The Wave, Natural History Photography Blog

The Wave Under Stars at Night, North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness

Filed under: Arizona, Astrophotography and Night Scapes, The Wave on 7/16/2013

Astrophotography and Night Photography at the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

The Wave, a fantastic area of ancient, stone-frozen sand dunes and tortured rock, is a real favorite of mine. Among photographers it is both something of a Mecca as well as a cliche. There are quite a few photographers who shun the Wave since it is so popular, while at the same time folks visit from around the world hoping to receive a permit to make the hike to this special place. I have made at least four trips there (see past blog articles about the Wave), although the last couple times it was mostly for enjoyment and few new images came out of the effort. I wanted to do something very different this time. After some brainstorming with night photography expert and road trip buddy Garry McCarthy, we came up with a rough plan, watched the weather closely and finally decided it was worth a try. The following few images came from our efforts. It really was spectacular being alone at night at the Wave, with a slight warm breeze and occasional critter noises being the only sounds other than our time exposure camera clicks. If you like these, please check out a larger selection of Landscape Astrophotography pictures on this website or on my new Landscape Astrophotography website. If you are curious how some of the lighting was done, here is a self-portrait of me lighting the Wave during a long time exposure.

The Wave at Night, under a clear night sky full of stars.  The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only
The Wave at Night, under a clear night sky full of stars. The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.
Image ID: 28621  
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
 

These images were shot on today’s today cameras, with top optics, and will print well up to 4′x6′. Please contact me if you are interested in canvas murals or aluminum prints for your home or office. Cheers and thanks for looking!

The Second Wave at Night.  The Second Wave, a spectacular sandstone formation in the North Coyote Buttes, lies under a sky full of stars, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona
Self-portrait, Luke Skywalker-style, the Second Wave at Night. The Second Wave, a spectacular sandstone formation in the North Coyote Buttes, lies under a sky full of stars.
Image ID: 28627  
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
 
The Wave at Night, under a clear night sky full of stars.  The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only
The Wave at Night, under a clear night sky full of stars. The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.
Image ID: 28623  
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
 

Photographing Antelope Canyon, The Wave, Buckskin Gulch and Horseshoe Bend

Filed under: Arizona, How To, Landscape, The Wave, Utah, Wisdom on 3/11/2009

I have been fortunate to visit and photograph a few of the iconic locations around Page, Arizona: The Wave, Antelope Canyon, Buckskin Gulch, Horseshoe Bend and Monument Valley. Recently, I shared some correspondance about these places with UK photographer David Sharp, whom I originally met at Brooks River a few years ago. Since I receive emails from other photographers about the Wave every few weeks, I decided to edit my comments to David and post them here for others to consider. Note that I am not what a true landscape photographer would call a true landscape photographer! I know what I am doing with a camera but do not have the dedication or time that is required to photograph landscapes, and these Southwestern landscapes in particular, properly. However, I do have clear impressions of these places and, not being shy, I am putting them out there. Furthermore, this website currently gets about 5000 visitors a day, so I am reasonably certain at least a few people would read this even if it was composed by a monkey at a typewriter which, in a sense, it is. On all of my trips through the American Southwest, visiting the places mentioned above plus Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, and Arches, I was pedal to the metal, flying, booking, jamming, screaming, etc. In other words, I had too little time and too far to drive, was all hopped up on caffeine, and tried to see it all. Naturally, that is not the best way to visit such special and serene places but it is how I, and many others, approach such a trip, especially those coming from far away to see the American Southwest for perhaps the only time in their lives. To photograph and experience these locations properly requires a more relaxed, contemplative and deliberate pace, one that I shall be sure to adopt when I turn 80.

Note that virtually all of photos on this website have GPS coordinates as well as links to Google Earth, taking you to the exact spot where they were taken, so there is no mystery where to go.

