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We gassed up in Mesquite, Nevada and headed back west on highway 170 along the Virgin River. Turning south on the Gold Butte Road, a level of anticipation and apprehension built. We had driven a good distance from home. We had never been here before and knew of no one who had. Interesting tidbits of information drew us to the decision to come here. Would it be worth the time and effort?
The rough pavement on the Gold Butte Road ends 16 miles out at Whitney Pockets. It then turns into a wide graded dirt road. Whitney Pockets is a beautiful group of sandstone crags. There are several huge, vegetation denuded dispersed campsites around the bases of the outcroppings. As we passed we saw four camps where groups of large travel trailers, toyhaulers, and equipment trailers were clustered along with many forms of thrillcraft. We quietly moved on to our destination.
We happily found ourselves alone at a small usable campsite near our first area for exploration. After setting up, our showers, and dinner it was well past sunset. Although we were alone we knew Vegas lurked off to the west.
We were at the edge of a series of sandstone outcroppings. This was a trailhead into an ancient rock art and habitation site. The BLM has been doing much work at blocking off illegal motorized cross country routes, restoring these swaths and other fragile areas where ill sited campsites had impacted the land. They were working on signage promoting responsible use and respect for our public lands. And here, the emphasis was on cultural resources and working to prevent future destruction of the area. We were so pleased to see this effort being made for all of our benefit.
The full moon was obscured by the thickening cloud deck. It was very dark as we ventured out on our night walk. The silence was incredible. Our ears were ringing as if working overtime searching for a sound. All our senses were sharpened, more on edge. The dark was a world we stepped into, became a part of. What a great night. We returned to where we had cached the camera and tripod. We worked on some long exposures including light painting with a flashlight.
The clouds were low overhead in the morning. It was snowing lightly. To the west, across the Virgin River Valley, we could see the Valley of Fire and sunlight on the Spring Mountains in the far distance.
We got the boots on and with our backpacks we started our exploration. There was one site that we hoped to find. We knew it was guarded by an entrance tunnel.
Various petroglyphs high on the rock indicated this may be the area to search.
We crawled through.
The Lady was already fascinated with the wonderful varied hues and colors in the sandstone.
The terrain on the other side of the tunnel was rough and broken.
There was an interesting petroglyph on the backside of the opening. Was this a representation of passing through the tunnel?
I heard the Lady ahead, “I’ve found the falling man!” Her voice was excited.
“The initial impression is that this is a depiction of someone falling. What about the possibility of it being an acrobatic rock climber?" The Lady asked as we continued looking about.
“That could well be possible, I’d think.” I answered.
About a hundred yards further on the Lady got my attention. “Look at this! I’m calling this one the ‘climbing man’!”
We climbed high to get an overview of this complicated terrain.
We took our time exploring. Petroglyphs now seemed everywhere.
In the low places we discovered tanks.
Hidden in this broken landscape we found a small oasis.
Alcove shelters were eroded out by the wind. Some contained pictographs.
Some were marked with a single sheep petroglyph.
We spoke only with hushed voices. This area called out for reverence and respect. We felt the magic of our surroundings. The Lady quietly continued to search.
Just as awe inspiring were the wonderful colors of the rock, enhanced by the gentle light through the cloud cover.
More pictographs appeared.
The colors continued to take our breath away.
In all our years of rambling and exploring, this was indeed one of our most memorable days.
The landscape drew us onward. We worked our way traversing a ridge line and came upon a steep draw that led to a larger wash below. We came upon a wonderful panel that only cemented the special relationship I believe the Lady has with Bighorn Sheep.
There are over forty on this panel along with other figures.
We started down the main wash and enjoyed the places where bedrock was exposed in the water course.
In a side drainage we came upon an old cowboy dam.
It was mostly silted in and the area was fouled with cow pies. In a nearby alcove were the remains of an abandoned camp from long ago, complete with rusted bed springs.
We topped out on a high point to the south and a distant outcropping caught the Lady’s attention.
Everywhere around us was something new that filled us with awe.
We explored this area for hours in exquisite solitude. We were alone, touched, inspired, and humbled by this incredible place. We were honored to be able to share time here with the spirits of who had walked through here before us.
What was next for us? There was another place I wanted to find. Information was sketchy and unreliable; that was my take. I knew the type of rock we were looking for and I had one photo that showed an amazing outcropping of sandstone with some distant skyline. It was a long shot but it would be good to get oriented and also fun to further explore this area.
We found the road down Mud Wash and stopped at the known petroglyph panel there.
This was an area of amazing red sandstone. All you needed to do was walk away from the road. We couldn’t help ourselves. We did just that.
We had met no one on the two track roads we were driving. On our cross country walk we intersected a short spur road. There was a great campsite at its end, the kind you dream about. I thought about what my Mother always said, “Never leave good fishing to find good fishing.” We’ve learned this also applies to camping sites.
“We’ve got an hour of direct sunlight here. We could take our showers with sun on us if we camp here now…………….” I was thinking out loud.
“I’m happy with whatever you decide.”
I continued, “but…………………..we do have some daylight left to try and find that other spot.”
We returned to the truck and continued driving. As I suspected, the location given for what I wanted to find was way off the mark. We grabbed a high spot and scanned the horizon. Nothing matched; we learned that much. We backtracked and set up camp where Mom said we should have stayed. Showers were great with hot water but taken in the cold shade. Not that much of an inconvenience.
If at all possible, we always eat outside. Bundled up, we enjoyed dinner and then took our night walk. The silence was wonderful and the cold stung our faces. We walked out to the panel in Mud Wash. We listened. Clouds moved across the sky. Occasionally a star would pop through.
Morning was clear and cold. The Lady likes to get the coffee going in the morning, get the bedding put away for the day, get cleaned up and personal chores taken care of, with me out of the way. The day was just beginning as I exited the camper.
I watched first light appear around me.
The Lady found me this time. The coffee was hot. This was perfection.
“Today?” the Lady asked.
“You get pancakes this morning. We are going to relax. The pads and bedding are all coming out to air and dry out in the sun. We are staying here another night and not driving today. Let’s hike all day, just take off cross country and see what’s out there.”
“Perfect, I love that!” The Lady’s smile matched our surroundings.
This was pure exploration. We found red sand dunes.
We found twisting gullies, more sandstone outcroppings, and vast open space.
Our topo map labeled a feature “Red Rock Springs” about a mile away.
Water was flowing down the wash below the rocks. It was wonderful to find a flowing creek out here with the associated riparian plants. In places the shallow water flowed directly over the sandstone. It was beautiful. I just could not get a photo where the center focus would not be drawn to all the cow pies in the water.
About a half mile further up the wash was “Hartman Tanks.”
These were deep gravel filled pockets in the red sandstone but dry during our visit. Down in the wash, out of the wind, we soaked up the warmth of the sun and snacked.
We continued up the drainage.
We climbed out and the Lady spotted more red dunes in the distance. This is what this day was for.
To the southwest we spotted an amazing single fin of sandstone about a mile and a half away. We had to check that out.
This was wonderful. It had wind sculpted alcoves all around its base. It was easy to find a sheltered spot out of the wind and each had a commanding view of the surroundings. It was magical.
We soaked up more warm sun. The Lady stretched out up against me. We snacked, drank, and slept, alone in this vastness. This was perfection.
A large sandstone ridge was to our south. We plotted a route up a steep cleft, over the top, took a slight turn to the east, and were easily back to camp. I checked my track traps around the truck. Cows had been our only visitors.
We relaxed, prepared for evening chores, and looked forward to a wonderful night. It turned out to be spectacular. It was New Year's Eve.
The adventure continues, click on Part Three.