Fall in Sedona

Islands of stone in a sea of sand

Richard Charpentier Arizona, HDR, hiking, Notes from Rich, Off Road Adventures, Photography 7 Comments

A little over a week ago a phone call came in.  Contract in California.  Weekends free, what to do, what to do.

It was my friend of nearly 20 years, Tom.  Months ago the wireless carrier downsizing pinched his job, and finding work with a sea of engineers, property managers, etc, all hunting too isn’t the easiest thing.  Finally, Tom caught a break with a short term contract on the West coast.  Hey, money is money, and if it means the mortgage gets paid, take the short term gig.


The Titan sits at the last gate before White Pocket. The White Pocket monolith dominates the background.

Tom called to see if I’d have some time to hang out on a weekend while he was in the area.  At the time of his call I was still feeling pretty jacked up.  The Cipro was working on the infection, and the infection was still working on me.  My favorite activity for a month was sleeping.  I feel my pillows know me way too well!  I let him know I wasn’t sure where I’d be at, but a visit to AZ was welcome.


The short dune walk into White Pocket tired a guy out who's been a little ill the past month.

Fortunately I started feeling better last week.  Not whole mind you, but not totally trashed either.  Being “Airstream bound” for weeks, I wanted to get OUT.  So, that’s what we did this weekend.  We headed out, and back to White Pocket.  It’s been on my mind since the last trip.  Day and night, thinking about what I’d do different, what I’d explore, and most importantly, just being in a cool place.


A hard surface under foot is much better than deep sand. This is the "entrance" to White Pocket

Saturday morning we set out on a lengthy ride.  4 hours to House Rock Valley Rd.  Another 2 hours in (with a few stops).  Deep sand required lower tire pressure, and I got to try out my new rapid air release tool from ARB.  Extremely cool, effective, and simple to use.  In what felt like no time we were viewing the White Pocket Monolith from the distance.


It's hard to pick photographic opportunities in White Pocket. There's too much to choose from!

Isn’t it totally amazing that once you’re familiar with an area even 6 hours of driving time seems like nothing?  Seriously, I felt like we were there in a flash!


We explored all that was available to us! Next visit, the Monolith itself, but that will be for a later time.

The plan was simple.  An overnight at White Pocket.  On the last trip up we didn’t have the kind of time we wanted to cover the ground we’d planned to do.  It was rushed, even with a few days out.  This time White Pocket got 24 hours of attention.  That’s not bad.  Sunset, sunrise, moon light, the works!


Patterns of every type can be found on this large formation, butted up agains the sand dunes below.

Arriving in White Pocket Tom and I were both thrilled.  Tom didn’t think he’d see the place again.  I knew I would, over and over, but it was still extremely exciting to be back.  This is a place that’s dominated my mind often since I first learned about it early in the year.  Ever since I found out about its existence I’ve thought about seeing it, photographing it, and just plain enjoying the heck out of it.  You know what?  I’ve done all of that, and if you asked me to go tomorrow I’d be there on the spot!


The inspiration to this post's title. Looking out I really felt that there were islands of stone in the sea of sand.

In addition to the excitement of our arrival I was thrilled about a few other things.  The Yaseau FT 8500 was mounted in my truck this week.  I finally found a spot for it and mounted it myself.  Repeaters in the area were an unknown, but I did the best I could reading online and finding a few options.  As it turns out, 4 repeaters cover the area.  The Navajo Mountain repeater covers it very well.  Just one additional safety feature when so far out in the wilderness.  Between the Spot and the Yaseau I feel extremely confident that I won’t get jammed up for long.


A great example of erosion and cross banding. How long did it take to form this area?

On top of communications making me happy, the Titan’s performance raised my confidence level further.  I’ve got a vehicle that can get me where I need to go, and I’ve got the right recovery gear for now.  The Max Trax, the ARB deflator, and my new DC Quick Air inflator are all on board.  Still haven’t needed the Max Trax, but the other gear got thoroughly tested.  Even more confidence!

After setting up camp, testing communications, and grabbing gear, we headed across the small sand dune into the White Pocket formation.  As we set out we had quite a surprise.  Another vehicle came rolling in.  4 people stepped out.  1 tour guide, 3 tourists!  Exciting!  We weren’t alone.

