We are still in the under-rated Vermilion cliffs national park – a fantastically surreal landscape of reds and pinks and whites – which most people drive past without exploring on their way from the Grand Canyon to Zion or Bryce. Today we headed out on the rough 4wd road to White Pocket, a stunning area for which no permit is required (yet!)
Apparently no one knows how this pocket of landscape was formed – swirls of red and white, bizarre ‘brain like’ rock surfaces, odd shaped cliffs, yellow ‘oyster’ formations and the odd ‘pocket’ of water.
We spent a good four hours wandering around and could have happily spent longer – the light in the evening and at sunrise would have been spectacular
We hired a photography guide with a 4wd to take us there as we didn’t have the right car and the maps aren’t helpful at identifying the best places to go. It was expensive but worth it for us as we didn’t have a 4wd and the guide was good. We booked through grand circle tours who were pretty disorganised so I would advise going direct to Gary at email@example.com who is a fine art photographer and guide
If we were doing it again, I would take a 4wd and a tent and stay overnight to take advantage of the evening and morning light. There is no water and no facilities, but ‘no trace’ camping is allowed
Two amusing notes on Utah
– without fail, anyone you meet who isn’t a Mormon will let you know that within 30 minutes. Some people let us know they were not of the ‘predominant faith’ before they told us their names! If someone hasn’t told you they aren’t Mormon and you are in Utah, assume they are
– liquor licensing laws here are quite amusing. You will find booze easily in places that serve food, but lots of places, including taverns and grocery stores, are only allowed to sell relatively low alcohol ‘near-beer’.
The Buckskin Gulch is rated as one of the most lethal hikes in the US – it’s the longest uninterrupted slot canyon in the world. It runs for 11 miles and in parts is so narrow your shoulders touch the sides. Any hint of rain and you should absolutely not start hiking – the logs and debris you see wedged in between the rocks 50 metres above your head are more than sufficient evidence of the power of the flash floods that torrent through these walls.
My ‘top five global day hike’ list is getting reshuffled again, as this is a must do! Some people overnight in the canyon (permits required and available in advance online), but it is a relatively easy 16 mile day hike if you leave your car at White House campground (the end of the hike) and organise a shuttle to the start at wire pass (most operators in Kanab will do this for you). A permit is required for day use but can be bought at the trail head.
Better would be to leave your car at wire pass, hike the canyon in one direction the first day, camp at White House and walk back to your car the next day (requires two day permits). It may sound bonkers to walk the same trail twice but it genuinely looks different coming in the other direction and the light changes how the rock looks constantly throughout the day
We were mesmerised by the light on the walls and the fact that the canyon looked different as we turned every corner. Like much of this region it is hard to do justice to the landscape with the camera, so you really need to come see for yourself. I have never seen anything like this anywhere in the world (for those of you who have been to Petra in Jordan, it is just like the canyon leading up to the treasury BUT instead of only running for 100m it goes for miles, has no tourists and is redder, so yup, I have never seen anything close to this in my life!)
The walk is pretty easy for most of the trail. In the early section from wire psd there is a 2m drop that you need to navigate down by wedging your back against the wall. In later sections, including the notorious ‘cesspools’, you may need to get up to chest deep in stinky mud (really stinky sewage smelling mud, hence the name). None of this is difficult, but go prepared. The only other people we saw in the gulch we met at one of the stinky water areas where everyone was clubbing together to gather big rocks and throw them in the water so we could have some stepping stones.
There is also no water in the gulch or at wire pass trail head, so pack accordingly.
Side note – getting to the wave
If you are coming to the area it is worth trying to get a permit to visit Coyote Buttes North a.k.a ‘the wave’. You can apply online three months in advance, and the odds are about 1/300 for the ten permits available. Another ten permits are available for walk ins at the visitor centre in Kanab the day before, where your odds are better (depending on the season but we were 1/90). The process is fair and easy, you turn up to the ranger station between 8.30-9.00 to complete an application and they run a lottery (using the old fashion wooden bingo balls in the cage) to see who gets to go. We sacrificed getting to do the whole buckskin gulch in a day to try and get permits and were unsuccessful, but it was worth it to give it a shot. Several people were there for their 5th or 6th lotteries, and apparently the record is a German couple who attended 38 consecutive lotteries before being successful. What the hell you would do in Kanab for 38 days is beyond me….
We did contemplate trying to find our way their without a permit but a) part of me respects the Parks decision to limit visitors to protect the area, and they run a fair process and b) part of me didn’t want to be busted by the Rangers and pay the $1500 fine
We stayed in Kanab as a base to visit the buckskin. We had booked the cheapo sun n sand, but the dodgy owner claimed to have lost our reservation. So we ended up sleeping in a basement room at the barber shop motel for $78 per night as all other options were $250 per night. Kanab has plenty of accommodation but is wildly overpriced and touristy! If you have a tent you can camp anywhere on BLM land for free provided you are 500 feet from a road.
Everyone in Kanab recommends Escobars for Mexican food. I don’t think any of them have been to Mexico – worst and blandest Mexican I have ever eaten! I don’t think this is the fault of the Mexican owners, more a problem of them catering to local taste buds. Instead go and eat at Rocking V cafe where the bison steak and key lime pie are stonkingly good