The Wave - Arizona
The Wave is located in the Coyote Buttes North area of the Arizona Strip. There are two great photographic locations in Coyote Buttes North (The Wave and The Second Wave) and numerous minor ones including Top Rock Arch, Melody Arch and the Grotto, the Hooters, The Alcove, Sand Cove, and Fatali's Boneyard. The Wave is best photographed midday so as to minimize the extensive shadows, the other areas listed above are best photographed mid-late afternoon.The South Buttes also has many good features and is well worth visiting, as is the White Pocket and Edmaier's Secret. It can be difficult to get a permit to see the Wave. During the best months (April, May, September, October) there can be over 150 people applying for the ten daily permits. In the other months you usually have less than a 50% chance of getting one at the daily lottery. Your chances are better if you're going alone, or in December - February. If you do not win the lottery I suggest you get one for Coyote Buttes South, or go to the White Pocket which is east of Coyote Buttes South. I know of one person who was lost overnight in Coyote Buttes South, so use a GPS, mark the trailhead, and stay with your party. While a two wheel drive vehicle is adequate for the North Buttes, four wheel drive is required for the South due to deep sand. See the Information link above for more details about Coyote Buttes and the Wave.
Until a few decades ago only a handful of people knew about the Wave in North Coyote Buttes of the Paria Canyon Wilderness on the border of Utah and Arizona. Today there is a lottery to determine who gets in. Phenomenon is the word. Nothing else does it justice.
The undulating strata and spectrum of colors found in the sandstone walls of the Wave date back to the Great Pangean Desert of the Jurassic Period about 160-180 million years ago. Wind and water erosion carves, smooths, and reveals the layers of sand left here in great dunes and then compacted and mineralized (colors) into stone. While the Wave is a smooth, polished bowl of striped wind-swept sandstone, the same exotic rock is displayed in numerous forms, shapes, colors, and patterns throughout the guided hike to the Wave in North Coyote Buttes.
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The Wave is a sandstone rock formation located in Arizona, United States near its northern border with Utah. The formation is situated on the slopes of the Coyote Buttes in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness of the Colorado Plateau. The area is administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument visitor center in Kanab, Utah.
The formation is well–known among hikers and photographers for its colorful, undulating forms and the difficult hike required to reach it. Due to the fragile nature of the formation and the large number of people wishing to visit it, a daily lottery system is used to dispense only ten next–day permits in person at the Kanab visitor center. Additionally, ten online permits for each date are available four months in advance of a planned trip. A map and information about the hike is supplied to those who have obtained permits.
The Wave is a sandstone formation on the slopes of the Coyote Buttes in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, located in northern portion of the U.S. state of Arizona, just south of the Utah-Arizona border about halfway between Kanab, Utah and Page, Arizona.
The soft sandstone of The Wave is fragile, so one needs to walk carefully, not break the small ridges. A good time for photographing The Wave is the few hours around midday when there are no shadows in the center, although early morning and late afternoon shadows can also make for dramatic photos. After a recent rain storm, numerous pools form which can contain hundreds of tadpoles and fairy shrimp. These pools can be present for several days.
The Wave is not easy to find. In an effort to maintain the natural integrity of the region, there is no formal trail to The Wave. Most hikers are guided to The Wave either by GPS or a prominent landmark known as "the Black Crack," which is widely visible within the Coyote Buttes region. The Wave lies directly below the Black Crack. Hikers must choose their own route across the open desert, which requires traversing exposed sandstone, sand dunes, and sandy wash bottoms. It is not uncommon for hikers to get lost and never find The Wave.
In the spring of 2003, I have a clear memory of setting off for the third of five different hikes I have made to The Wave in North Coyote Buttes, a rare sandstone formation on the Arizona-Utah border that has become popularized by countless photographs.
I remembered the most treacherous part of that journey came with piloting my Chevy Tracker across a more-rutted-than-usual House Rock Valley Road.
The grader had yet to make its seasonal pass down the 30-plus-mile backway, and the crossing of the mucky wash for Buckskin Gulch nearly trapped me.
I arrived pre-dawn at the trailhead and — with a knowledge of the route and topography from two previous visits — set off with two agendas: to spend time at The Wave and to wander the high-desert lands around it in search of new features.
I found a nice pace along the dry wash of Wire Pass, took the spur trail out toward North Coyote Buttes and reached the bluff and saddle that marked the point of route-finding.
Like all hikers, I was on my own for the last leg of the three-mile hike to locate The Wave.
It’s hidden among the wild and complex jumble of slickrock, buttes, outcrops and sandy washes.
On this hike, I went up and over the saddle and I saw them: an older man and a middle-aged couple continuing straight on the other side of the saddle. They were headed in the wrong direction for The Wave. So, I called out for them.
The one guy looked over his shoulder, but they otherwise ignored me. I hurried down the sandstone slope and, when I cut the distance in half again, I yelled. They stopped.
“You’re going the wrong way,” I recalled saying as I pointed and caught my breath. “The Wave is in that direction.”
“Not according to the GPS,” the middle-aged man said. I guessed the woman to be his wife and the older man to be his father.
“Yeah, don’t follow that,” I said. “You need to stay higher up. If you go this way, it’s going to be longer. The sand will be deeper. Why don’t you just follow me? I’ve been there before.”
The middle-aged man considered this. I could tell the notion of following the younger guy in Chaco sandals and scruffy beard did not appeal to him. But his wife gave him that don’t-be-foolish look.
“Alright,” he said. Although they gave me a good distance ahead — as if not really following me — they stayed behind and ended up at The Wave. Had they continued in their previous direction, they would have never reached it. Or they would have needed to backtrack or, as evidenced by recent events, something worse.
