The White Domes

Amazing Off Trail Hike in the Canaan Mountain Wilderness

Categories: Utah

The first thing you should know about White Domes is they are very clearly GREY. There are even whiter rock formations on the way there. Nor are they a unique form of rock. I’ve seen the same type of stone in a couple of other places, like the north rim of Parunuweap. They do have cool veins of white quartz coursing through the cross bedding.

Getting to the domes is the real reward of making it your destination. This is an epic hike through a big variety of terrain and scenery. It’s very strenuous with only about 1.5 miles of real trail. The mileage and altitude gain are similar to the Observation Point trail in Zion but without the trail. Expect 10+ miles of hiking and up to 3,000 feet of elevation gain, depending on how much you want to see during your trip. It requires route finding and some exposure. During most of the year there is no water at all on top of the mountain and virtually no shade. It gets very hot, and there is only a single, very easy to miss spot for getting off the mountain. I’ve missed it every time I’ve been up there.

I was very lucky this trip to be able to see waterfalls and streams up on top of Canaan Mountain. I’ve been up there other times during sandstorms or when it was hot and dry.

The dramatic entrance to Water Canyon.

Water Canyon is a geologically unstable area. You can see some fresh tree branches and rocks that have fallen from above. Bad things happen here frequently.

The water on the right comes from a year long spring at the base of the cliffs. The waterfall on the left is not unusually present, and is coming from snow melt on the top of the mountain.

You will only be in the bottom of the canyon for about 100 yards before you begin ascending steeply up the cliffs.

On the left is the hardest part to get out of the canyon. It’s a narrow ledge that feels exposed because there is a very large void to the right of the picture. Eight years ago this wasn’t a big deal but foot traffic has eroded the base of the ledge down more than a foot, so now most people will have to reach over their heads to grab the ledge. On the right is a nice waterfall that added quite a bit of noise to the upper reaches of the canyon.

Once you get to the top of Canaan Mountain you have to hike hundreds of feet back down into the valley that is usually bone dry. I was stunned to see a flowing stream down there. 

To top of Canaan Mountain is a vast, wide open slickrock wilderness.

This stream was just so cool to see up so high I had a hard time remembering I already had a goal.

I decided to use a direct assault on the climb up the other side of the valley.

Looking back up valley at that long river of water. An oasis river.

Hey I finally made it up to some white rock. I must be getting close.

On the high parts of the mountain are unusual views of Zion as seen from directly south. In the distance is the snow covered Markagunt Plateau.

Finally the White Domes came into view.

The Domes are a grey sandstone sliced all over with dazzling veins of quartz that have been fractured and moved. You can see in the foreground how the lines match up if you move them a few inches back together. Maybe it was the fracturing that allowed the quartz to accumulate.

The backside of what is called the White Wave.

The domes exhibit a lot of elegant curves.

It is a pretty neat place when viewed in brilliant sunlight under a blue sky. I was there alone but for scale these domes are about 15-20 feet high.

This is what is left when the starship Enterprise shoots it’s phasers at a planet’s surface.

I still had time and I wanted to come down much farther upstream from where I started. After a while I came upon this incredible set of hoodoos. I thought this was every bit as interesting as the White Domes. 

The formation looked entirely different from every angle. This is head on. All around the base of it were thousands of moki marbles. Looking at the tower it’s interesting the the iron nodules abruptly stop near the base.

It was easier to get down and in a short time I was back at that river.

There was a pattern of meandering through a long flat area of sand and then cascading over some slickrock to the lext stretch of sand.

It was so wide here it almost made a lake. It seemed like the water level was already receding.

The water was very clear too.

I almost jumped off this ledge (not from this spot), but based on past experience I thought better of it and walked around the side.

Trying to approach the base I was really glad I did not jump. This is all quicksand. That’s what I was worried about. Stepping into quicksand is ok, but you don’t want to jump into it off a ledge.

The light was at a bad angle but this was a pretty cool falls with some water holes.

There is only one way down into Water Canyon. This is the wrong way. Every time I try to get down I get funneled to this chasm. If you do end up here you’ve gone way too far and need to retrace your steps.

Well into the descent after finding the correct way down. The stream down there is still a few hundred feet above the exit.

In water canyon the stream tends to make a lot of 90 degree turns. When I had come up earlier in the day an adventure company was guiding rappelling down these waterfalls. This is a really cool, very scary view, if you can find it, looking straight over the side of an leaning cliff face.

More 90 degree turns.

A big tree that fell down from above. There was a lot of debris for about 100 yards from rock fall and trees.

A weeping wall like in Zion.

Exiting Water Canyon requires walking down a slippery slope through a section that is vaguely reminiscent of the Subway.

Fresh rockfall and branches.

Whenever you go to Water Canyon don’t forget to look for the big arch high above. I plan on getting up there one day.

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