HISTORY AND INFO ABOUT WHITE POCKET
"being out at white pocket on a starry night is like stepping into a fairytale under a glowing curtain of stars" ― bodhinku, starry fairytale
white pocket (arizona) is a superb photographic destination about five miles due east of south coyote buttes. white pocket is officially part of vermilion cliffs national monument, and now there are signs that have been newly erected up along parts of the route to get to white pocket that denote this fact. and once arriving there, it is a relatively small area, about 2 square miles. and as of this writing in october of 2020, no permit is needed for white pocket...
it was "discovered" by photographers only about 15 years ago around 2005. originally for years white pocket was just a second choice, fall back to plan, a place for people to go that could not get the elusive permit via a lottery to visit the over-popular "wave" formation on the northern coyote buttes (only 20 people a day are ever permitted)..however, white pocket has recently become even more popular than "the wave", and is now an extremely sought after first destination, excessively desired by photographers over the past couple years due to its high visibility on instagram by other "look-at-me" photographers and adventurers.
the name white pocket actually refers to two areas: on the topo map there is a tall monolith about 500 feet high that can be seen from miles around, this butte is known as the white pocket butte. and the second one being the area with white-gray rocks that have numerous pockets that fill with water after rainfall and have traditionally allowed for free range cattle that inhabit the area to have a water source in the hot northern arizona climate in the summers...be aware, at any time cattle could roam through white pocket...
and conversely, photographers use the term white pocket to refer to the area of white and coral colored cauliflower rock (aka brain rock) to the east of the white pocket butte. this area has many of those aforementioned water pockets, and is the area of photographic interest.
it is extremely difficult to get to the white pocket. knowledge and experience with driving in deep sand, as well as an accompanying high clearance 4x4 vehicle is needed due to that deep sand. deflate your tires to around 20psi, and re-inflate them once back out of the deep sand parts of the route. always carry a shovel, extra water, a full sized spare, and a good portable air compressor. plus i recommend due to the bad roads, after you are done shooting at white pocket, do not try to drive out in the dark ever. i emphatically recommend camping at the trailhead overnight and driving out the next morning. and remember in times of rain, the road in and out is impassable, it is impossible to get to or back out of white pocket...if it rains while you are visiting, give the road time to completely dry out, or you will be totally stuck and in worse shape than if you just would have waited out the rain.
after a rainfall there are many shallow pools in the lower area of white pocket. these can be used to frame reflections of either the white pocket butte or the swirl formations. there are deeper pockets in the upper area which yield reflections of the two trees. and remember and be aware again that after a rainfall you will absolutely not be able to access white pocket as house rock road as well as the sand track blm road to white pocket will both be impassable. after very heavy rains, you may even find quicksand on some of the roads into the white pocket too. quicksand is rarely more than knee deep but if you drive into it, you will be in a world of shit and not be able to get your vehicle out without a winch or tow...
when the potholes are full of water you may find hundred of tadpoles and tadpole shrimp in them. desert tadpoles grow into toads, not frogs. while both are amphibians, toads live on land rather than in the water. toads spend their adult lives finding shelter in vegetation, under rocks, and in abandoned burrows. after a heavy rain, male toads find a water pocket and begin croaking to attract a mate. i have heard toads croaking at the wave formation close by in mid april after a heavy rain. toad croaks are very load and toads may croak for hours till they mate. after fertilization, eggs take a bit over ten days to hatch into tadpoles. tadpoles then spend the next 9-12 weeks transforming into toads so that they can survive on land. not many make it, often the pool dries up before the tadpole can mature. desert shrimp have a totally different life cycle since shrimp survive only in water. after sufficient rain (seen by the shrimp eggs as sufficient water pressure) shrimp eggs, which may have been dormant for years, hatch into shrimp. the shrimp have a very short lifespan, they live, reproduce, and die over a period of just a few weeks. tadpole shrimp and tadpoles are good subjects for video, especially if you have a macro lens with you...
from the winter months through july and august, you will usually find water at white pocket. while the smaller pools will dry up within a day or two of rain, the larger ones, such as those created by rancher dams, will keep their water through the whole period. look for pools that are evenly lit. if you shoot ground level from the edge of the water the pool will look more like a lake than a pool
white pocket photographs well at both sunrise and sunset. at sunrise, the best light is blocked in some parts white pocket by cliffs to the east, although white pocket butte lights up beautifully at sunrise throughout the year. white pocket butte is a good panoramic subject when shot from the southern side of the white pocket at dawn. if you shoot from the central area at sunrise your view of the butte will be blocked by a small hill. when water is present, shooting the butte from the pools just south of the swirl also works well. the cliffs to the east of white pocket also get very good color at sunset and are worth photographing. it is possible to climb the cliffs to the east, just head for the central area. there is no trail and there is some exposure but the climb is not difficult if you pick the right route.