Rental Car: Assuming you are arriving in Las Vegas (NV) or Salt Lake City (UT), you will probably rent a car. Although none of these destinations requires one, I suggest that you rent a nice cushy SUV (the kind Americans love) when you arrive. It will make the little bit of off-roading you do more comfortable. Since some of the drives are quite long, having room in the back for your kids to spread out is helpful. Yes, you will burn gas — a lot of it. I realize that I am politically incorrect just mentioning the word “SUV”. Note that House Rock Valley Road, which is the dirt road that takes you to the Wave and Buckskin Gulch, can be a bit rough (but should not actually require 4WD) and having a larger SUV-type vehicle, with high clearance, makes the drive more pleasant. If there are long or deep muddy parts on the road, an SUV might actually make it possible to get to the trailhead whereas in a passenger (sedan) vehicle it could be more dicey. It all depends on the road conditions when you get there, there is no predicting those. If the conditions are truly bad, the road may simply be closed. Opting for the satellite radio on your rental SUV is important, since the variety of radio stations in this part of the country is quite slim with country/western and western/country being the only two choices.

Hiker in Buckskin Gulch.  A hiker considers the towering walls and narrow passageway of Buckskin Gulch, a dramatic slot canyon forged by centuries of erosion through sandstone.  Buckskin Gulch is the worlds longest accessible slot canyon, running from the Paria River toward the Colorado River.  Flash flooding is a serious danger in the narrows where there is no escape.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20716, all rights reserved worldwide.
Hiker in Buckskin Gulch. A hiker considers the towering walls and narrow passageway of Buckskin Gulch, a dramatic slot canyon forged by centuries of erosion through sandstone. Buckskin Gulch is the worlds longest accessible slot canyon, running from the Paria River toward the Colorado River. Flash flooding is a serious danger in the narrows where there is no escape. Buckskin Gulch, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20716  

Buckskin Gulch: Buckskin Gulch is easily accessed from the same trailhead that one uses to hike to the Wave: the “Wire Pass trailhead”. For this reason, if you are in the area to visit the Wave it makes perfect sense to visit Buckskin the day before or the day after you visit the Wave. Consider staying in Kanab, and just drive out to the Wire Pass trailhead each day for the two hikes. Kanab is quiet, simple and has a few good restaurants and plenty of hotels and motels. Watch your speed driving through Kanab or Officer Dummy may catch you in his speed trap. Camping at the Wire Pass trailhead is an option. However, since I do not like dirt and do not camp, I cannot advise about the camping there from personal experience. The drive from Kanab to Wire Pass trailhead, via Hwy 89 and House Rock Valley Road is, as I recall, about 30-45 minutes or so, quite easy except for perhaps a bit of the dirt House Rock Valley Road which may be muddy or a bit rough in some places. A half day, especially if you get started reasonably early (7am comes to mind) is enough for you to hike into the “upper reaches” of Buckskin Gulch, get into a few deep and really fun sections, and then return back out the way you came. A full day gives you further reach into the gulch. The alternative is to make a one-way trip down through Buckskin and Paria Canyon, but that requires overnights, permits, and arranging a pick up at the far end, and so the time investment is considerably more. Note that flash floods in Buckskin Gulch and Wire Pass Narrows are a real danger, and it is good to know where the exits to the gulch are as well as the weather forecast for the wider area (flash floods can be created by rain many miles away). It is possible to visit both Buckskin and the Wave in the same day. I did it last May. It was about a 15-17 mile day and tiring but I was in good shape and able to do it without problems. I even had time to catch a one-hour nap at the Second Wave waiting for sunset light. Do not underestimate the need for hydration on a day such as this. I drank about 10 liters of fluids and sweated out all of it (I think I peed only twice all day). Buckskin Gulch blog posts, Buckskin Gulch stock photos.

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah.  The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20608, all rights reserved worldwide.
The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only. North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20608  