I feel for the folks on the tour.  They spent an hour at White Pocket.  Not enough time to really take the place in.  Not enough time to see the colors change before your eyes.  And not enough time to appreciate what a unique opportunity it is to visit such a place.  I’m glad I can be my own guide!


Cross banding at its finest. Simply amazing!

Tom and I spent hours wandering sections of White Pocket we hadn’t seen on the first trip.  We’d only scratched the surface on round number one.  This time we dug deep.  We circumnavigated the entire main formation, and we learned that another one was a short dune walk, with the monolith towering behind.  Next trip I’ll explore the next formation and the monolith.  But this trip we focused on the most well known formation.

As sunset approached it became colder and colder.  Tom made the mistake of thinking he was still in Florida, so he was wearing shorts.  I found that my hands started hurting a little too much (result of frost bite from years gone by and a blizzard that froze my gloves to my hands) so we headed in as the sun sunk low.  We’d been out for hours, and we saw the formations in a totally different way from the first visit.


This image almost looks molten to me.

One conclusion we drew……  Color isn’t consistent.  Not only did things look different in different light, but they seemed to change and not match up with images we’ve seen, or even with our memories from the last trip.  Yellows were deeper, or now orange, or now heading toward white….etc.  Odd, but true.  I’m willing to bet time of day, time of year, and weather all play a role in how the place is perceived each day!

We packed it in early, cooked up some food, and hit the sack at an early hour.  I’ll tell more of the story in another post, be sure.  But I’ve got to wrap things up now.  I’m out of photos you see.  🙂  I processed images from the first half of day one only.  I’ve still got more to get through for the first day, and we haven’t even gotten into the night shots, or the stuff from day two.  The place is so scenic, and I really hope I’ve portrayed it well enough for readers to understand that this is one of those rare amazing places!

***Note:  All the shots in this post are HDRs.  Figured I’d have a little fun, while attempting to create some “realistic” light touch HDRs.  Hope I’ve achieved that!

Comments 7

  1. Absolutely astonishing place. I must go there to see and photograph it myself. Might there be a place to park the Airstream nearby. Camping in a tent or the Durango is an option, but I’d like to have my trusty base camp nearby.

    BTW, I’m planning to take my father to the Grand Canyon sometime in the week before Christmas. I’ll look for a break in the weather and we’ll take the Airstream to the park for a few days. I’m hoping for some snow covered scenes in the canyon. My last 2 trips to Grand Canyon had indifferent clouds and not terribly good light, but I was surprised how nicely a bit of HDR applied to single shots copied into 5 shots at -2, -1, 0, +1, and +2 EV brought the place to life. Now I want to get correctly bracketed shots.

  2. Love your enthusiasm and the photos are magnifico!! Have to admit I do like the “natural” ones, or in the raw as you say!
    Thanks for the vicarious trip. =)

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    Thanks Josh. I’m not done by any means. Still toying with ideas, and 2/3rds of the photos haven’t been sorted yet. 🙂

    Mike, the place is stunning. In Utah there’s a park near the Paria River Ranger station. I pulled my Airstream there a few months ago and used it as a base camp to explore the area. That would work fine. But…..for White Pocket and Coyote Buttes South I’d suggest camping in the area in a tent. Travel time (even though it’s a short distance) is long due to “road” conditions.

    Thanks Kathy. I enjoy exploring new places, so easy to get enthused! 🙂 And I’m experimenting between the “natural” and the edits for this series. We’ll see what I settle on. Just last time I did “as shot” I had a bunch of e-mail requests to see the place in HDR. Do it one way, folks want it another way….. 🙂 Gives me a laugh!

  4. Photography skills notwithstanding, your writing continues to become more and more engaging – your posts soak me in and like Kathy said, I feel like I am living vicariously through your work – very nice set here Rich!
    .-= Jason´s last blog ..Useful Resource =-.

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    Thanks Jason! Ah, I’m just a long winded guy trying to fill space in between the photos! 😉 Nothing like picking on myself early in the morning! 🙂

    Let me know when you’re ready to visit the Buttes and the Pocket (that reads odd, doesn’t it?) The Nissan is ready to go back for more, even if the driver is still a little battered.

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