white pocket has an upper and lower level. the lower level is to the west, the upper to the east. the lower level is best shot mid-late afternoon and is in shadow at sunrise and for an hour or so thereafter. the lower level includes the formation called the swirl which is probably the most popular white pocket subject. the Swirl is best shot late afternoon. near the winter solstice it is nicely lit on both the SE and SW sides, during the rest of the year only the SW side is lit at sunset...the upper level gets good light a bit after sunrise and at sunset. there are two trees on the upper level as well...
you can shoot at white pocket well into the "blue hour" since it is only a half mile back to your car from almost anyplace in the area. the blue hour happens when the sun is about 4-8 degrees below the horizon either after the sun sets or before it rises. during the blue hour, the sky takes on a brilliant blue color and the landscape takes on a blue glow. this occurs because only the blue rays of the solar spectrum are bent by the atmosphere towards the earth, the warmer tones pass through the atmosphere into space. my best photos of white pocket have all been taken a few minutes after sunrise or before sunset, in this blue hour, or at night. during the blue hour exposure times can be long with 5 - 30 seconds (or much more using nd filters as i do) typical when shooting with a low iso. you'll need to use a tripod.
white pocket is an excellent location for night photography. there is little ambient light except to the east which has some glow from page, az....the s-curve with the citadel formation in the middle-ground is also good foreground for the milky way. the swirl faces south, so star trails work well here...but there are literally thousands of other un-shot locations in the area with unique rock formations, pools of water, and vegetation to use with the stars, you just need to spend the extra time searching for them and scouting them out during the harsh lighting conditions of the day (what else is there to do anyway?)
if you do shoot at night, make sure you mark the location of your vehicle with a gps...for white pocket has no trails except for the short path going in...at night everything starts to look the same in the shadows from a headlamp. it is easy to get disoriented and lose your bearings, get lost and not find your way back to the parking lot without the landscape being illuminated...remember, this is a wilderness, so be careful and plan ahead, or else you might end up spending a cold evening under the elements...
but enjoy exploring the awe-inspiring slickrock. these windswept layers of orange, yellow, and white formations were created over time by mineral deposits and shaped by the elements. please help preserve the geologic formations so that present and future generations can enjoy them today and for years to come. you are responsible for your safety. if you get lost while hiking, experience a non-life-threatening emergency, or if your vehicle becomes stuck or breaks down, it is your responsibility, not the responsibility of emergency services or blm to deal with the situation. and to compound the situation, the is no cell phone coverage anywhere close by.
the roads that access white pocket trailhead consist of deep sand and patches of sharp rock. most awd rentals will not make it in and out safely, and rental car companies as well as aaa does not cover any towing services here. four-wheel-drive high-clearance vehicles are required. but every year, many groups get stuck and stranded on the way to this trailhead as a result of attempting the drive without enough experience or in inappropriate vehicles. this can be life threatening and cost thousands of dollars to have your vehicle extracted. if you are unsure of your vehicle’s capabilities or simply don’t want to assume the risk, i recommend hiring an authorized guide such as myself. information about other authorized guides may be found at blm visitor centers or on their website.
if you go to white pocket you should car camp overnight rather than try to drive in or out in the dark. going with a guide is a good option...i offer guided tours for 1-2 days stay at white pocket focusing both on shooting locations in the area at both sunrise and sunset, then camping overnight...white pocket from late spring through the summer and into early fall has become extremely popular for car camping lately, so there is almost always company now there unfortunately....
the popularity of white pocket is now leading to shameful impacts in the form of exposed human waste and toilet paper, excessive campfire rings, and vegetation damage. i've even seen photographers marking spots in the slickrock by scraping and etching with stones...please do your part to keep these areas clean and natural. if you camp in the area, camp in your vehicle or use existing campsites/fire rings, and keep campsites small. to minimize impact, do not damage trees or collect firewood
and it should be noted that there is no cell phone service for miles surrounding white pocket. be prepared to handle emergencies on your own. only you are responsible for your own safety. and there are no toilets or potable water at white pocket...you need to bring in all of the supplies you will need: food, water, firewood, tools, equipment, emergency kits...and you will need to bury all human and doggie waste at least one (1) foot deep with a shovel, and pack out all your own garbage including food scraps, toilet paper and wet wipes...please, please be a good steward and respect the area as the beautiful wilderness that it is, use common sense, leave it in just as good or better condition than you found it...take only pictures and leave only footprints in the sand...for we all need to do our part so, we can continue to enjoy these wild areas like white pocket in their natural beauty for years to come
"there are all these people, thinking
they can be that person they
hope to be, and can be...but then
in a moment, they see exactly just
who they really are, two worlds collide. but,
they simply do not see
the significance of it, or
the importance of this reckoning. so,
it's therefore impossible in the
next moment for them to see
that person standing right in front
of them either...they just go on with life,
unable to recognize the beautiful
prospects of the love they just
overlooked because they were just
too busy being wrapped up in
their own world, too occupied
to acknowledge the beauty inside
the other world that was right
in front of them, which they just
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