National Geographic, The BLM, & The Vermillion Cliffs

Richard Charpentier Airstream Blogs, Arizona, Arizona Photographer, Off Road Adventures, Photographing Arizona, Photography, Portrait Work, RLC Design 6 Comments

White Pocket

Shot on last year's trip to White Pocket. No water this year.

Several months ago National Geographic did a feature on the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument.  Now I didn’t know about the article until meeting many visitors to the area over the past week.  After days of hearing from person after person that the reason they were visiting the area was due to the article I decided to go give it a read.  Pretty nice article, good images too.  Definitely inspiring enough to make you want to visit.

Whenever a compelling article and photos come out you know what that means.  More visitors to an area.  And it also means potential changes due to growth in visitors.

White Pocket Vermillion Cliffs

One of the spots I considered for my White Pocket portraits

On Monday’s hike into Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch we actually saw the results of the increase in visitors.  The trailhead parking on House Rock Valley Road was beyond capacity.  So many hikers were loading up packs and heading on in.  From the parking area you can access Wire Pass, the North Coyote Buttes TeePees, and of course “The Wave.”  And you know what everyone in the lot wanted to see……..?  The Wave.


The Vermillion Cliffs National Monument is run by the BLM.  Well, managed would be a better word.  For years I’ve been visiting the area and the Grand Staircase.  And every year I go to the Paria River Ranger Station.  That’s where you get your permits for Coyote Buttes North and South, and where you can get permits if you’re hiking the Paria Canyon.

Popping into the ranger station this year I was a little shocked and surprised.  They are no longer responsible for permits into Coyote Buttes.  The daily lottery for Coyote Buttes North is no longer held there.  Instead due to increasing demands (according to the employee we spoke with) the permitting is now done out of Kanab.  Awfully long way to drive back and forth for visitors coming in to Arizona.  80 mile round trip to go sign up for the lottery if you’re camping near House Rock Valley Road, and 80 mile round trip to see if you actually get your passes.  🙁

Into Wirepass

Into Wire Pass

Additionally we learned another thing while at the Paria Ranger Station.  Lotteries for South Coyote Buttes are now going on.  Apparently with the gain in popularity of the sites the demand has gone up.  Just last year I could walk in and get a permit with no trouble.  And whenever I went to Paw Hole or Cottonwood Cove I always found I was the only person there (in addition to whoever came with me).

Definitely some changes.  And I wonder how managing the permit system from Kanab will do.  I can tell you, I’ve never seen so many people on the walk in to Wire Pass or The Wave.  Walking through Wire Pass and into Buckskin Gulch we were with people or passed people often the whole way in.  When we finally started heading out we bumped into group after group.  It was like hiking in the Presidential Mountains back in New Hampshire.  Saying hi to hikers every 5 to 10 minutes.

Shorter slot canyon

Blue skies and a tree near the exit of this slot

Now I’m not complaining, just telling you about the changes.  And I wanted to tell you about one interesting note which I really wonder how the BLM will control.  Several groups going in had no permits for The Wave, but were going anyway.  They’d traveled a long way because of reading the National Geographic article, and they were not going to be stopped by not winning the daily lottery.  Every time I’ve been into Coyote Buttes South I haven’t met any other visitors.  I’ve never seen a Ranger truck or a Ranger.  Nobody has ever checked the permit hanging on my pack.  So, what now?  A manned visitor booth at the entrance to the Wave?  Or more likely, an increase in the number of people accessing the Wave without permits.

Hikers in Buckskin Gulch

Hikers in Buckskin Gulch

The Vermillion Cliffs

As always, going into the Vermillion Cliffs inspires me.  Beautiful scenes, amazing Northern Arizona Desert, and meeting some pretty neat people along the way.  I had two “firsts” on this trip.  First time I’ve ever camped at Lee’s Ferry, and the first time I’ve stayed at Lone Rock.  Both great locations, but I have to give a nod to Lone Rock.  Parking right on Lake Powell was something else.