The Wave: There is no denying the appeal of a sunrise hike to the Wave. At that hour the air is cool with perhaps a hint of dew, the surrounding hills and canyons are quiet and still, and within minutes of setting out one is alone. However, while you may be eager to get to the Wave early in the day, the photography at the Wave formation itself seems to me to be best in mid- to late-morning. By that time the sun has risen enough to fill the deeper parts around the main Wave formation for evenly lit photos. That said, during late spring, summer and fall, the cooler it is walking out to the Wave, the more comfortable you will be. The hike is about 3 miles one way, so plan on two hours at a easy but constant pace. The last part going up a sand hill is the most tiring. There is little shade once you are there, so be prepared for sun! Do not forget the Second Wave, which is only about a 5-10 minute walk from the main wave. You do not actually see the Second Wave until you round a knob of rock at which point you suddenly realize you are are practically on top of it. Although the spot is no secret, the GPS coordinates and Google Earth links alongside my photos will put you right on it. The light on the Second Wave is best just before the sun goes down at the end of the day, so if you stay for that photo it makes for a long day. In that instance you will hike out as the sky is growing dark but that’s ok, there is still plenty of light and, if you feel unsure of how to return, you can use your GPS to revisit your waypoints in reverse on the way back out. I should mention that both times I visited the Wave, I stayed until dark. As the day went on, there were fewer people around so that by 3pm I was alone, which was very nice. Blog posts about The Wave. Stock Photos of the Wave.

A hiker admiring the striated walls and dramatic light within Antelope Canyon, a deep narrow slot canyon formed by water and wind erosion.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #18009, all rights reserved worldwide.
A hiker admiring the striated walls and dramatic light within Antelope Canyon, a deep narrow slot canyon formed by water and wind erosion. Navajo Tribal Lands, Page, Arizona, USA.
Image: 18009  

Antelope Canyon Slots: These are just outside the town of Page and require virtually no effort to visit. They are on Navaho tribal lands, so accessing these slot canyons requires that you be on a tour or with a guide. The Upper Antelope canyon, which is the most iconic and photogenic, is the one that gets most crowded. If it is crowded when you are there just be patient and wait for the chamber(s) that you are photographing to clear out and then bang out your exposures before someone else walks in front of you. It can help to carry an electric cattle prod or pocket Taser to ensure the area where you are photographing remains clear of New Yorkers and Nikon photographers. OK, my bad on that last part. I highly recommend that you do not change lenses, there is simply too much dust. In fact, do not be surprised if you encounter another photographer tossing dust in the air to better define the light beams in his composition. If his forward technique does not balance harmoniously with your chi, you can rebalance the moment by tossing sand into his eyes to better define your opinion of his method. If I had to choose one lens to use to use at Antelope Canyon, it would be 16-35 (or either of Nikon’s 14-24 or 17-35) on a full-frame camera. On a second body I carry a 24-70 or similar. Those two should cover 95% of my needs in terms of focal lengths at Antelope. The LOWER canyon is, I hear, far less crowded and has very good photography as well. There are two types of “tours” to visit Upper Antelope Canyon: a normal tour (about 30-60 minutes) and “photo” or extended tour, the latter being more suitable for photographers who feel a need for more time in the slot. I went on an “extended” tour and had about 90 minutes at the canyon, with a 15 minute ride in a van from Page (we met the tour at a small storefront in Page). That was in winter. I understand that during much of the year the Navaho Indian tribe offers guide services (for a fee) right at the entrance to the Antelope Canyon area on the main highway, in which case you might save a little money over the tours that are arranged in the town of Page itself. However, all visits require some Navaho guide presence. If you are coming from far away I suggest that you just reserve a photo tour ahead of time to ensure that you have the time you need. It may cost a little more but at least you know you will be in the canyon at the right time of day, with enough time to relax and take photos. The only unknowns are weather and how crowded it will be on the day of your visit. Kids might get bored after half hour, so families might arrange for the shorter tour while the lone photographer in the family goes on a longer tour. I went to the Upper Antelope Canyon with Antelope Canyon Tours when I was there in Jan 2007. At that time we literally had the entire Upper Canyon to ourselves (a group of 5 people) for 90 minutes, with one 20 minute exception when another small group came by for a brief visit. However, in the winter the dramatic light shafts do not reach the floor of the slots. Those appear in summer, principally June and July, coincidental with the crowds. So if you want solitude in Antelope Canyon (or something approaching it), try it winter. If you want the cool beams, battle the crowds.

