket.  Because it's only about 25 miles from "The Wave" (see my blog post of Feb. 14, 2014), White Pocket invites comparison, so here goes:

Access to The Wave is restricted by permit; access to White Pocket is not.

Getting to The Wave requires a long drive and a 7-mile round-trip hike without trail markers over moderately difficult terrain; getting to White Pocket requires a high-clearance 4-wheel-drive vehicle for an even longer drive over treacherous sandy terrain, but only a 1/4-mile walk thereafter.

The Wave is a beautiful, graceful, elegant arrangement of contorted sandstone covering about one acre:

White Pocket is a beautiful riot of contorted sandstone covering about 20 acres:


Which is better?  You decide.

In the meantime, if you'd like to see these images (and more) in a larger format, visit my photography website -- Todos Juntos Photography -- by clicking here.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Another World, Part 5 - Canyonlands National Park

              . . . the most weird, wonderful, magical place on earth — there is nothing else like it anywhere.

                                                                 -- Edward Abbey, about Canyonlands

Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah includes 527 square miles of canyons, mesas, and rock formations (including Mesa Arch, about which more below).  This is about 1/4 the area of Arizona's Grand Canyon.  The area was designated as a national park 50 years ago next month.

The canyons and other formations in Canyonlands have been created primarily by the Colorado River (#8 and #9 on the map below) and the Green River (#7 below) and their tributaries over millions of years.

Canyonlands National Park

The rivers divide the park into three districts -- Island in the Sky (#1 on the map above), The Needles (#3 above), and The Maze (#4 above).  A fourth district called Horseshoe Canyon (#6 above) is separate from the other three areas.  

Because of all the canyons, none of the areas are connected by roads inside the park -- you have to go around and approach each one separately.  Island in the Sky is the most accessible and attracts about 60% of the park's visitors; The Needles district attracts about 35% of the visitors; The Maze, 3%.

I was able to visit the Island in the Sky district in 2014 and the nearby Dead Horse Point State Park in 2013 and 2014.  These areas are not as otherworldly as the more remote parts of Canyonlands or as the parks in my previous posts in this series.  But the vistas are very reminiscent of the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and worth sharing here.

Dead Horse Point provides one of the best views of Canyonlands.  It's a state park -- which is why we went there in October, 2013, when the national parks were closed.

We had great light that day, starting with dawn over the La Sal mountains:

The mesa at Dead Horse Point is about 2,000 feet above the Colorado River, which you can see in the image below:

That's not me up there -- no way!

In 2014 the light wasn't good (very bright cloudy sky), but I managed to get a few decent images like this one:

 You play the photographic hand you're dealt.

One of the primary attractions of Island in the Sky is Mesa Arch.  It's an easily reachable 50-foot span on the edge of a mesa (hence "Mesa Arch"), with a sheer 500-foot drop to the base of the mesa.

The arch is dubbed a "pothole" arch because it was formed by surface water that pooled in a depression in the sandstone behind the rim of the mesa and eventually eroded its way through.

Mesa Arch isn't big by the standards of the signature arches of Arches National Park, and from a distance it's rather plain and unassuming. 

 But as you get closer, it's like a magical window opening into another world . . .

. . . because it frames a spectacular view of the Colorado River canyons and the distant La Sal mountains to the east. 

Because of its accessibility and eastward view, Mesa Arch is a favorite location for sunrise photography.  So of course it's always crowded.  

But after the first few precious minutes of sunrise, everyone seemed willing to share, and there were plenty of great images to be had.

If you would like to see these images in a larger format, visit my photography website -- Todos Juntos Photography -- by clicking here.

Next destination . . . White Pocket, a hidden gem in northern Arizona !