Just last week I had another chance to visit the remote and wild country of the Paria/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness of extreme northern Arizona. After catching an early morning flight out of Baltimore, I arrived in Sin City at 9:30am and quickly got straight the hell out of there. I can’t stand Las Vegas!! After driving for four hours, I met up with my friend Mark LaRowe in Kanab where he kindly bought food for a couple of nights, obtained our permits to hike Coyote Buttes South and loaded the cooler in the back of the truck with 20oz. IPA and Stout bombers.
We quickly left Kanab heading east on 89 and turning of the pavement 30 miles later at Hose Rock Valley road, leading along the edge of the Vermillion Cliffs south into the edge of the wilderness. I parked my SUV near the State Line Campground and loaded my gear into Mark’s big-ass pickup truck. And then off we were for the long and bumpy drive up to White Pockets with just enough time to make it in one hour before sunset. After more than a few bumpy miles up on to the top of the plateau and into the back of beyond, we arrived at the small dirt parking area of White Pocket. This was my fifth trip to White Pocket, so I knew pretty well where I wanted to be and it was a good thing to because the light was changing fast and getting awfully dramatic.
This was the first shot from White Pockets, a formation known as Lolly Pop Rock, and one I have shot before. I was not intending on shooting this spot again, but as I walked by the cloud formations and light were just too good to pass up. The swirling red sandstone against the blue sky was a perfect juxtaposition of color and the those clouds were perfectly supporting a sweeping wide-angle composition of the rock. The light was changing fast and the clouds blowing by, so I quickly moved over on the rocks about 100 yards to a location I had scouted out before but never ended up shooting because the conditions weren’t right in the past.
After getting up on the Brain Rock, I found my composition and quickly set it up. The light was now getting very sweet and I waited for the sun to break free of the clouds near the horizon and bathe the landscape in the last rays of warm light. I was ecstatic! I finally got the light and the clouds to come together in a dramatic way from this vantage point!
After finishing up on the shot above, I quickly hiked up to this location which has some of the oddest and most colorful sandstone I have ever experienced. In a region known for its other worldly appearance, this location on White Pocket takes the cake for me. It is like walking on an alien planet! The light was rather soft now as twilight painted the sky in soft blues. A long exposure of 45 seconds brought out the detail in the rock and allowed the clouds to blur out as they slowly drifted by in the sky. The light was now fading very fast, but there was still a tremendous amount of color and texture in the sky. There was still one more area I wanted to shoot under the soft glow of twilight, so I hustled over as fast as possible.
This location is the best of the “Brain Rock” in my humble opinion, and is a chalky white so it picks up whatever color is in the sky and reflects it back. At this point, it was getting quite dark and the exposure times were now running into several minutes. In the high-resolution file of this image, a few stars are visible floating amongst the soft clouds. The Brain Rock looks like an almost volcanic setting and the clouds over the long exposure almost seem to be erupting from the cone of the rock volcano.
Below is a quick video I captured with my iPhone on the drive out to White Pocket. It will give you an idea of the roads one must cover in order to arrive at this remote and other worldly location in the heart of one of the Southwest’s most rarely visited and beautiful wildernesses, desolate and wild, White Pockets.
That night we camped under the building clouds as a storm system pushed in from the California covering almost all of the Colorado Plateau in snow and rain. We awoke in the morning to snow squalls and wind. The next day would be another fun little adventure hiking and exploring South Coyote Buttes under a mix of clouds, rain and snow. More to come from the buttes soon, so stay tuned!