Vermillion Cliffs NM, Arizona, USA by Michael Thomas

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Picture Story

One of the most colorful and extraordinary places in the American west is the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument. In addition to the rightly famous Wave and Coyote Buttes South is White Pocket. I fell in love with the place as soon as I read of it in Laurent Martres’ Photographing the Southwest and seeing it on an episode of Art Wolfes’s Travels to the Edge TV series. My first visit was something of a bust as our guide promised us a sunset shoot but left early claiming an unfamiliarity with the route. For our second visit, my wife and I met our guide at the Wire Pass trailhead at 3 am (he had an overnight group already there). Happily we arrived before dawn and stayed through dusk for a fantastic visit.

At dawn, I concentrated on the area that includes a feature reminiscent of a dragon or serpent’s tail. While my shots at sunrise are far more intense and colorful, I actually prefer this shot taken earlier that more clearly shows the various types of rock. One type that is quite unusual elsewhere but very prevalent at White Pocket is reminiscent of basalt but is irregular in shape and sidedness. Many folks call it “brain rock” for obvious reasons.

Unless you are very experienced with off-road driving through deep sand, I recommend using one of several guide outfits that go to White Pocket. Just make sure they offer a photographers tour as many are primarily taking tourists on day excursions.


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