Vermillion Remoteness

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At the edge, then becomes desert again

Said to have been formed back in the Jurassic period and plunked down in the middle of nowhere somewhere on the Paria Plateau in the Vermillion Hills at the southern border of Utah is in good company with the likes of Wire Pass Canyon, South and North Coyote Buttes, including much visited “The Wave”. Unlucky in obtaining the daily issued BLM permit for The Wave (only 20 per day), I was a bit bummed as this was yet another place that I’ve been wanting to witness firsthand. The tightly monitored Wave, from what I understand, is permitted the way it is mainly for crowd control. The delicate structure that it is, the BLM wants to help preserve it by limiting it daily visits. I think the 3.5mi trek to this location is plenty to stave off the casual tourist.

My disappointment quickly wained when we were informed that permits were granted to the South Coyote Buttes – an upcoming blog post for sure and as a bonus, this magical place that is protected by its soft rust colored sandy moat. This is White Pocket.

The journey here is one best left for the willed photographer or trekker who enjoys the unusual in a solitude that only speaks to itself. The drive out crosses a number of washes – many dry at the time, but mushy due to the occasional rainstorm in its deep sand. Evidence of how tough a ride it is, turning one corner, we see a human form frantically waving his arms in the air like someone trying to signal an airplane while lost at sea. In this case, we couldn’t miss him as he was smack dab in the middle of our way. On closer approach, muddied from knee to toe, the look on this poor stranded persons face (and his equally muddied girlfriend) were one of relief. It could’ve been hours if not the next day

until he would potentially see another living soul driving by this desolate road as he had expertly lodged his little 2×2 sedan into one of the deeply muddied ruts in a failed attempt to cross a wash. The rule of life in the desert – even stuck cars (with people in them), you leave no person behind and do the right thing … tow them out. Our being in a 4×4 (not a weak AWD) Suburban, it was easy work to get him out of our way so we can continue.

Doing our good deed for the day, we pressed onward along unmarked trailheads, “roads”, washes and a few gates (for what I’m not quite sure). There must have been cattle that roamed out here before as evidenced by Cattle Gates – strange finding these in the middle of remoteness. As we drew closer, you can see what the prize will be off into the distance as it’s like no other. Not easy to miss for it’s brightly color shades of white as the sun beams hit its peaks surrounded by the rust colored desert moat, we finally arrive.

From the moment you start down the short walk from the parking lot … yes, oddly, there is a parking lot here! … you get a sense that you’ve been transformed or in Star Trek terms “beamed” to another planet. Firstly, the ground beneath your feet now stand on firm pale grayish colored terra littered with potholes both big and small. Being that it hadn’t rained in some time, they were dry (we are, after all, in the desert). As you continue up the gentle mounds of gray matter – think of brain contours of a brain, you eventually realize that the gray matter soon gives way to its more natural rust colored sandstone only a few centimeters underneath. What you are treated to are waves upon waves of white, various shades of gray and a reddish colored landscape that is absolutely stunning. On first

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Life on the rocks

arrival, the dark clouds began to loom ever closer towards us. Thunder can be heard in the not too distant hills and as I stand atop one of the brainy mounds, our Guide gently reminds me that I might want to get to lower ground if I didn’t want to be (potentially) electrified meat … good advice indeed as I lost my head with all of the beauty before me. As the storm was fast upon us, we made for safe cover to our car, now a makeshift cafe as we sit eating lunch almost alfresco until the rains came and went. Local knowledge is king as our Guide called it right – waiting it out until after the storm passes will reward us greatly (instead of calling it for the day and head for home). After about 30 mins of a light downpour, we explored more and were treated to what gave White Pocket its name … pockets of water in those potholes mentioned above! Here we stand in the middle of vast nothingness, on brainy like rocks with hole punched into them that with only a few minutes of rain to semi-fill them with water!

As you can see, I couldn’t decide which was a more powerful image – color or black and white. I love b/w as stripping away color affords you to look deeper into the image itself and find little gems that would otherwise be lost, but on the other hand, color presents its own beauty and allows us to appreciate the world as we see and experience it.

Whilst traipsing around this red and gray conclave, you see these odd dark colored bumps or pimples stuck to the walls; come to find out that these are little iron and sandstone mixtures that eventually break off and and form into little rocks or pebbles. After the rains and wind blow them about, they become perfectly shaped into small little egg shaped rocks. These rocks are called Moqui Marbles and they’re scattered everywhere. Very curious looking indeed. I am told, over time, these marbles turn into sand completing its lifecycle with new marbles dropping and forming to continue the cycle and replenishment of what forms White Pocket in the first place – how cool is that?

Every turn, every mound ascent & descent was pleasing to the senses (aka eye candy) as you are treated to Mother Nature’s curious way of presenting something strange, something never scene before – be it terra compressions, striated sediment swirling around massively curved walls or deep bowl shaped washes. Photographically, like most things, it’s difficult to convey the depth, breadth and remoteness of this magical place. Use of wide angle lens is a must if you want to capture anything close to what you’re standing in the middle of … and even then (at 16mm), it still doesn’t capture the essence of this place. Of course, zooming in to grab some detail leaves you with abstract lines and swirls that begs the question for recognition.

My only wish is to return and stay overnight to capture this place under the Moon and stars, but that’s for another time … so much more to witness when I return to this part of the world. I believe this place will soon be under strict crowd control soon as it’s worthy of protection – but then again, the drive out here is probably enough of a deterrence for the casual tourist.

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