Horseshoe Bend. The Colorado River makes a 180-degree turn at Horseshoe Bend. Here the river has eroded the Navajo sandstone for eons, digging a canyon 1100-feet deep, Page, Arizona
Horseshoe Bend. The Colorado River makes a 180-degree turn at Horseshoe Bend. Here the river has eroded the Navajo sandstone for eons, digging a canyon 1100-feet deep.
Image ID: 26602  
Location: Horseshoe Bend, Page, Arizona, USA
 

Horseshoe Bend: If you are in Page, Arizona, you must find a bit of time for Horseshoe Bend. From a pulloff on the side of the highway just a few minutes outside town, an easy 10 minute walk takes one to the edge of the chasm that is Horseshoe Bend. It is so easy it would be a shame to miss it. Just be careful that Fido and the kids are paying attention since there are no rails or anything keeping you from falling in. (Give the personal injury lawyers time, I am sure there will be a fence and a “viewing area” that we are required to use eventually). If you stay in Page for the night, you might want to go photograph Horseshoe Bend at sunset, late morning and/or sunrise to see what you can get. I took this the above shot with a 16-35 at its widest.

Monument Valley panorama, a composite of four individual photographs.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20902, all rights reserved worldwide.
Monument Valley panorama, a composite of four individual photographs. Monument Valley, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20902  

Monument Valley: OK, in spite of how little experience I have in Monument Valley, I will add some words about it, since it is likely others travelling to Page will visit Monument Valley the same way that I did. I blew through there one day by myself on my way to Page, spending about 1 hour at one of the main viewpoints (where I think I paid $5 to the Navaho tribe at the gate and then drove my own car about 2-3 miles on an easy dirt road into the area and then back out, looking for view points, until I found the one above). The timing was good, I was there in the final hour of light, although having clouds would have helped. If you want to just make a quick stop in Monument Valley and visit only one of the easily-accessed viewpoints, I suggest you make it sunrise or sunset. (If you want to spend a full day at Monument Valley, you can arrange private guides that will take you deep into the area and show you views that are better and different, but I believe it will require most of a day to accomplish.)

Tech: For any of these locations, my photography equipment is quite simple and light, no need for any heavy stuff. Landscape shooting is simple compared to all the gear needed for underwater and/or wildlife shooting!

  • Two full-frame bodies (currently Canon 1DsII & 1DsIII)
  • Canon 16-35 II f/2.8 lens
  • Canon 24-70 f/2.8 lens
  • Canon 70-200 f/4 lens
  • Tripod with ball head, cable release, polarizers

If you found this information useful, please post the link to it and let others know. Cheers!

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Panorama of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

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Latitude: 36° 59' 45.38" N, Longitude: 112° 0' 22.42" W, Coord: 36.99594°, -112.00623°
Filed under: Arizona, Landscape, Panoramas, The Wave on 1/8/2009

The Wave, that much-photographed geological oddity on the border between Arizona and Utah. I spent some time there on my last visit trying to shoot appealing panoramas, but was not entirely satisfied, it is a tough landscape to capture that way. This was one of panorama photos I was happy with:

Panorama of the Wave.  The Wave is a sweeping, dramatic display of eroded sandstone, forged by eons of water and wind erosion, laying bare striations formed from compacted sand dunes over millenia.  This panoramic picture is formed from thirteen individual photographs.,  Copyright Phil Colla, image #20700, all rights reserved worldwide.
Panorama of the Wave. The Wave is a sweeping, dramatic display of eroded sandstone, forged by eons of water and wind erosion, laying bare striations formed from compacted sand dunes over millenia. This panoramic picture is formed from thirteen individual photographs. North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20700  
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
Click To View This Location in Google Earth.  You must have Google Earth installed for this feature to work correctly. View this Image in Google Earth!

Pano dimensions: 4661 x 25458
 

We’ve got permits for March and April already, and hope to get out there again this spring.

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Wire Pass Trailhead

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Latitude: 37° 1' 8.25" N, Longitude: 112° 1' 30.57" W, Coord: 37.01896°, -112.02516°
Filed under: Arizona, Photo of the Day, The Wave on 6/6/2008

If you are going to hike to Buckskin Gulch or the North Coyote Buttes, you will likely start at the Wire Pass trailhead. Here is what it looks like at 6am. The dirt road you see, on which the trailhead parking lot is located, is the House Rock Valley Road. The few times I have driven it, the road has been fine. However, it is an unpaved road and I have heard that, following rain storms, it can be nearly unpassable. Just to be safe I have always used a high clearance vehicle on the House Rock Valley Road. A few cars are in the trailhead parking lot, with hikers readying their stuff for the day’s outing or still snoozing in their campers if they spent the night there.

