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.

Sabino Canyon
Steve met a “twin” that day on Esperero Trail in Sabino Canyon, look how they’re dressed!

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.

Ingrid’s delicious cake didn’t last long.  Eat up, Steve!

BLM Permit for The Wave

Coyote Buttes PermitThe 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:

The hike

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.

Lake Powell, AZ
A calm sunrise over Lake Powell, AZ as we set off, the promise of a beautiful day

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.

North Coyote Buttes

North Coyote Buttes

The landscape

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.

North Coyote Buttes

Cross-bedded butte
One of the many amazing buttes here.  We’ve never seen such a variety of shapes in one place
North Coyote Butte
Sandstone domes along the way
North Coyote Buttes
Distant views of the “Teepees”, the general name given to these conical sandstone mounds
The wave trail
Some wildflowers were still blooming
North Coyote Buttes
Colorful, swirling strata in shades of pink, red, yellow and white along the east side of Coyote Buttes Ridge
The wave
The Wave is located just this side of that shaded vertical crevasse
The wave
Looking back at Buckskin Gulch and the sandy wash below the entrance to The Wave

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.

The wave entrance
We’re here, baby!
Slot at the wave
A fiery slot due to sun reflection

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:

The wave
For two hours we wandered around the cliffs and gullies, then climbed up further

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.

The wave
Other lucky hikers have arrived
The wave
Top Arch and the fiery south ridge, can you spot Steve?

This place completely blew us away as we observed the display of textures, shapes, colors, curves, and layers all in one place!

The wave
Nature’s artwork of lichens and molds all over the rocks

The wave

The Wave
Doesn’t it look like recently-baked dinner rolls?
The wave
Looking down at the reflection-lit entrance

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!

the Wave

The wave

The wave

The wave

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 !

The wave
Riding the wave, baby!

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!


  1. Awesome shots! And we’re so glad that Steve felt well enough to allow you to make the trip! Sending positive thoughts your way for a full and speedy recovery! Hope to see you back on the road very soon. 🙂

  2. Spectacular photos! And a place I hope to go one day. You and Steve are in our thoughts everyday as he goes through treatment.


  3. AMAZING! That is truly a bucket list item! We will definitely try to get a permit at some point in the future.

    Wishing Steve patience and ease during the remaining weeks of treatment and continued recovery. Wishing Mona Liza strength and patience as caregiver. Breathe deep and carry on!

    • Try your luck in getting the permit, it is truly an amazing place! Thank you Lisa for your well wishes and thoughts, these are really trying times 😦

  4. Our thoughts and prayers are with you and Steve as he goes through this difficult process. So glad you got to do “The Wave’ We worked there for 6 years and it never faded in its magic. It seems you missed the hamburger rock. If I could add a picture to this post, I would show you.
    Hamburger Rock
    Hamburger Rock

      • I know what you mean by hundreds of pictures. This place is so amazing, unique and colorful that you just can’t take it all in. It is a photographers heaven. But for those who don’t get the permit, there are other areas around there that are just as fantastic in other ways. Just ask the people in the BLM office near the trail head about other hikes.

  5. Thank you for taking the time to come visit us on your way back to Tucson. I so enjoyed the visit and doing my part to help fatten up Steve. I also loved the private showing of your fantastic photos of this unique and magical place. The Wave is now on my ‘must see’ list … fingers crossed! Sending well wishes and hugs!

    • And thanks to you I am now a library card holder and just saw Were the Millers 🙂 And remember, entering in the latter is four months out of your desired month. So enter now for an October permit or check the website.

  6. This is fabulous!! We’ve had The Wave on our bucket list, too. So awesome that you decided to go ahead and do the hike. We’ve hiked next door in Buckskin Gulch and the scenery is very similar, but… doesn’t have that spectacular wave formation. Love your gorgeous photos and your description of the hike (so cute, you two surfing :-)). Now I want to go even more than before! Sending hugs to you both — we think of you every day.

