White Pocket and South Coyote Butte

by Chih Kwan Chen, Nov. 8, 2009

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument wilderness area extends north to US-89 and south to US-89A. As the name suggests, the roads inside the area are all dirt roads. Vermilion Cliffs contains three natural wonders, they are, North Coyote Butte, South Coyote Butte and White Pocket. North Coyote Butte contains now world famous "The Wave". "Vermilion Cliffs" means "red cliffs". If one drives along US-89A, the red cliffs are vividly visible at the northern side of the road. There is a 40 mile long dirt road called House Rock Valley Road that runs around the western edge of Vermilion Cliffs, connecting US-89 to US-89A. At the south end of the road just along US-89A there are a group of houses built into naturally piled up rocks of various shapes and sizes. Before modern times, people did use those rock houses as shelters, and thus gives the name to the valley and the road. Visitors to North and South Coyote Buttes enter the dirt road from the northern end that starts from US-89, 38 miles east of Kanab, Utah and 34 miles west of Page, Arizona. The trail head of North Coyote Butte is easy to reach from the northern end of the dirt road. To South Coyote Butte area that does not have any established trails, one needs to branch off toward east from House Rock Valley Road and is much more difficult to reach. White Pocket is further east of South Coyote Butte and is naturally most difficult to reach among those three places. To South Coyote Butte and White Pocket a high clearance 4-wheel drive is the must.

North and South Coyote Buttes are permit areas. Only 20 permits per day for each area are issued. Ten permits for each area per day are issued online four months ahead of time, at first come first serve base, and ten permits for each area per day are walk-in permits that will be issued 24 hours before the morning of attempted visit. Here one permit only covers one person, not one car. The walk-in permits are issued at the Paria Contact Station of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that oversees Vermilion Cliffs during travel seasons, and at BLM Field Office at Kanab during late fall and winter seasons. The Paria Contact Station is located at the south side of US-89 a few miles east of the northern end of House Rock Valley Road. Paria Contact Station should not be confused with another BLM Contact Station at Big Water that is 15 miles east of Paria Contact Station. The Contact Station at Big Water oversees Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that lies at the northern side of US-89. Due to the popularity of "The Wave" the number of attempted visitors far exceeds the number of permits to North Coyote Butte so a lottery is held at 9 AM Utah time (mountain time) at Paria Contact Station of BLM every morning, seven days a week. During the time when Paria Contact Station is closed, the lottery also moves to Kanab Field Office of BLM. Kanab Field Office closes at weekends so the walk-in permits for Saturday, Sunday and Monday are all issued at the morning of prior Friday. At the time of our visit around October, the odds of the lottery to North Coyote Butte is around one out of five to one out of seven. South Coyote Butte is far less popular due to its remote location so the walk-in permits are easy to get; usually does not require any lottery. White Pocket is not a permit area at the time of our visit, but there are talks to convert it to a permit area as its popularity to visitors rises. Details about the permits and lotteries can be found at BLM website.

It is said that more than 80% of the visitors to the natural wonder areas of Southwest U. S. A. are Germans. Their Blogs are the most helpful sources for those wondrous places. We have picked up most of the places visited during this whirlwind tour with not well known names from those English translated German Blogs, and White Pocket and South Coyote Butte are no exceptions. German bloggers described the treacherous nature of the sandy and bumpy roads that are so easy to trap high clearence 4-wheels. Later on a senior ranger in Paria Contact Stattion also told me better to hire a professional tour guid to go into South Coyote Butte and White Pocket area than to risk by ourselves. With the prior knowledge of the treacherous nature of the roads to White Pocket, we have decided to hire a tour guid service, Outpost and Outfitter for the tour. At the beginning we have only targeted White Pocket for visit but Outpost and Outfitter suggested strongly to get a permit to South Coyote Butte since it lies along the road to White Pocket and a travel to White Pocket alone is too wasteful of both time and money. Thus we arrived at Page, Arizona one day before the original schedule to get the permit to South Coyote Butte.

Outpost and Outfitter is operated by a husband and wife team, Steve and Susan. Their station is just a short distance west of BLM Paria Contact Stattion. The tour costs $175 per person, including a bag lunch and a barbecue dinner. On the day of our trip another seven member Austrian family that got the permits online had booked with them. Steve guided the Austrian family in one Suburban and Susan took us in a separate Suburban. Since Susan was guiding us, she could not prepare the dinner, so we got $8 per person discount. In the above mentioned German Blog, the explorer said he drove to White Pocket on the route that circles around the south side of South Coyote Butte. Susan also drove that route to White Pocket in less than 2 hours. After the visit to White Pocket, we drove back toward west through a different road and visited Cottonwood Cove and Paw Hole, both of them are inside South Coypte Butte. We witnessed a GMC pickup that we met at the parking area of Cottonwood Cove abandoned near Paw Hole but the driver was nowhere to be seen (must have been picked up by some one already). In the wilderness area, cellular phones are no use. We saw some sophisticated phone gears in the car, probably a satellite phone. GPS in those wilderness area is useful to get the lattitude and the longitude of the current position, but that information will help only with a topo map at hand and with the knowledge of how to read the map.

The hike at White Pocket was about 2 miles around a hilly area but on solid grounds. It took about one hour and 30 minutes for us to finish. The hike at Cottonwood Cove of South Coyote Butte was 3 miles long, and much more strenuous than the hike at White Pocket, because the trail goes up and down on fine red sands most of the time. We stopped at Paw Hole of South Coyote Butte just to see the sun set, without any hike, but unfortunately clouds came in and ruined our expectation. As an additional information, Steve and Susan said that the hike to "The Wave" in North Coyote Butte is much more strenuous than the hikes at White Pocket and Cottonwood Cove combined. Steve said that it takes him two hours at least one way to "The Wave" if really hurried up, but usually three hours one way. Susan said that she will go flat after the hike to "The Wave" but can do the hikes at White Pocket and Cottowood Cove without much problem. They also said that there is nothing to see in North Coyote Butte until arriving at "The Wave" that is only of the size of a football field. Actually there is a second wave in North Coyote Butte, but most visitors do not reach the second wave because they are so exhausted after reachig the first wave.

Pictures of White Pocket and South Coyote Butte are stored in two separate files, reachable by the links,

2009 trip to White Pocket

2009 trip to Cottonwood Cove of South Coyote Butte