I remembered this story after reading about three different people dying while hiking out to The Wave in the past month. Most recently, a 27-year-old woman named Elisabeth Ann Bervel of Mesa died on July 22 while hiking to The Wave. She was with her husband on their fifth anniversary. They left their two young children behind with relatives.
A few weeks earlier, on Independence Day, retired couple Ulrich and Patricia Wahli of Campbell, Calif., were found dead in 106-degree heat. And in July 2011, a 30-year-old California man who spent much of a day at The Wave and tried to return after nightfall died after falling into a slot canyon.
These fatalities, though tragic, are not surprising to me. The hike to The Wave is surprisingly easy to get lost along during the route-finding section. It is concealed in the landscape. It is not something in plain view on the horizon. Hikers need to know where they are going.
And getting turned around one time in remote slickrock country — without its cairns and missing footprints on the stone — is enough to get a person lost.
The Wave is also challenged by its popularity. The Bureau of Land Management has limited the number of people that can visit it in a single day. But people clamor for the chance to see it and don’t always make the best choices.
Last year, 48,264 people reportedly applied to visit The Wave, which has 7,300 permits available each year. Ten people a day get permits on online and 10 get them through a daily lottery held the day before in Kanab, 46 miles away from the hike.
The seemingly one-in-seven chance to see the formation are shakier odds than the primary years I visited.
This has created a scramble to grab a permit whenever available, even on 100-plus-degree days when the hike can be miserable — if not harrowing and potentially deadly. And in my experience, people with little hiking ability or background will go there because it has become a tourist attraction.
But they forget it is not Disneyland. It is backcountry wilderness.
It has been listed in many guidebooks and magazines as a “must-see.” And I am guilty of making such claims. I have written up The Wave multiple times. And when I do, I search for the choicest modifiers and descriptions to try to capture the pure wonder of stepping into a natural geologic masterwork.
In an October 2006 article I wrote: “It’s hallucination by sandstone. Ribbons of rock unfurl. It looks like layers of muscle. It feels like walking through a chamber of a giant heart, filleted open and bared to the sunlight. It is alive with movement.”
Still, I watched a family of four, with a 16-ounce bottle of water between them, head out to The Wave on a late start on one of my hikes. I’ve also seen people in poor choices in footwear and clothing trying to make their way out there. I think they probably read about it in a magazine, saw the spectacular photos and needed to see it for themselves.
I continue my accolades for North Coyote Buttes and The Wave. I urge and suggest people visit the most stunning of intimate sandstone sculptures and ready themselves to be moved and altered. But I also encourage everyone to take precautions.
Try to make it, but don’t obsess to make it in a way that leads to unwise choices. On a hot day, have a Plan B for the North Rim and a beautiful hike at 8,000-plus feet in the shade of an aspen grove. Survive to hike the desert again.
e place is among the most scenic hiking destinations in the entire Southwest, an expanse near the Arizona-Utah border so popular that officials use a lottery to decide who gets to walk its trails.
It’s known as The Wave and its signature landscape is among the most photographed in North America. But it might also be called the Devil’s Playground.
In the last month, three hikers have died here, falling prey to triple-digit summer temperatures and often-confusing landscape along the so-called Colorado Plateau and the dazzlingly colored sandstone patterns where no marked trail shows the way.
On Monday, Elisabeth Bervel, 27, of Mesa, Ariz., died of cardiac arrest after she and her husband left their two young children with relatives to hike in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument -- not far from Utah's Zion National Park -- in celebration of their fifth wedding anniversary, according to the sheriff’s office in Kane County, Utah.
Earlier this month, Ulrich and Patricia Wahli of Campbell, Calif., ages 70 and 69 respectively, were found dead near the site in 106-degree heat. And last year, a 30-year-old California man died after returning from The Wave after nightfall and falling into a canyon.
The fatalities have caused officials to reiterate warnings about the danger and isolation of the terrain.
Hikers are warned of the danger and provided pictures of prominent landmarks. There are also guides available. Still, many visitors strike out alone, making it harder to solicit others for an emergency rescue.
Officials allow only 20 hikers a day into the area, described in its website as “a gallery of gruesomely twisted sandstone, resembling deformed pillars, cones, mushrooms and other odd creations … with the unique blending of color twisted in the rock, creating a dramatic rainbow of pastel yellows, pinks and reds.”
More than 48,000 people applied last year for the 7,300 available permits, officials said. The shortage of permits means that many hike The Wave in the middle of summer.
Ten of the Wave’s 20 daily hiking permits are issued online many months ahead of time. The other 10 are issued by a lottery at the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument visitor’s center in Kanab, Utah, officials said.
Officials are now reviewing the permit system.
"It does come back to personal discretion, and making choices," Rachel Tueller, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Strip District of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, which controls The Wave, told the Associated Press. "Anytime you go out on public land, it's a risk. You have to know your own capabilities."
According to the sheriff’s report reviewed by the Los Angeles Times, the Bervels “lost the trail a couple of times on the way back, which would have been during the hot part of the day by then, and spent a couple of extra hours trying to find the correct path back to their vehicle.”
The report continued: “The couple of extra hours in the heat and hiking in the sand took their toll on Elisabeth and her legs finally gave out and she could go no farther. Anthony hiked for a ways to find a cellphone signal and made a call for help.”
Kevin Wright, manager of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, could not be reached for comment.
But the Kane County Sheriff's Department said the deaths make it clear the desert can be lethal.
"This event once again demonstrates the inherent risks associated with hiking in southern Utah's desert country. Even though the Bervels had tried to make sure they were prepared for this hike, the elements proved to be stronger," the department said in a statement.
“If you must hike, it is best to do it early in the morning, and make sure you have enough water and supplies.”
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