Wire Pass trailhead.  The parking lot at the Wire Pass trailhead, early morning, as hikers arrive and set out to Buckskin Gulch, the North Coyote Buttes and the Wave.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20745, all rights reserved worldwide.
Wire Pass trailhead. The parking lot at the Wire Pass trailhead, early morning, as hikers arrive and set out to Buckskin Gulch, the North Coyote Buttes and the Wave. Wire Pass, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20745  
Location: Wire Pass, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
Click To View This Location in Google Earth.  You must have Google Earth installed for this feature to work correctly. View this Image in Google Earth!

 

Here is a look at the Wire Pass Trail itself, which runs down a sandy wash. It is quite unexceptional, and does not begin to hint at the wonderful sights that it will lead one to in either the Wire Pass Narrows or at the Wave.

Wire Pass trail.  The Wire Pass trail runs along a river wash through sandstone bluffs and scattered trees and scrub brush.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20746, all rights reserved worldwide.
Wire Pass trail. The Wire Pass trail runs along a river wash through sandstone bluffs and scattered trees and scrub brush. Wire Pass, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20746  
Location: Wire Pass, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
Click To View This Location in Google Earth.  You must have Google Earth installed for this feature to work correctly. View this Image in Google Earth!

 
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The Wave, North Coyote Buttes, Vermilion Cliffs / Paria Canyon Wilderness, Arizona

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Latitude: 36° 59' 45.48" N, Longitude: 112° 0' 22.28" W, Coord: 36.995969°, -112.00619°
Filed under: Arizona, The Wave on 4/30/2008

The Wave is such a wonderful place, I still get excited looking at the images I photographed there a few weeks ago. I was fortunate to have near-perfect conditions to make my hike and take photos. I spent the entire day out among the North Coyote Buttes and would have stayed longer if overnight camping was permitted there.

OK, this is last time I post a photo of the Wave! Well, at least until next month, when I return for a second time to try some different techniques. I was lucky to get permits two months in a row in the lottery, for the two most sought-after months (April and May), so in late May I will go back, knowing what mistakes I made the first time around and hoping to correct them while they are still fresh in my mind.

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah.  The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20608, all rights reserved worldwide.
The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only. North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20608  
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
Click To View This Location in Google Earth.  You must have Google Earth installed for this feature to work correctly. View this Image in Google Earth!

 

The website has lots more photos of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

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Photo of the Second Wave

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Latitude: 36° 59' 35.76" N, Longitude: 112° 0' 29.22" W, Coord: 36.993269°, -112.00812°
Filed under: Arizona, The Wave on 4/28/2008

The Second Wave is found a few hundred yards from the Wave itself. While the Second Wave is characterized by striated sandstone in the same way that the Wave is, beyond that it is quite different in appearance, having a half-hourglass shape and being somewhat lighter in color. For photography the best light on the Second Wave occurs just before the sun sets behind the hills to the west, setting the ridges and striations in strong relief:

The Second Wave at sunset.  The Second Wave, a curiously-shaped sandstone swirl, takes on rich warm tones and dramatic shadowed textures at sunset.  Set in the North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah, the Second Wave is characterized by striations revealing layers of sedimentary deposits, a visible historical record depicting eons of submarine geology.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20606, all rights reserved worldwide.
The Second Wave at sunset. The Second Wave, a curiously-shaped sandstone swirl, takes on rich warm tones and dramatic shadowed textures at sunset. Set in the North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah, the Second Wave is characterized by striations revealing layers of sedimentary deposits, a visible historical record depicting eons of submarine geology. North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20606  
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
Click To View This Location in Google Earth.  You must have Google Earth installed for this feature to work correctly. View this Image in Google Earth!

