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Sandstone & Sand Hills: The Paria Plateau

Vermilion Cliffs National Monument
Thursday – Sunday, January 24-27, 2019

It’s been almost a full year since the last time I was out exploring and photographing the wonderful sandstone of the Paria Plateau and I was really itching to get back out there again soon. A few months ago I secured a permit to Coyote Buttes South for this Friday and then planned to spend the rest of the weekend exploring other areas of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument outside of the Coyote Buttes permit zones. Unfortunately, after I had already picked the weekend and got the permit I found out that the annual Ouray Ice Festival was scheduled for this same weekend, so I guess I was going to miss it this year. Diane was supposed to be in Las Vegas with a friend this weekend, which is why I originally chose it, but when her plans fell through there were no longer any permits available so I would be on my own this trip.

I left after work on Thursday afternoon and drove straight to the Cottonwood Cove Trailhead where I would spend the rest of the night. The drive took me a bit longer than I was expecting and I didn’t arrive at the trailhead until about 1:00am. I was pretty tired when I arrived and went right to sleep. Overnight I started to feel pretty sick and was worried that I wasn’t going to be able to hike in the morning, but since my Coyote Buttes South permit was only for today, I decided to at least give it a try for sunrise and then see how it went. I’m very glad that I decided to push through the pain and go because I was rewarded with one of the best sunrises I have seen in a while! I continued to hike throughout the rest of the day but I had to take it easier than I planned, so I didn’t get to explore all the new areas I had hoped to on this trip. I saw absolutely no one else all day and had peaceful solitude in one of my favorite spots on the Colorado Plateau!

I continued to spend the rest of the weekend exploring new areas of the Paria Plateau and found some pretty cool sites along the way. Overall it was an awesome weekend, aside from not feeling well for most of it, and I’ll let the photos below do the rest of the talking!

There was spectacular alpenglow on the sandstone of Cottonwood Cove when I arrived at this viewpoint on Friday morning. This was the very first photo I took on this trip and it is probably my favorite from the entire weekend.

Coyote Buttes Alpenglow

I scrambled around and tried a few different compositions in this area before the light disappeared.

Magic Light

Sandstone Stripe Sunrise

The clouds above turned a nice magenta color for a short time.

Coyote Buttes South Morning

Morning Stripes

Catching the first rays of light as the sun peeks above the horizon.

The Sunrise

Beautiful light on the landscape below…

Light On The Landscape

Paria Sunstar

Paria Sunstar

When the sun was up I went searching for colorful sandstone and unusual formations.

Colorful Drainage

The Control Tower (Dali Rock)

The Control Tower


I love finding little intimate scenes like this one.

Intimate Sandstone

Catching another sunstar.

Sandstone Sunstar

Canyon Of Lines


Sandstone Playland

Lovely Lines


Sandstone Colors

Cottonwood Cove


Dark Spot

The Divide

The South Wave

South Wave

Making Waves

Cottonwood Cove Canyon

Half & Half Rock

Half Rock

Pastel Landscape

Coyote Buttes South

The Ice Cream Cone

Ice Cream Cone

In the late afternoon I made my way over to Paw Hole to do a little exploring in that area just before sunset.

Paw Hole Evening

Juniper Alcove

Juniper Alcove

Reverse View

Exploring Paw Hole

Evening View

The next morning I caught a nice glow through the Hole In The Rock.

Hole In The Rock

Pastel Slabs

Corner Striations

Sand & Stone

Sand & Stone

The Little Wave. This is a smaller version of the popular Wave that I came across while exploring an unnamed drainage. No permit is required to visit this one!

The Little Wave

Here’s a closer look.

The Funnel

Sand Into Stone

Paria Plateau Petroglyphs

Paria Plateau Petroglyphs

I made a quick stop at The White Pocket, which would be the only place I saw other people all weekend.

White Pocket

Orange Cove

Orange Cove

Checkerboard Stripes



Sheep Petroglyphs

Sheep Petroglyphs

Two Rocks

Two Rocks

Cowboy Hat

Cowboy Hat

When I was driving over to Soap Creek Pasture on the eastern edge of the plateau I ended up breaking through a couple of inches of crunchy snow on the roads. When I arrived I found quite a bit of snow was still on the sandstone in this area.

Soap Creek Pasture

Colorful sandstone sticking out of the snow.

Out of the Snow

Purple Sandstone. I’ll need to return to this area when there is no snow on the ground.

Purple Sandstone

The Chicken Hoodoo

Chicken Hoodoo

The Aermotor

The Aermotor

>> Sandstone & Sand Hills Photo Gallery


  1. Owen Mercer
    Owen Mercer February 12, 2019

    Your pictures are phenomenal. 5 years ago I took a week and hiked Coyote Gulch, out to the Wave, and South Coyote Buttes. Last year I took my daughter and granddaughter to White Pockets while we unsuccessfully tried to get permits to the Wave. I have a lot of the same pictures you do,but they don’t jump off the paper like yours do. Everyone seems to be fixated on the Wave, and they should be, but there is much much more magnificent natural world wonders in the area that shouldn’t be overlooked. Thanks for the post. I enjoy reading about your adventures.

  2. Stan
    Stan February 13, 2019

    Awesome week-end, Randy, and great photos to show for it. Your exploits always amaze me.

  3. Michele
    Michele February 13, 2019

    Randy-Phenomenal captures. Amazing light you had! It brings me joy to look at your images. Well done!

  4. John Spurr
    John Spurr February 13, 2019

    Absolutely stunning photos, as always, Randy! Did you park near Hole In The Rock when you explored the eastern side of the plateau or were you able to drive farther east?

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat February 13, 2019

      I was able to drive a little further east until the road ended.

  5. Douglas Schumacher
    Douglas Schumacher February 17, 2019

    Amazing as always Randy. I do appreciate how you capture the intimate photos, incredible settings and colors.

  6. Tamara
    Tamara October 21, 2020

    Amazing-amazing photos. Thank you for trip with you!

  7. David Coppedge
    David Coppedge December 13, 2020

    Hi Randy, Nice collection. Did you realize that your “Little Wave” is the Double Wave that Laurent Martres and I found on October 15, 2018? Did you find this on your own in 2019? We’ve both posted photos of it shortly after our visit.
    I’m curious because it’s a little hard to find without directions.

    • Randy Langstraat
      Randy Langstraat December 14, 2020

      I was not aware at the time as I just found this area by looking at satellite imagery and wanting to explore. John Mumaw brought your photo to my attention after I posted it on Flickr (I didn’t even know who you were at the time, I don’t really follow other photographers work much anymore), and I didn’t know Laurent had a photo of it until your post just now:

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