Night time Airstream

Nighty Night Airstream

A few warnings before you set course for Lone Rock.  It’s located in sand dunes.  Be sure you can actually safely get in and out before going.  I spent 20 minutes digging some German tourists out on the first day there in a sand storm.  Glad I had my MaxTrax Sand Ladders or they would have had a big towing bill.  The second warning is about the warmer months.  Right now its nice and quiet and we had our own private beach.  In a few months it will be swarming with RVs, campers, and party hounds.  That’s direct from a Ranger we met there.

Our first day in I got to do something that’s been on my mind for over a year.  A portrait session in White Pocket.  I’ve photographed the area to death and wanted a new spin.  And that was a major reason for taking this trip.  Happy to say that we produced images that I had in my mind for months!

White pocket portraits

A favorite from Saturday's shoot

Visiting Wire Pass again was fun.  We met several really cool people along the hike.  That happens when you’re out.  I haven’t met a dud yet.  Well, the people going into the Wave without permits did get under my skin a bit.

One couple made us a very nice offer.  They had Wave permits for the next day.  They were going in super early because they had to leave.  And they offered to meet us late morning and give us their permits after they went in.  A nice offer, but we declined.

Clearly the Vermillion Cliffs are becoming more well known.  So I foresee changes in the future.  Hopefully White Pocket remains difficult enough to visit and it doesn’t fall into the permit system too.  The move to Kanab for permits is a little crappy for those of us coming from Arizona.  If you’re staying in Page you’re looking at an additional 240 miles of driving.  Sign up for the lottery, drive back to where you’re staying.  Drive out to the lottery next day, drive back again.  With gas at $4.00 per gallon that’s a real tough one, especially for those who don’t even win the lottery.

Colorful Sandstone

Playing in the slots, it's all about reflected light

Wrapping up

As always, a great trip.  I’m tired, covered in a fine dust, and my gear and Airstream need a cleaning bad!

While I’ve been sorting images on the road I still have a lot to do.  The next part of my project starts on Tuesday and will keep me occupied for a few weeks.  As it progresses you’ll find out what I’m up to here.

A last thought on the permit system

Several years ago clients of mine told me something very interesting.  They own a B&B and are tied in with the tourist community in a big way.  They’re friends with one outfitter in Kanab who guides visitors.  They told me that any time I wanted permits for the Wave I should contact them.  The outfitter friend can apparently get permits any time for his tour groups.

Interesting given it’s a lottery system, right?  Just something to ponder.

Hackberry Canyon

Don't forget the Grand Staircase. It's not crowded....yet.


Comments 6

  1. I love hiking Buckskin and Escalante. Am sorry to hear about people bucking the permit system. I’d heard about the move to Kanab because it was figured the Contact Station was in the middle of nowhere. Duh.

    Have camped on the Lone Rock Beach many times and been entertained by big rigs getting stuck in the sand.

    First visit here but won’t be the last.

  2. Wow, I agree with Josh; that Airstream shot is first rate! Are those the interior lights turned on, or did you light it with a flash and leave the lights off?
    Concerning the influx of tourism to the area, don’t you reckon it’ll be back to normal in a year? I’d venture that after this season the NG exposure wouldn’t really affect the spot’s popularity any longer…

  3. Post

    Thanks guys. Glad the Airstream photo hit a good note. It was shot at night with the Airstream lights on inside. Long exposure, and if you see the full sized version and zoom in you can actually see the pictures on my wall in the Airstream!

    I’m not sure if traffic will decrease in the Vermillion Cliffs. Since I started visiting years ago I’ve seen the tourist traffic grow with each trip up. It’s been found! 🙂

  4. Hmm… that’s interesting. Well, I know after following your blog for the last few years that the Vermillion Cliffs area will be on my list of places to see if I ever make it out to Arizona!

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