 

Photos of the Second Wave, North Coyote Buttes

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Photo of Brain Rocks

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Latitude: 36° 59' 47.24" N, Longitude: 112° 0' 20.19" W, Coord: 36.996458°, -112.00561°
Filed under: Arizona, The Wave on 4/27/2008

Brain Rocks are found in the vicinity around the Wave. Here are some sporting a view across the Navaho sandstone of the North Coyote Buttes:

Brain rocks, curious sandstone formations in the North Coyote Buttes.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20611, all rights reserved worldwide.
Brain rocks, curious sandstone formations in the North Coyote Buttes. North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20611  
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
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Photos of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

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Photo of the “Heart of the Wave”, North Coyote Buttes

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Latitude: 36° 59' 45.48" N, Longitude: 112° 0' 22.28" W, Coord: 36.995969°, -112.00619°
Filed under: Arizona, The Wave on 4/26/2008

Sitting on the rim of the main bowl of the Wave — right where the photograph below was taken — I watched a couple of hikers arriving. There reaction was natural: no sooner did they step foot through the entry passage than they looked around at the strange surroundings in awe. As one of them walked toward me, she turned around and suddenly said “Oh, its the Heart of the Wave!” She must have recognized the view (below) that is oft-repeated in photographs, and her name for this view must have been coined by someone before her. It seemed quite fitting to me. So thus it is, the Heart of the Wave:

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah.  The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20625, all rights reserved worldwide.
The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only. North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20625  
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
Click To View This Location in Google Earth.  You must have Google Earth installed for this feature to work correctly. View this Image in Google Earth!

 

What process produced this geologic oddity? Diagenic coloration arising from stratigraphic relationships among the sandstone layers. Navaho sandstone, almost 200 million years old, was formed from what were formerly sand dunes, compressed and hardened into their current stony form. The colorations stems from iron oxides (think rust!) such as goethite and hematite, with colors ranging from oranges and yellows to salmon, reds and purples.

Photos of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

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The Wave in the North Coyote Buttes: The Perfect Skatepark?

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Latitude: 36° 59' 45.48" N, Longitude: 112° 0' 22.28" W, Coord: 36.995969°, -112.00619°
Filed under: Arizona, The Wave on 4/25/2008

Before X-Games and Tony Hawk, nay even before Bahne skateboards, Chicago trucks and Cadillac wheels, there was the Wave. Formed in the days before mankind walked erect, indeed before there was a mankind, God created the ultimate skatepark, one that has yet to be improved upon. The Wave has waited through the eons as man developed lungs, legs, self-awareness, bipedal balance and, finally, sufficient disregard for his own survival to Ride the Board. Hidden in the parched desert of northwestern Arizona, the Perfect Skatepark has been gently, slowly, delicately carved by the winds and sands of time, eroded into unsurpassed contours of verticality that beckon those Most Evolved Humans, the ones who heed the call to bend gravity through a 720° mobius. On Any Given Sunday only a fortunate 20 are chosen to visit by The Man. I have finally lain eyes upon the Perfect Skatepark and my Skate Perspective will never be the same. Ride on bro.

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah.  The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20614, all rights reserved worldwide.
The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only. North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20614  
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
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Photos of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

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Photo of Diagenetic Coloration in Sandstone, North Coyote Buttes

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Latitude: 36° 59' 31.26" N, Longitude: 112° 0' 32.01" W, Coord: 36.992017°, -112.00889°
Filed under: Arizona, The Wave on 4/24/2008

Not far from the Second Wave is a broad swatch of sandstone displaying exellent examples of diagenetic coloration, various iron oxides producing different colors in the Navaho sandstone strata, dating from the Jurassic era:

Striations in sandstone tell of eons of sedimentary deposits, a visible geologic record of the time when this region was under the sea.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20612, all rights reserved worldwide.
Striations in sandstone tell of eons of sedimentary deposits, a visible geologic record of the time when this region was under the sea. North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20612  
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
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Photos of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

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Hiking the Wave in Arizona’s North Coyote Buttes

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Latitude: 36° 59' 45.48" N, Longitude: 112° 0' 22.28" W, Coord: 36.995969°, -112.00619°
Filed under: Arizona, The Wave on 4/23/2008

Walking around the area surrounding the Wave in Arizona’s Paria Canyon / Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, one is certain to find this interesting alcove. During the time of day that it lies in shade, it receives only deep red light reflected from neighboring walls. That, combined with its own coloration, results in some parts of the wall taking on nearly purple shades.

