Exploring the stunning formations of WHITE POCKET

Twisting and swirling, the red rock follows the random paths of a wild dream, then skirts a dome of white Navajo Sandstone cracked into nearly perfect polygonal plates, enchanting under a perfect sapphire sky. All of it originated 190 million years ago with a Jurassic sand dune that became saturated with groundwater, then experienced a sudden disruption–perhaps by an earthquake–that suddenly contorted the whole wet jumble while it had been hardening into sandstone. Incredible beauty resulted from this chaos.

Our time is short for exploring before the short period of golden light near sunset, so we walk around quickly to get a feeling for the whole area, which is about a square mile in size. An outfitter got us here and we have about 20 hours from mid-afternoon today to mid-morning the next day to explore and photograph before we have to leave. We are on our own, except that the outfitter provides dinner, a tent, and breakfast the next morning. The reason we came with a touring company is that we don’t have a rugged 4-WD vehicle to get us through the March mud quagmires and deep sand traps along the access roads. A tow out would cost $2,000 and is not covered by AAA. So here we are.

I once worked for the Bureau of Land Management on the Arizona Strip, a part of Arizona between the Grand Canyon and the Utah state line. This is an arid landscape that includes pockets of incredible beauty, such as Paria Canyon, The Wave, and White Pocket. When I was there with BLM in 1977, I was working as a writer and pen-and-ink illustrator for a book of wildflowers (still in print 43 years later!), but White Pocket was virtually unknown at the time, except for some ranchers and probably a handful of government employees. I certainly didn’t know about it and even if I did, my big Chrysler at the time couldn’t have dreamed of getting there. The name White Pocket originated from the desert term “pocket” which referred to a rock depression that can hold water–an important feature for cattle ranching and desert travelers. At that time the world hadn’t yet discovered much of the stunning beauty of red rock country. While at BLM, I heard the geologist for our district remark to my boss that he thought it was better in the desert when it was all considered a wasteland, and environmental regulations didn’t need to be followed. Fortunately, times have changed.

We spend the hours before dark exploring and photographing in great light, then walk back to camp for a meal of barbecued salmon or chicken or steak (another value in contracting with an outfitter!), then we venture back out into the contorted lands for hours of night photography. We return to camp sometime after midnight, then get up at 4 a.m. for dawn photography, so not much sleep. We stay until afternoon, delayed for a couple of hours by a vehicle problem, and we don’t mind the delay in the least, because it gives us more time to explore this place torn from time.

The photographs here give the visual story of White Pocket, which is the most stunning desert location we have visited.

Navajo Sandstone formations of White Pocket
A dome of Navajo Sandstone shaped like cauliflower, cracked into polygons
Layered sandstone formations in White Pocket
Sculptured and striated Navajo Sandstone formations of White Pocket
A polygon of Navajo Sandstone with etchings in the shapes of lichens, the etchings created by acids from the fungal hyphae of the lichens that dissolve rock to obtain nutrients
A closeup view of the lichen etchings, created when living Tile Lichens, Lecidiea tessellata, dissolve rock using acids
Sculptured and striated Navajo Sandstone at White Pocket
Karen Rentz exploring a once-inhabited cave at White Pocket
Ancient corncobs, potsherds, and animal bones left in the cave by early inhabitants at White Pocket, probably over 800 years ago. Remember that it is against the law to remove anything from federal lands!
Bighorn Sheep and Elk or Mule Deer Petroglyphs made by ancient peoples at the cave in White Pocket
Hiker’s shadow crossing sculptured and striated Navajo Sandstone
The golden hour light just before sunset is particularly stunning on these formations
Karen Rentz illuminating a cauliflower rock formation in White Pocket with her headlamp
Starry sky above the Navajo Sandstone formations of White Pocket
We illuminate the rock formations with a headlamp
As the night wore on, the Milky Way above White Pocket is the brightest I’ve ever seen
The next morning, photographers are out before dawn to explore the formations
First light is magical
Sunlight descending upon the Navajo Sandstone formations
Early light on a Pinyon Pine heroically growing in a crack in a sandstone dome
Reflections of Navajo Sandstone on a pond at White Pocket
Swirling and sculpted sandstone formations; this photograph gives a good sense of the whole area
The natural designs of these formations, originating in the Jurassic world, is astounding
There is little evidence of human use here, except for an old cattleman’s barbed wire fence and the damming of the pond to make it larger
The oranges and reds of the sandstone are colored by iron oxide
A stunning chaos of sandstone
All good things must pass, and we must say goodbye as a cirrus cloud appears over a sandstone dome

Rather than give you directions and maps and more cautions, I will refer you to three good websites that cover all that information. Be advised that there have been discussions at the Bureau of Land Management about requiring a permit so the area does not become overused, so make sure you check with them about current rules and regulations (and road conditions) before you attempt traveling to White Pocket.

