by Laurel Beesley

Back in the early 1900s, cattle ranchers brought herds to an area in southern Utah known as White Pocket, and settled in for a seven or eight day stay while their cattle watered. The land outside of White Pocket was sparse and dry, but those odd little pocket-shaped bowls nature had carved in the rock at White Pocket provided a great natural catchment for rainwater the ranchers needed. By 1920, a few cement barricades helped direct water into the pockets. This is the backstory of a place I almost do not want to publicize because, in countless ways, it is so special.


Not so long ago, local ranchers and some intrepid photographers were the only ones who knew about White Pocket. Difficult to find, hard to reach, it remained one of the best kept secrets of southern Utah. Barely seven miles away, the famous Wave formation had already captured the imagination of people worldwide. Strictly guarded by a twenty-visitors-a-day protective permitting, it still exerts its siren call.


A cow decided to join us for sunset one evening at White Pocket. I don't know about you, but I'm surprised that they still allow cattle ranching at White Pocket. You would think this area is equally deserving of protection as Coyote Buttes. What do you guys think?
A cow decided to join us for sunset one evening at White Pocket. I don’t know about you, but I’m surprised that they still allow cattle ranching at White Pocket. You would think this area is equally deserving of protection as Coyote Buttes. What do you guys think?

The enticing sandstone curves of the Wave were formed eons ago during the Jurassic period, and its geology is easily explained. Not so for White Pocket. It is a geologic anomaly that still defies explanation or easy description.


Imagine huge cones and balls of rock with colorful pink, yellow, and white layers that swirl and twist inside themselves like the layers in a rainbow cake. The contortions of rock are breathtakingly unimaginable, creating bowls and towers of rock that sit at impossible angles. It is one of the strangest rock formations in a region where exceptional and unusual are simply—normal. White Pocket is baffling, beautiful, and incredibly changeable.

So far, despite being unpermitted, you can usually have all this jaw dropping work of nature to yourself.


White Pocket could be a result of soft, twisted sediment with contortions dating back to the Jurassic period, or it could be the result of a massive landslide triggered by an prehistoric earthquake eons ago.


Typical of that time, masses of sand sliding down tall dunes ripped up chunks of the landscape and finally filled a large oasis. The pressure of the downslide created sand volcanos and moved laminated sand around to create a fantasy land. We will probably never know exactly what created this bizarre deformation. Maybe even a meteorite.


Whatever the reason for its chameleon-like character, White Pocket is changeable in a way the Wave is not. It is a remote location, not easily found, and is definitely not for the unprepared. Getting there is an adventure of its own, and for many it is best done with a guide.


No matter the time of year, White Pocket will prove to be magical as well as mysterious. Spring is when the sky is bluest, and wildflowers erupt by June. Monsoon storms arrive in late July and continue through mid-September, with another wildflower bloom late in September. The rainstorms fill the myriad pockets of rock, reflecting the violent sky, and then the returning sun.


Later in the fall, the elements stabilize with clear skies and dry weather. Winter brings light snow falls, and ice creates new and beautiful patterns on top of the already complicated rock patterns.


Photographers often prefer White Pocket to the Wave because of its surprising complexity. The unexpected rock patterns offer so many different compositions, it is a never-ending challenge, and the sunrises and sunsets at White Pocket are more extreme than at the Wave. One awestruck photographer commented, “It has the most insane skies!”


As night falls, you can hear owls and coyotes. And keep your eyes open for an occasional bobcat boldly walking by. If you know where to look, there are petroglyphs and ancient Indian remnants.


I took this shot on a recent client outing to White Pocket. The landscape here can look so bizarre - hence why I named this shot Alien Planet Milky Way. We used a single stationary light strategically placed to give even light to both foreground and the background peaks. I offer overnight trips to White Pocket if you ever want to learn how to take shots like this.

White Pocket is both magic and mystery.


BE ADVISED: Travel to White Pocket is not recommended in anything other than a high-carriage 4×4, and requires experience in serious backcountry driving. Outdoor guides are available in Kanab, including Kanab Western Adventures and Dreamland Safari Tours.


Photographer David Swindler of Action Photo Tours considers White Pocket one of his favorite places, and will take his photography clients there for both day trips and overnight trips.


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