Hiking the White Pocket

Northern Arizona's Alternative to the Wave:
Take a Trip to White Pocket and Land on Mars

The time is 8:30 AM on March 16th and hundreds of hopeful people from all over the world, France and Germany, England and Spain, Australia and Thailand, the United States and Brazil, among others, have gone down to the Kanab Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah to enter in the lottery to attain a permit to visit the renowned "Wave" in the Northern Coyote Buttes. The Wave is an aesthetically stunning rock formation made by the buttes on the Southern Utah and Northern Arizona border that resembles, you guessed it, a wave. Unfortunately, most of these hopefuls will not get a permit, as only ten in-person permits to hike the Wave are given out per day. Fortunately, there's an alternative that offers the same rock formations over considerably more land, which means more room and opportunity to meander and play on the proverbial outer space playground that is this place, called White Pocket. No permit necessary.

White Pocket

The time is 10:00 AM on March 16th, and I'm in a large white GMC Suburban with seven of my friends from the hostel where I'm doing a work/exchange. We're on our way to White Pocket in Arizona thanks to a lift and some advice from the hostel owner, who is a local in the area.

One of the things that I think intrigues people about the Wave is they imagine they'll have it all to themselves, as only a limited number of people are allowed in daily. The trek to White Pocket filters out a whole bunch of people though. This is not some tourist trap that's easily accessible. In fact, to get there you need to either have an ATV, or your car needs to have four wheel drive.

And of course as with anything, branding is everything. The title, "The Wave", sounds exponentially more enticing than "White Pocket". But, do not be deceived. White Pocket is the quintessential phenomenal book with a so-so cover and once you visit it, you'll be so satisfied that you won't feel any urge to go and see the Wave.

Gazing into White Pocket

The Journey There:

Getting to White Pocket is an adventure in and of itself. Even the GMC that we were driving had a tough time navigating its way through the myriad of dips, twists, and turns. The trip there was filled with almost as many laughs and sarcastic remarks as it was with bumps that would give anyone motion sickness. Not to mention the countless animal carcasses scattered throughout the sand. If you had an imagination, you could picture these as ancient dinosaur bones that had been recently dug up.



The views on the way there were absolutely breathtaking. On either side of us we saw the Vermilion Cliffs and each time I looked out the window I was in awe. It truly is the desert out there. There's nothing growing but a little bit of shrub here and there; the only water sources are tanks that are few and far between -- intentionally put there by man; and the only wildlife visible are cows who like to stand in the middle of the road until it's absolutely necessary to get out of the way. Seriously, they stand their ground until you get as close to hitting them as possible. Then they blissfully concede to the vehicle after shooting the driver an arrogant glare and then go about grazing what little grass is available to them. 

Standing above White Pocket

My First Reaction:

When I saw the full landscape of White Pocket, I was speechless. Most of the places in Utah really did leave me without words, but White Pocket was truly different. There were circles indented in the ground that resembled a meteor strike, or an oversized brain, and giant castles consisting of red rock, clay-like material, and sand, and wave formations so gigantic that if you were in the water, you’d be rushing back to shore. Except these wave formations weren't made of water; rather they consisted of a beautiful and captivating contrast of red, yellow, white, and orange rock.

All of this made me seriously wonder whether or not my friends and I had suddenly inadvertently become the first people to step foot on Mars. Seeing all of these different configurations made me feel like a kid again. I wanted to climb anything and everything, and no rock formation there had a predefined label. Instead, everything there could be whatever I wanted it to be. It was open to interpretation and I let my imagination take over as I looked around and immersed myself in my surroundings.

The View:

While the wave-like formations were mesmerizing, sitting atop one of the staggering rock formations and staring into the abyss filled me with feelings that I had never felt before and humbled me into contemplating how lucky I was to be just a small part in this larger thing called life on this beautiful planet called Earth. It was the most diverse landscape that I had ever seen. I saw flat desert filled not just with sand, but with patches of grass and a multitude of lichen that eventually gave way to countless buttes, mesas, and canyons, and mountains, which then gave way to taller snow covered mountains in the background. I sat there and meditated and I was at peace. After, I lay down, using my backpack as a pillow, and allowed the sun full permission to hit my face with its warm rays while I tilted my head slightly to the right and squinted to catch a small glimpse of my surroundings.

The Journey Back:

The temperature changed completely as the desert sun dipped beneath the commanding canyons. The moon started to rise up and the shadows that were projected onto the walls of White Pocket shifted and transformed. As I walked back to the car, I looked behind me to see the sun and all of its various colors as it began to set, then looked in front of me and saw the moon; a waning crescent starting to take over as night fell.

For me, that experience exemplified the diverse climate, landscape and spirit the southwest desert has to offer; I wouldn’t have witnessed it if I hadn't gone to White Pocket.

Click on map for Brochure & Map - White Pocket 


The Final Words:

My trip to White Pocket is something that I will quite simply never forget. It was a time spent in an overwhelmingly gorgeous destination with great people.

If you are ever near Kanab, Utah, be sure to check out White Pocket. Seriously, consider forgetting about the Wave and just head to White Pocket. You may feel like you don’t even have a desire to visit the Wave afterwards. And even if you do win the lottery for the Wave, be sure to check out White Pocket anyway. You may just like it better.

Friends and the author at White Pocket

My Friends and Me at White Pocket

Story and Photos by Paul Edson


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