I had been to Utah before, but never to the Vermilion Cliffs. Where we are heading today is off the beaten path in Utah, but such an amazing spot: the White House Campround and the Paria Canyon in the Vermilion Cliffs. And sometimes photos speak louder than words, so in this blog I will mainly let the photos do the talking: Here is my photo impression of this mind boggling place.
All the photos in the collage below are clickable, so you can view the larger photo.
Sunset at the White House Campground
Driving to the Vermilion Cliffs
Driving on Highway 89
View from old Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River in Marble Canyon
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is primarily located in Northern Arizona although a small portion is situated in Southern Utah. And that is the area we are heading for, Vermilion Cliffs in Southern Utah!
To be honest, I had never heard of White House Campground and wasn't aware of the natural beauty of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument before. But while I was planning my trip, a long time friend on the website Virtual Tourist posted his photos of the area and of an amazing hike called "The Wave", and instantly I knew I had to see this for myself!
The main dream was to do the hike "The Wave", but I knew it would be a long shot. Only 20 people are allowed to do this hike each day, all in order to protect this area of outstanding natural beauty. And that is only a fraction of the people that apply for the permit; and allas, I was not one of the lucky ones to get the so much desired permit. But, with my route through the South West of the USA already planned, I didn't want to skip a stop at this campground. It looked like a special place in its own right, even without doing this famous hike.
Directions: From Page, Arizona: Take Highway 89 south to the 89A turnoff. Take 89A north and cross the Navajo Bridge. Driving from Page to White House is a pleasant easy drive of approx. 1 hour. We drove however from the Norhtern Rim of the Grand Canyon, which takes up about 3 hours / 250 kilometers to complete. We stopped in the town of Page to fill up our provisions for the coming days, and arrived at the campground during the late afternoon.
White House Campground
A 3 km bumpy unpaved road, off the highway 89, brought us to the White House campground. We happily took the bumpy drive in anticipation of what the campground would be like. It is a small primitive campground with only a handfull spots. There were only 5 walk-in campsites during our visit, and it is all on a first come basis, so no reservations possible. And yes, I always worry if there will be a spot for the night! But my worries were totally uncalled for; we were actually the only ones here when we arrived around 15:00. And only one other couple arrived with their tent later during the day, so we almost had the whole place and gorgeous surroundings to ourselves.
Although it is a primitive campground, our site had a picnic table, fire pit, some desired shade frome a juniper tree and of course those views! You have to bring everything else with you however, including water!
I know what you might be thinking by now: Simone, how did you come up with the idea to write a whole blog about a campground?? And in theory you are so right, I normally don't do this. But, this is not 'just' a campground, the place is a destination in itself. Well, if you like these type of places of course :-) But I do, I found it utterly fascinating!
After putting up our tent in a shady spot and cooled off with a nice drink in the shade on our luxury picnic table, it was time to grabb the camera and do some exploring. The area is quite vast, and it was such a joy to climb up and down the rocks and cliffs, discovering a new set of strange rock formations around each corner, always surprising with its colourful surface. I think I must have wandered around for at least an hour before returning to the campsite. Only to have a quick drink, and going back again to soak in and discover more of the landscape.
The spectacular geology of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument encompasses sandstone formations, high cliffs, and rugged canyons. And here, at the White House Campground, you are literally living in between the most amazing rock formations, flowing and curving in bands of colours in the rocks that range from pink, to yellow, to orange, to red. The flow of the colourful stripes over the huge rocks is so breathtaking and unreal. Weather, wind and water have shaped these rock to a smooth surface, in shapes and colours that are beyond belief, and impossible to describe with words.
The Vermilion Cliffs are made up of deposited silt and desert dunes, cemented by infiltrated carbonates and intensely colored by red iron oxide and other minerals, particularly bluish manganese.
View from the tent
The photos show you the different hues of the rocks. And probably also give an impression of the strange rock formations; but maybe not so the size of the landscape. I am actually included in the photo below, but most likely you will not be able to find me, as I am totally dwarfed by the landscape around me.
Can't find me in the photo? No worries, if you click on the photo below; I am there in the little red circle :-)
View from the top of the rocks. looking down on the White House Campground area
Erosion at work
The moon is coming up over the horizon
The moon is creaping over the horizon and the sun is slowly setting, giving the surroundings a totally new level of depth in colour. The sun reflecting on the orange rocks make them look totally unrealistic, and the effect wouldn't be misplaced as a painting on a wall.
We once more climb up the rocks, enjoying the late afternoon light, and playing with and laughing at the effect of our shadows on the rocks. And when reaching the top we once again sit down, relaxing and soaking in the sunset.
The sun reflecting on the orange rocks
The moon slowly creeping higher over the horizon, soon the night will fall
Laughing at the effect of our shadows on the rocks
The bright moon and stars sparkling against the darkness of the night sky
Even the night is special, with the moon shining oh so bright, and the stars sparkling against the darkness of the night sky. The darkness out here is complete, making the stars seem extra bright. Although the days can be hot, the nights can be quite cold in the desert this time of year, and we warm up at a nice campfire.
Hike is in the river bed
Good morning! A new day, a new adventure! And today we are off to take a hike into the Paria Canyon.
Right at the campground is the trail head, with a hiking trail following the Paria River. This trail route is actually in a river bed. There is a self-regitratiom at the trailhead for dayhikes. However for overnight hikes in the area you need to obtain a permit.
Note: flash floods can happen any time of the year, so keep an eye on the latest weather forecast.
Warning for flash floods
The name "White House" given to the main Paria Trailhead and the spring located nearby was derived sometime between the late 19th and early 20th century.
Sheepherders used to pass through the area between summer and winter pastures. After spending the winter in Glenn Canyon, where there were only a few good springs, they looked forward to dependable spring water near the Paria River where water was "as good as any that could be had at the White House in Washington DC", at least in their imagination.
And thus they called it White House springs, and mirroring that, White House Trailhead :-) The water is clear and good for thirsty sheepherders, and as I read, also for modern day hikers. Although I can't vouch for that, as I haven't tried the water for myself.
I thoroughly enjoyed this hike, which continuously followed the river bed. The landscape is totally different to the one at the White House campground, but fascinating in its own way. It started off as a very wide river bed, and we were walking on packed sandy desert sand, with some scattered growth and flowers in the river bed. But slowly the walls of the canyon were surrounding us on either side, and the canyon was getting smaller and smaller the further we walked along the route.
Below you can see how the force of water has scaped the rock formations. But don't let the photo fool you, these canyon walls are considerable in height. The cave-like carve out, due to the power of the water, are much higher than me. And these carve outs are only a tiny portion of the total canyon wall!
The cracks in the dry river bottom making fascinating patterns, the steep vertical walls of the canyon against a deep blue sky, and the Canyon becoming so narrow to a point that it is only just passable. A little lizard hurrying away in front of us, the bright yellow of the occasional flower, and the fascinating shapes and forms of the rocks being formed by erosion. It was such a pitty to have to turn around after quite a few hours of walking, as I would have loved to explore more of this fascinating landscape! I have no idea how long we walked in actual kilometers, but our clock told us it unfortunately was time to turn around and head back to the trailhead.
The walk back, although being the same route, was just as fascinating as the way in. We were seeing the same landscape, but with the opposite perspective, giving it a new touch. Unfortunately we only had a certain amount of time for this hike, as we still had to make a drive to our next destination when getting back to the campground.
If I ever am so fortunate to travel here again, I would make certain to stay here at least several nights, to explore more of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument area. As it is worth more of a visit than I had time for this time around!
Simone & Åke, September 2010, Vermilion Cliffs, Utah, USA
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