It was my good fortune to be a lottery winner on my first attempt to get a permit to visit the Wave in northern Arizona. My brother, two of our friends, and I made the trek across the slickrock of the incredible landscape of the North Coyote Buttes in the Paria Canyon - Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness. With daytime highs hovering in the mid-90s (mid-30s C), we left the trailhead before sunrise to get well along the way before the sun began to heat-up all of the rock we'd be crossing.
A little-known geological wonder in the United States, the Wave is primarily visited by European tourists. Only twenty people per day are issued permits to go into the area to visit the Wave and other sites. Permits are issued by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that controls the wilderness area.
The distance from the trailhead to the Wave is approximately 3 miles (about 5 km) and it takes between 1.5 and 2 hours to cover. Based strictly on the terrain and distance, the hike is only moderately strenuous, but when combined with the common very high temperatures, lack of shade and water, and lack of a marked trail, the hike becomes extremely strenuous, and can border on the life-threatening. In fact, after arriving in nearby Kanab, Utah in preparation for the hike, we were shocked to learn that two people who had hiked to the Wave on July 3 had been found dead on July 4 by one of the first groups hiking in that morning. Tragically, the two perished having almost completing their return to the trailhead. Death was likely the result of the high temperatures, lack of water, and getting lost at a critical point during the return.
BLM officials are quick to remind people of the need to carry at least 1 gallon (4 L) of water per person for this hike, and to be proficient in way-finding to navigate the route. The BLM also provides permit-holders photographs and GPS coordinates of key landmarks along both the outbound and inbound trails between the Wave and the trailhead. They also advise hikers to get an early start to avoid the heat and to return before the hottest part of the day.
The Wave is located on a geological feature in the southwestern United States known as the Colorado Plateau. The plateau extends into the states of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah. The area previously lay beneath the surface of the Western Inland Seaway during the Cretaceous period about 92 million years ago. The layers of sandstone correspond to layers of sediment deposited on the floor of this shallow sea. Eventually plate tectonics began to reshape the area, causing uplift, and the buckling and folding of the layers that we can see today. Once above sea level, the land was now exposed to erosion by wind and water. These forces cut through the soft rock creating the wild landscapes found in this area today.
In this week’s photo, which was taken at about 8 am on a cloudless day, you get a view of the central portion of the Wave. The people sitting in the shade in the upper right provide scale. While not a large structure, the Wave is a spectacular example of nature’s prowess as a sculptor.
And the Wave is only one of the many incredible geological sites that can be visited in this area. I look forward to making a return trip to see places we weren't able to reach this time.
This photo was made using a Canon 5D MkIII with an EF 28-135 mm lens zoomed to 33 mm. Exposure was set to a shutter speed of 1/90 sec at f/16 with an ISO of 100.