Hidden Gems of Utah — personal experiences
White Pockets – a pearl amongst the Waves…
We were based in Kanab down at the southern edge of Utah near Lake Powell and the Arizona border and decided to explore an area few people ever see – White Pockets — only accessible by Quad Bike (or ATV’s as the American’s call them) or by high wheel base, seriously meaty 4 wheel drive vehicles.
One reason that White Pockets is such a hidden gem is it’s location. From Kanab you irst head south on Highway 89 for around an hour and a half, then swap over to a quad bike for another hour’s journey (an exhilarating ride).
Highway 89 is a great road with a number of scenic views worthy of a stop. In particularly it has views over Utah’s Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. This 1.9 million acre national monument which stretches from the Grand Canyon to the middle of Utah, doesn’t easily give up a clear reason for its name – until that is you travel south on 89 and stop to look back. Here you see a stepping stone vista of three distinct plateaud layers of different coloured rock, the first step up is white, the second red, then grey building a geologically phenomenal staircase climbing up from Arizona into Utah.
Stopping at a rough off road track, we swap onto quad bikes and set off along a deep, soft sand dune trail! The quad tackled it happily though it does drift over the thick sand middle of the track from one side to another, almost finding its own way but with a great throttle and stop dead throttle release to help lift it out of the sand.
It’s around an hour’s drive on the quad bikes to White Pockets and you’ll pass through very little other than incredible scenery. This is not the home of McDonalds, of billboard ads nor of ‘gas’ stations. This is wilderness in its absolute scene – in its natural form with only our engines and some ravens and red tailed hawks breaking the silence.
Arriving at the national monument, White Pockets, we were initially struck by the contrast of white rock in smoothly rounded mounds and cliff edges, dotted with two imperial looking spherical beehives rock cones – well these bees would be on steroids as the cones are 20-30 feet tall and no animal built them – just the wind, rain and sandblasting over millions of years.
Most striking of all, wave like pink, yellow and white candy striped rock faces greet you as if someone enormous took a big spatula full of soft molten Brighton Rock and drew it in perfect lines of pink and white across the rock, then swirled it around and around into great balls of yellow, pink and white, shaping swirling rocks, cones and giant sweets of rock.
White Pockets has a more famous cousin nearby called the Wave –photographed by professionals from all over the world and featuring in many books and photo-galleries. The Wave, White Pockets and another amazing sight – Buckskin Gulch are all part of the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.
However the Wave has a permit system to access it and only 20 permits are allocated daily – just 10 of these are walk-in on the day by lottery and 10 available online but there are dozens to hundreds trying to view it. The net result is a lot of disappointed people heading to Kanab tourist office, upset they have not seen it.
White Pockets is the answer. It is just also an incredible place with wave rock and more, yet there are no permits required to visit it and frankly, almost no people there.
It’s a national monument which means you are allowed to roam freely around it and walk wherever you wish – in fact we saw maybe only two professional photographers there plus us. The place was basically deserted so we had this jaw dropping work of nature all to ourselves. How rare in this world to find such a treat and get it all to yourself!
But that’s Utah. Full of geological wonders, the most beautiful natural wonders imagineable, in a state that’s the size of the United Kingdom that has five national parks, 43 state parks and lots of national monuments and nationally protected land. At every turn Utah has something new and awe inspiring to see – it’s the adventure state of America. Enjoy!
Booking a tour of White Pockets:
There are several local guides and outfitters in Kanab that can take families on the adventure of a lifetime into the Southern Utah Backcountry — areas that your rental car would never find, and would probably get stuck!
We travelled with National Park Tourz, run by Tyler and Karie Cornell which offers tours to White Pockets (and other regional attractions). A full day costs from around $350 (£230) plus fuel for 3 or less. If there are over 4 people it’s $450 (£293) plus fuel. This includes travel to the park partly by road and an hour or so by ATV with lunch leaving from Kanab.
ATV Rentals is around $125 (£80) for 3 hours and $200 (£131) for 6 hours per machine.
For National Park Tourz see http://nationalparktourz.com
Getting to Kanab
We drove to Kanab in Kane County from Escalante, along Scenic Byway 12, ranked amongst the 10 most beautiful roads in the USA, then south on Highway 89. However it would be more common to approach it from Page in Arizona where there’s an airport, or via Las Vegas with its daily non stop flights from the UK (Virgin/BA). You then drive through a great stopping off point at the city of St George to the south west – an hour and a half from Las Vegas (Kanab is around 3 hours from Vegas).
Where to stay?
You can camp overnight if you wish at White Pockets, but most people choose to stay in the film or movie town of Kanab with its film museum, lots of restaurants, hotels and motels. It was built around its film history which is alive and thriving today too. We stayed at the Parry Lodge – a historic hotel come motel where stars have stayed. More details at See www.visitsouthernutah.com
What else is there around there?
And See www.visitsouthernutah.com
From Kanab it’s around a 2 hour drive to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon – a much less touristy option than the more famous South Rim (which is more like 5 hours drive).
Just 45 minutes north of Kanab, head to Coral Pink Sand Dunes – a State Park (small entrance fee to main viewing point) and watch ATV’s zooming up huge sand dunes, go for a dune hike, hire a sand board or go sand sledding.
There is inch worm arch, glass eye indian ruin and Dinosaur tracks to visit in this region.
Peekaboo Slot Canyon is a famous and beautiful narrow canyon to visit and photograph. A 2-3 hour tour is $125 (£80) if only one person, $75 per person (£50) over 2 people.
Kanab is also not far from Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park.