The American Southwest–White Pocket

BLM: White Pocket Trailhead

Dreamland Safari Tours

My work appears on my photography website: leerentz.com and on my Facebook page: Lee Rentz Photography

THE WAR ON OUR FEDERAL LANDS

Red Sandstone Mesa In Indian Creek National Monument
Red sandstone mesa straight out of the Old West in Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA

President Obama had a long process of consideration and public meetings and cooperation with five Indian tribes in creating Bear’s Ears National Monument. Trump and his henchman, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, ripped all that up with inflamatory rhetoric and caving to local interests who want to cut open the land, encouraging uranium mining, coal mining, and oil and gas drilling. Local people have a long history of looting ancient Indian graves and archaeological sites, and want to keep our American lands as their own personal playground.

The latest proposal for Bears Ears is to split it into two separate and much smaller national monuments, to be called the Indian Creek National Monument and Shash Jaa National Monument. These would reduce the total national monument land that has been protected by the Bears Ears proclamation by 85%–a devastating loss to those of us who love our national lands.

These photographs were taken during a few magical days in October of 2017, and show the Indian Creek National Monument lands that will still be preserved. And thank God that they will, at least until there is a big discovery of uranium or coal under the surface. This is an iconic landscape of the American West, with its sweeping valleys, high sandstone mesas, and evidence of early Indian occupation.

At the end of SR 211, the road leading through Indian Creek Valley to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park and immediately outside the park entrance, there was a one square mile section of land owned by the State of Utah. This was put up for auction to the highest bidder early in 2017. There was a possibility that it could have ended up in the hands of a mining corporation or a big developer, thus ruining the Old West feel of the entire valley. We dodged a bullet when the highest bid came from Jennifer Speers, a Salt Lake City environmentalist and philanthropist who vowed to keep the land as it is.

The State of Utah passed the Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act in 2012, which called upon the federal government to transfer most of its lands in Utah to the state. This hasn’t happened, of course, but it could, if Satan’s stars align. If this occurs, vast sections of the state could be sold off to developers, ranchers, miners, drillers and other private interests, which would make the state rich, but would make the rest of us poorer as we lose our Western Heritage of vast lands available for the soul and body to explore.

Remember Edward Abbey’s rallying cry: Hayduke Lives! If the worst comes to pass, many among us will become Hayduke.

North Six Shooter Peak In Indian Creek National Monument
North Six Shooter Peak with its talus cone, a favorite tower climing destination in Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA

Utah State Route 211 In Indian Creek National Monument
Utah SR 211 winding through the canyons of Indian Creek, along the Indian Creek Corridor Scenic Byway, in Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, on the way to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah, USA

Red Sandstone Mesa In Indian Creek National Monument
Red sandstone mesa straight out of the Old West in Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA

Red Sandstone Mesa In Indian Creek National Monument
Red sandstone mesa straight out of the Old West in Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA

Autumn Fremont Cottonwoods In Indian Creek National Monument
Autumn Fremont Cottonwoods, Populus fremontii, with sandstone mesas, in Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA

Uranium Mining Installation in Indian Creek National Monument
Wooden aquaduct that may have been part of uranium exploration in Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA

Beef Basin Road at Indian Creek National Monument
Beef Basin Road running through Beef Basin’s autumn Fremont Cottonwoods, Populus fremontii, with sandstone formations, in or near Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA

North and South Six Shooter Peaks In Indian Creek National Monum
Autumn Fremont Cottonwoods, Populus fremontii, with North and South Six Shooter Peaks, in Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA

Beef Basin In or near Indian Creek National Monument
Beef Basin, in (or near) Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA

Utah State Route 211 In Indian Creek National Monument
Utah SR 211 winding through the canyons of Indian Creek, along the Indian Creek Corridor Scenic Byway, in Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, on the way to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park in southern Utah, USA

Autumn Fremont Cottonwoods In Indian Creek National Monument
Autumn Fremont Cottonwoods, Populus fremontii, with sandstone mesas, in Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA

Petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock In Indian Creek National Monument
Petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock in Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA

Petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock In Indian Creek National Monument
Animal or human track petroglyphs made by Ute People at Newspaper Rock in Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA

Petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock In Indian Creek National Monument
Deer petroglyphs made by Ute People at Newspaper Rock in Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA

Petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock In Indian Creek National Monument
Petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock in Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA. Note the bullet hole left by a local yahoo.

Petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock In Indian Creek National Monument
Petroglyphs at Newspaper Rock in Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA

Corral for Cattle In Indian Creek National Monument
Historic corral for cattle grazing in what is now Indian Creek National Monument, formerly part of Bears Ears National Monument, southern Utah, USA

Resources:

Hayduke Lives!

Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act

Jennifer Speers Buys Land Near Canyonlands National Park

High Country News about Trump’s slashing of Bears Ears

 

Shhhh … Don’t tell anyone about this leaked federal document!

Trembling Aspens aflame in the Bodie Hills, with the Sierra distant

February 2010 brought news of a leaked document in the Department of the Interior, in which it was revealed that 14 locations are under consideration as possible national monuments.  One of these is the Bodie Hills, a rolling landscape east of the Sierra Nevada in California, and a place that I photographed during several days in the fall of 2009.

Part of the Bodie Hills has been a wilderness study area for many years, but the idea of a national monument seems relatively new.  This is a vast, rolling landscape, covered with grasses and sagebrush that make it excellent habitat for Sage Grouse and Pronghorn Antelope.  Within the Bodie Hills sits the ghost town of Bodie, now a California State Park that was threatened with possible closure because of the state’s severe funding problems; the legislature came up with a temporary fix that rescued the town from closing in the 2009/2010 fiscal year, but beyond that it is under threat.

Bodie was a gold-mining town, once the second largest city in California.  Thar is still gold in them thar hills, and there is currently an active Cougar Gold Paramount Exploration Project that hopes to find more gold in the Bodie Hills.  They plan to drill, or are drilling (I’m not sure which), a series of test holes in the vicinity of the Paramount Mine.  There would then be the possibility of a large open pit cyanide heap-leach mine.  If the price of gold continues to rise, and if enough gold is found in the area, you can bet on it.  Though there would certainly be legal challenges.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) administers the Bodie Hills landscape surrounding the ghost town of Bodie.  If part or all of the Bodie Hills were made part of the proposed national monument, BLM would presumably administer the monument, though it is conceivable that responsibility would be transferred to the National Park Service, which would be my preference, because the national parks seem more likely to get consistent funding in times of tight budgets.*  Ideally the National Park Service would also take over administration of the ghost town of Bodie from the state, since the state is threatening closure and the subsequent deterioration of the ghost town itself.

Back to the leaked internal document:  other places on the list for possible national monument designation include beautiful locations in Utah, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Arizona, Colorado, California, and Washington (under the proposal, the San Juan Islands in my home state of Washington would be designated a national monument).  Several others, including Bristol Bay in Alaska (where our walrus adventure took place last summer), are on another short list, but are less likely.  The next step would be for the Interior Department to make a specific proposal to President Obama, who could then use the Antiquities Act to make the designation as a national monument.  All recent presidents have taken similar actions, most recently when President Bush designated three significant areas of the Pacific Ocean as national monuments.

The Bodie Hills stretch on for miles

We are reaching a point where most of the United States has been either conserved or developed, and I hope that the best areas that remain in limbo between conservation and development are tipped toward conservation.  The world is filling up fast, and we need these places.

*For example, the U.S. Forest Service administers the Mount St. Helens Volcanic National Monument, but has always struggled for consistent funding.  In the last few years, they have shuttered a multi-million dollar visitor center–a gorgeous facility–that was less than 20 years old, because they lacked money to make necessary repairs.  I call that irresponsible, but it is hard to know who to blame for the fiasco.

Road to Bodie crossing the Bodie Hills

A hill honeycombed with gold mines just above the town of Bodie

Unsettled weather over the Bodie Hills and High Sierra

Bodie ghost town nestled in the Bodie Hills

Another view of Bodie, with the Bodie Hills beyond

Trembling Aspens in the Bodie Hills

For more information about this story, go to New West.  For the negative Fox News take on the initial proposal, go to Angers Some, and for information about the gold mine exploration proposal, go to BLM Cougar Gold. I wrote a previous blog entry about the Bodie ghost town; go to The Ghost of Bodie Past.

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com.  To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website