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The Wave

By on May 31, 2017 in Outdoor Fun with 0 Comments

By Lorna Rose

As we swerved around orange cones and navigated construction zones, we couldn’t help but steal glances at the jagged and craggy Wasatch Mountains, still shrouded in white, rising above the city.

The Wave.Against the mountains the downtown buildings and highrises of Salt Lake City looked small and insignificant.

It was February, and my husband, Nathan, and I were making our way to a town called Kanab on the Arizona border.

We had obtained a permit to hike The Wave, a sandstone formation in the Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness; you may have seen its dramatic and iconic features in photographs or on a screensaver.

Several months earlier I had put in for permission and, to my surprise, got a yes to hike the popular destination (The Wave receives around 50,000 applications a year, and only 7,300 people get permits).

Our dog Jax, a pitbull mix, lay in the backseat, alternating between tail wagging and head down, looking bored. He was probably half excited to be on the road with us, half wondering when the car ride would be over.

Indeed we had been on the road a while; we had departed Wenatchee the day before, spending the night in Twin Falls, Idaho. In another six hours we’d pull into a hotel in Kanab, grab dinner somewhere, organize our provisions for the next day’s hike, and turn in early.

The Wave’s official name is North Coyote Buttes. Geologically speaking, The Wave is comprised of Navajo Sandstone dunes that have calcified vertically and horizontally, turning into petrified, compacted rocks.

It’s a land feature at the end of a three-mile hike on trail-less terrain. In the interest of preserving the unique area, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the managing agency, grants access to only 20 people per day. It’s an out-and-back hike, for a total of six miles.

The next morning our CRV bumped and bounced down House Rock Road, the dirt drive that leads to the trailhead of The Wave. Eight miles later we were at the trailhead and the beginning of our adventure.

Dressed in long-sleeved hiking shirts and fleece jackets, we checked and double-checked our gear. We placed our permit on the dashboard, attached a copy to one of our daypacks, leashed Jax up, and set out.

The terrain was typical desert at first: sand, cacti, and low shrubs, and became more colorful as we hiked. Brown ripened to red, and the straight and flat became punctuated with plateaus and curves.

Information we’d received in the mail prior to our trip warned us that the hike necessitated strong route-finding skills because there was no trail to follow. It proved to be true.

If we weren’t hiking on slick rock, we were on soft sand with dozens of boot prints going in all directions, making it ill-advised to rely on them to find our way. GPS has failed many hikers here, so an old-fashioned map and compass is indeed very handy.

Hikers have gotten disoriented and perished doing this hike, so plenty of water is also in order. Physically speaking, I’d put the hike in the moderately strenuous category.

We still hadn’t seen another hiker, which kept us questioning if somehow we’d gotten off-track. But thanks to my husband, my better route-finding half, we successfully navigated our way.

Three miles after leaving our car, with sweaty shirts and hammering hearts, we were scrambling up a rust-colored hillside, giving Jax a boost on the soft sand.

Then suddenly we were there, a hill of red rock before us. It wasn’t tall; it was the kind of hill you’d run up in someone’s backyard. Except it was made entirely of red rock.

We stood for a moment and just stared in awe. It didn’t look real. It looked alive and fragile, like at any time this hill, this wave, would come crashing down on us.

I felt such exhilaration and joy that we got to come there and see it; I don’t think I stopped smiling as we explored.

The textured rock was stable enough to walk on, although I did need to watch my step on the uneven terrain. Everywhere we walked was another incredible view; it was as though we were walking through a photograph in a coffee table book.

Reds, oranges, and yellows enveloped us, forever changing how we see color in the natural world. An hour later, after walking the entirety of the formations and snapping lots of photos, we hiked out, stopping to chat with some hikers who had traveled from Germany.

We spent three more days in Kanab and the surrounding area hiking, enjoying scenic drives, and me attempting mountain biking (southern Utah is a premier mountain biking area, and I learned the hard way why I’m a road biker and will most likely stick to pavement).

Too soon it was time to head home. As our car pulled north and the red rocks disappeared in the rearview mirror, we talked about how awesome it all had been: our fortune in getting a permit, the satisfaction in finding our way to The Wave, and the ability to share it with Jax. I’m pretty sure I glimpsed a twinkle in his eye as we drove.

How to do it:

• Go to http://www.thewave.info/CoyoteButtesNorthCode/Permits.html for information and application to hike The Wave. It is a lottery system. December through February is their low season and your best chance of obtaining a permit. Twenty people total are granted permits each day: ten via an online lottery four months beforehand, and 10 are in-person walk-ins via lottery (if you are in the area and want to give it a shot, the BLM office is on the edge of Kanab as you head toward Page, AZ).

• More tips for obtaining a permit can be found here: http://localadventurer.com/the-wave-permits-coyote-buttes-north-vermillion-cliffs/.

• Be prepared with sturdy footwear, lots of water (the hike is very dry), and strong route-finding skills. Like the article states, there is no signed trail, and hikers have gotten disoriented and have even perished trying to find their way. Once you obtain your permit, the BLM will send you information about the hike. Read it. The hike itself is six miles roundtrip and moderately strenuous.

• If you take your dog, take care for rattlesnakes and other things. Bring water for him or her too.

• Wenatchee to Kanab is about 16 hours drive time. Twin Falls, Idaho is roughly halfway.

After nomadic living for several years, Lorna Rose got married and has called Wenatchee home for the past nine years. She also contributes to the Wenatchee Mom Blog. Currently she is writing a memoir about her time on a trail crew in Alaska.

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