    • Yeah, try your luck with the lottery and not think about it, at least that is how I got it. The scenery leading to the wave is the same as Wire Pass Trail and Buckskin Gulch, perhaps if you just know where to look you may have stumble on the wave 🙂

  7. Your pictures are so beautiful. We are camping at Lake Kaibab. Hope we can meet you sometime.
    Praying that Steve will continue to feel better.

    • Well, will be hanging out in Tucson and Arizona for a while until Steve gets better. I hope too that we can meet, we will keep an eye on your route. Thanks for your prayers, Steve appreciates and needed it.

  8. I’ve never seen this place. Wow! Spectacular! The colors, textures, scale… all are just incredible. And so cool that only a few people get to visit at a time. That way you’re not crowded in with tons of other people. Really great! We’ll continue sending lots of positive vibes your way and hope for a speedy recovery for Steve. Best wishes!!!

    • When you visit the west be sure to go slow, there are so much amazing place to explore. I felt like winning a lotto when I got a permit, the place is really a special place. We appreciate any and all positive vibes sent our way, thank you.

  9. Wow, so amazing!!! We’d expect no less from you two amazing hikers! We found your blog four years ago when we were first starting our dream. You have been so inspiring to us and you’ve just hit the home run of all home runs! This is just amazing and such a goal to work towards! We will be keeping you in our prayers as we know your road is going to continue to be a bit wavy, rocky and up hill most of the way…..take care and thanks for the overload! These pictures are just too good to not share them all!!!

    • Your thoughts and prayers and from the rest of our blogosphere friends are lifting us up especially Steve.
      The road leading to and the wave itself is really an amazing place. I appreciate Steves effort to make it happen despite his condition.

  10. You know me and my red rocks! Well, I am speechless and beyond words. What an experience! The entire area is so gorgeous! I am so very glad that you were able to keep your date with the Wave. Thanks for share so many photos. There are never too many photos of this beautiful area. I enjoyed ever shot…especially the two surfers:) Thinking of the both of you as Steve’s treatment progresses. Stay strong:) Better days are ahead:)

  11. Gorgeous pictures. Love the surfing one. Steve is an inspiration for tackling such a difficult task. I’m sending lots of positive energy and thoughts for Steve’s recovery.

  12. I will say to you both what has often been said to us. You are an inspiration to other full timers with serious health issues. It really is important to try and do the things you love and want to do as long and as often as you can any way you can. Keep the thought in mind that his cancer is beatable. Our motto with one that isn’t curable no matter what you do – so far – is to keep fighting until a cure is found.
    I’m so glad you did the 450 miles and hotel room to make going to the Wave possible. Beautiful sunrise. Those red rock pictures look HOT! Great pictures of the sandstone domes and the swirling strata. What a hike in. Boy your arrival time must have been perfect. Those are just awesome pictures, brilliant colors. The formations up top are spectacular too. Love that one of you gazing out. These may be the most stunning pictures of this I’ve ever seen. Riding the wave brought tears to my eyes. HATS OFF TO YOU BOTH in persevering through adversity!!

    • The wave and the landscape at the wilderness is beyond amazing. And yes Steve really made a big effort that we go to the wave and I appreciated it so much. In a way knowing that you and David are on the same journey that we are on, made us also feel better and not alone. Your motto and the determination to fight is very inspiring.

  13. Beautiful pictures, thanks for sharing. Speedy recovery to Steve, stay strong,

  14. A magical place that is beyond words! Thank you so much for all the photos…loved each one of them. Sending light, love and strength to you and Steve as you both push forward into the unknown future. Cindy P

  15. Just got some time to get into town and catch up on a few blogs, if not my own. 😦 I have always wanted to hike The Wave and hopefully will one day. Your photos are fabulous MonaLiza! We continue to pray for Steve’s full healing. Stay strong!

  16. Hi Steve and Mona Liza,

    Just want to let you know you’re both in our thoughts and prayers. God help you through this very difficult and trying time. And that you get back to that wonderful life of travel that has filled your lives with such unforgettable and beautiful memories.

    God bless and keep you well, Sonia and David London

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Thank you for your kind words. I am well enough that we are planning to get back on the road in a couple of weeks and are very excited about it!

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