During my trip to White Pockets last year, I often stood on top of the hills and looked at the beautiful South Coyote Butte at distance. I was tempting to leave White Pockets a day earlier and go to South Coyote Buttes. Then the thought of going through the desert terrain again made me hesitate. I finally decided to stay at White Pockets so that I could spend to photograph it thoroughly and leave the South Coyote Butte for another trip. It turned out to be a smart decision.
A permit is need to get into South Coyote Buttes. There are 20 permits available each day. Ten of them are available online three months ahead of time on BLM web site: http://www.blm.gov/az/st/en/arolrsmain/paria/coyote_buttes/permits.html.
Another ten are available as walk-in each morning at local BLM office. For a photographer like me who flies half way across the country to get there, I don’t want to count on the walk-in permits. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to get a few days of permits online. There goes my journey to South Coyote Buttes this spring.
My choice of going there in late April to early May was based on the temperature variation. In this season, day time high can be in the 80’s F and night time low can be at low 30’s F. Any hotter weather will make day time hike in the desert exhausting, any colder weather will make camping uncomfortable. I followed my plan just like last year – flew into Las Vegas, rented a jeep, got supplies along the way, and drove straight to South Coyote Buttes. Once we went off road into the desert, I realized that the trail condition was much better than last year. It might have rained recently. The sand was not very dry that drive was fairly easy. We made a quick decision to go to White Pockets for a night, since we went in there a day early.
The drive was much easier than last year, it made me more relaxed behind the wheel. When we reached within two miles from White Pockets, I felt a little uneasy because the sand appeared to be drier and drier. Just when that thought went through my mind, the jeep ran into a ditch and stopped. The number one rule of driving in the deep sand is that you can’t stop the car. I knew I was in trouble. When I got off the jeep looked underneath, I realized that the ditch was fairly deep that the sand in the middle of trail pushed against bottom of the jeep. I took out the shovel and started digging and putting old blanket and bushes under the wheel. Four hours later, the jeep did not move an inch. Now it was getting close to dusk, we decided to camp by the road side and figure out what to do tomorrow.
All the sudden, I heard my wife’s exciting voice: “cell signal!” We knew there was no cell signal in this area from our past experience. So we both turned our phones off after we entered desert. Sure enough, there were very faint signal on both our phones. I got online immediately, found the nearest towing company and called them. “Sure, we can come to pull you out. But it takes an hour and half to get there. It is too late. We can come at the day break. Do you have enough food and water?” the voice at other end asked. “No problem. we can survive a week with the supply in my jeep”, I assured him.
It was a peaceful first night in the desert, knowing we would be rescued next morning. I was so exhausted that I slept until the sun came out. A while later, a jeep with monstrous tires showed up. It took the guy less than ten minutes to pull my jeep out of the ditch. At this point, I decided to give up White Pockets and head straight to South Coyote Buttes. I followed the towing jeep out of White Pockets area. The guy jumped off his jeep and pointed to a trail, “this road leads to South Coyote Buttes. You shouldn’t have any difficulty getting there”. He waved at me and took off.
Four hours of sweat, a wasted day, and $500 of towing bill later, I failed to reach White Pockets. I felt some sadness since I don’t know when I will return again. However, once the South Coyote Butte came into the sight, I immediately forgot my disappointment. I was thankful that we were safe to enjoy another nature wonder. Life is full of disappointment and excitement.