Catching “The Wave!” – Kanab, UT
In late February I mentioned in a post that I had won two coveted hiking permits to hike Coyote Buttes North – aka “The Wave” – on June 4th in southern Utah. I was giddy and jumping with joy, as these permits are not easy to get. When Steve was diagnosed with cancer several weeks later, my hopes for making the hike dimmed as we focused on his health situation. But he wanted us to do the hike and made it a goal by working extra hard to prepare for it after his surgery. Our normal outdoor activity was walking the roads in the RV park, but to see if he could do a “real” hike we spent some time on the trails at nearby Sabino Canyon.
After completing 5.5 miles of moderate hiking he felt ready to tackle The Wave. So we left Betsy behind in the scorching heat of Tucson and drove 450 miles north to our hotel room at Page, Arizona. The trailhead to The Wave was another hour away near Kanab, Utah, so off we went at 5:00am the next morning to beat the heat.
A quick update on Steve:
He’s now into his second week of daily radiation treatments, with 5 more weeks to go. Because his Oncologist warned that food will soon taste like cardboard with loss of appetite and possibly severe pain when swallowing, he has been on a food binge of epic proportions, eating all of his favorites plus anything in the RV that doesn’t move.
He got a big boost when we stopped on our way back to Tucson for a visit with good friends Al and Ingrid of Live, Laugh, RV. They indulged us with a wonderful pasta dish, followed with more yummy desserts than Steve had ever eaten in one day. Not that he was complaining! They also gave us a container full of yummy sweets to take home, and I felt obliged to help Steve finish it, just to prevent a possible sugar overload 🙂
Steve is starting to “feel the burn” of the radiation with more swallowing problems, so there are tough times ahead. But his attitude is good and we will beat this beast.
BLM Permit for The Wave
The Wave is a famous geologic feature in what’s known as Coyote Buttes North, on the north edge of the Paria Canyon – Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. The area is along the Utah/Arizona border near the town of Kanab. Because of its popularity, it is being protected and access is limited by lottery drawing selection. A daily maximum of 64 people (increased from 20) are permitted to visit Coyote Buttes North, 48 people and/or 12 groups (whichever comes first) are awarded through the online lottery system. The other 16 people and/or 4 groups (whichever comes first) are awarded through the walk-in lottery, a separate process than this online lottery. If you’re interested and want to find out everything you need to know about Wave permits, click the links below:
There is no obvious trail to The Wave, but the BLM office sent us a helpful photographic guide with land features and GPS coordinates to show us the way. A couple of days before the hike a park ranger called to warn us that the forecast for June 4th was for temps in the 90’s and to bring lots of water. We started super-early of course, as we’re not conditioned to hiking in 90º conditions with no shade. We did overlook the one-hour time difference between Page, AZ and the trail in Kanab, UT. So we started the hike at 7:00am Utah time instead of 6:00am Arizona time and realized we would not have wanted to start any later. It got very hot by the time we headed back to the car.
The hike is moderate, with a distance of 5.6 miles round trip gaining 487′ of elevation to The Wave. Where there were footprints in the sandy areas we followed them, otherwise we treaded on slick rock and rocky terrain, constantly referring to the official map for guidance. The fact that there’s practically no shade is a factor with temps commonly in the 90’s and higher this time of the year.
The vast expanse along the way has incredible features, and we were in awe as we trudged on. There is so much to look at – up, down, and all around. It’s a kaleidoscope of formations with outcroppings of small sandstone domes and fascinating colorful swirls everywhere.
Over the first ridge, the land opens out to reveal a huge expanse of sand and slick rock, with a long, high ridge to the right. A vast open area of sand and scattered rock domes fill the middle distance, and larger, more concentrated red rocks to the left rise up to a mesa which forms the edge of Buckskin Gulch.
In and around The Wave
At the entrance we were immediately astounded! The waves and colors were amplified because of the sun’s reflection from the other side. Our arrival time was perfect.
As you may have guessed, my camera was on overload! So pardon me with all my wavy pictures, but take your time viewing these one-of-a-kind fascinating and exotic rock formations:
From a higher vantage point the area looked like a gallery of gruesomely twisted sandstone, resembling deformed pillars, cones, mushrooms, cushy pillows, dinner rolls and other odd shapes that continued to amaze us.
This place completely blew us away as we observed the display of textures, shapes, colors, curves, and layers all in one place!
And peering closely, the details are exquisite as well.
Finally, the main feature, the Wave!
The Wave is actually a small ravine between eroded sandstone domes formed of amazing rocks containing thin, swirling strata. It’s situated at the foot of the north slopes of Top Rock, formed of white Navajo sandstone. It’s hard to imagine that billions of years ago the area was flat and covered with sand. As usual, wind and water eroded, carved and smoothed to reveal the layers of sand remaining. Finally, those layers were compacted and mineralized to reveal what we see. Amazing!
I was so happy that Steve insisted on making this trip, even though he wasn’t exactly in top hiking condition. We both enjoyed the change of scenery, and he had promised to do something that would show how he appreciated his “lovely caregiver” during the past few weeks. He couldn’t have picked a better way to make me happy !
Words and pictures are not enough to describe what we experienced here, it’s at the top of our list of geologic finds. We recommend that folks come here either March-May or September-October, and enter the lottery as soon as possible or take a chance as a walk-in during those times. This place is beyond amazing!