I hop in the truck with a man I’ve never seen or met before. He is thin with hair down to his waist.
His hair is gathered in a pony tail which hangs loosely over his khaki vest. My driver gives me a concerned look as I exit the safety of the vehicle. I ignore his concern, although I am aware that I am completely at this man’s disposal now. I have requested a tour of White Pocket, which I’m promised is second in grandeur only to The Wave. I do not know my guide and I do not know exactly where White Pocket is.
It’s 8 a.m. on a weekday morning and my father has driven me to the spot where I thought the tour began — the border of Arizona and Utah. Apparently the tour does not begin here. This is only the pick-up.
The pony-tailed man introduces himself. He is an unassuming and soft-spoken man. I wave goodbye to my father and send him a text. It contains a photo of the license plate, which I snapped surreptitiously moments earlier. I’m adventurous, but I’m not crazy. Precautions must be taken when you’re not even sure if your wilderness destination is in Arizona or Utah.
Fast forward 15 minutes and the pick-up truck pulls off the single-lane gravel road and into the driveway of a modest house. A rabbit hops by. A good sign, I think.
I exit the truck with the man and he takes me to the front door. I am welcomed by another man — older, stockier, and gruff in appearance but polite. This man is the owner of the tour company I contacted a month earlier to arrange a hiking excursion. He invites me to join two women already sitting in an SUV in the driveway. I am relieved to see that my day-long tour will be a foursome, though I am so eager for it, I might have gone it alone.
The two women are in their early sixties and have traveled from Canada. Husbands aside, they too are off on an adventure, having already visited The Wave, Arizona’s impossibly fantastical swirling landscape. Playing backup is White Pocket and unlike The Wave, it requires no permit to enter.
We drive two hours down a rocky road past dimly lit hills. The dirt is dry and loose. Sage bushes line the road and every mile or so, wild hares dart across it. The sun is already hot on my right arm. I’m riding shotgun with our pony-tailed guide. He is a thoughtful and experienced hiker who shares geographical and geological factoids with us along the way.
We pull into a parking area where three colorful tents are erected. We grab our food and water and set off. Our guide warns us about snakes, though in the calmest demeanor possible. As we get farther from the SUV, I see White Pocket and I fear I may be unimpressed. It appears to be a pastel-colored mound of sand, no more than three stories high. We stop to admire a wild hare with tall thin ears erected. He does not scare so I take a picture.
Ten minutes later I am relieved to be wrong. First impressions be damned; White Pocket is stunning. Underfoot is hardened rock that looks like it’s been cross-hatched by the gods or the dinosaurs. Our guide points out cow trails — hoof-size dents in the rock. Standing eight feet high is what looks like a vanilla swirl ice cream cone. Our guide brings us to a lone tree reflected in a yellow-green pool of water. I line up my camera just as he’s demonstrated.
I can’t stop smiling… or taking pictures. It’s as if — millennia ago — a giant-sized trow raked across soft red earth with cream cheese. The rock formations are a sort of confectioner’s design.
I am in a Seussian dream, surrounded by what looks like the plasterwork of the gods.
We are still in the first section of White Pocket and two hours have passed. There are three sections of changing landscape. We are instructed to wander at our leisure but to tread lightly, both for the sake of the environment and for ours. Perfectly formed, nearly opaque white clouds pop against the blue sky. “Little, li li li, little, li li li, little fluffy clouds,” plays on endless repeat in my brain. I couldn’t agree more with Joni Mitchell or The Orb.
What were the skies like when you were young?
They went on forever and they, when I, we lived in Arizona and the skies always had little fluffy clouds.
And they moved down, they were long and clear.
Summer heat be damned, I am loving this. As we enter section three, we rejoin the guide who leads us to a cave surrounded by sage brush. I look skeptically at the sand and grass, careful not to step on any snakes. The air smells divinely lavender. We reach an imposing rock face and crane our necks to observe the petroglyphs still very visible. Below the drawings is a cave with bric-a-brac from previous tenants, Native Americans — petrified corn on the cob and a few fossils. On the same rock, a cowboy has inscribed his name and date — sometime in the last century. If these walls could talk.
We pass under a low-hanging bush with blue berries and our guide instructs us to eat. “Tastes like gin,” he says, so I pluck one off. I gently sink my teeth into it without biting through and it releases what does indeed taste like gin. It’s a juniper berry!
The afternoon is slipping away and it’s time to leave. We trod through the sand and sandstone, taking one last look at the Utah border ahead. Strata of blue and purple sky hangs low just above red and green landscape.
Tired bones aside, the day is not done and the journey is not over. Two hours of driving and we are on our way to yet another fantastical landscape. A place virtually hidden from view with, what I am promised, are rainbow mountains.