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah.  The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20609, all rights reserved worldwide.
The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only. North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20609  
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
Click To View This Location in Google Earth.  You must have Google Earth installed for this feature to work correctly. View this Image in Google Earth!

 

Photos of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

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A Day At The Wave, North Coyote Buttes, Part IV

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Latitude: 36° 59' 45.48" N, Longitude: 112° 0' 22.28" W, Coord: 36.995969°, -112.00619°
Filed under: Arizona, Stories, The Wave on 4/22/2008

Once I reached the Wave and got over my initial wonder, I began to wander around and explore the whole area. For a photographer it is hard not to start taking photos as soon as one sets foot inside the Wave. Just like everyone else, I immediately shot some pics, but then set the camera back in the bag and left the main bowl of the Wave behind for a while. While the Heart of the Wave, as the main bowl is sometimes called, is the natural focal point for first time visitors, the surrounding brain rocks, alcoves, layered and cross-hatched sandstone are all curious and mesmerizing in their own right. After a few hours exploring I found that what caught my interest the most were the details within the heart of the Wave itself. The more prominant striations seem like ribs on the inside of some great geologic abdomen, holding the skin taut. It is amazing to think of the years of Jurassic history represented by the countless layers seen so beautifully in cross-section in the Wave.

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah.  The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20607, all rights reserved worldwide.
The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only. North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20607  
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
Click To View This Location in Google Earth.  You must have Google Earth installed for this feature to work correctly. View this Image in Google Earth!

 

The wind did strengthen during the day, but it could hardly be felt within the heart of the Wave itself. The bowl-shaped Heart of the Wave and the surrounding cones and bluffs made it nearly dead-calm within the bowl. Hiking up and out of the bowl to explore the shoulders of the ridge and up towards the alcove and notch high above, I encountered some stiff wind that grew stronger as the day went on.

There were some other visitors at the Wave, of course. Interestingly, at least a third of the visitors the day I was there were German: three independent couples all making multi-week trips through the American Southwest (e.g., Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands, Grand Canyon, Monument Valley, Bisti Badlands, Page, etc.) One German fellow, who had been to the Wave twice previously, kindly pointed me to the “Second Wave“, which I hoped to photograph at sunset. He also informed me that the Wave has become particularly popular with Germans after it was featured in a movie. Most of the other hikers arrived some time after me and left earlier in the day, so it was not hard for me to find solitude during the day. In fact, everyone else had left by about 3pm, so I had the entire Wave area to myself from that point on. It was perfectly quiet with the exception of wind gusts sounding on the ridge above and the occasional bird. I stayed until sunset and hiked out in the dark. Once I left the becalmed heart of the Wave and hit the trail, I was met head-on with a stiff, sand-filled wind. In spite of the dark I kept my sunglasses on, hitched up my jacket and jammed back to the car, trying to ignore the constant trickle of sand slipping between my neck and collar. Once in the car I blazed back through Kanab, Hurricane, St. George then on to Vegas arriving after midnight. A great day, but killer tiring.

More in the coming days.

Photos of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

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A Day At The Wave, North Coyote Buttes, Part III

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Latitude: 36° 59' 45.48" N, Longitude: 112° 0' 22.28" W, Coord: 36.995969°, -112.00619°
Filed under: Arizona, Stories, The Wave on 4/21/2008

The walk to the the Wave is really not all that difficult. There are only a few hundred feet of elevation gain, and it is only about 3 miles from trailhead to the Wave proper, so one would be hard-pressed indeed to consider it anything more than a moderate hike. The terrain is wonderful and varied: striated and eroded sandstone slopes, dramatic buttes and a number of large cones are seen along the way. Some of the trail is soft sand, while the rest is sandstone slickrock. Lightweight hiking boots (the kind with grippy soles for adhering to the slickrock) or running shoes are what is called for in this area. I tried to use my walk as a workout in lieu of my daily run, travelling out to the Wave at a fairly quick clip, only stopping once for a photo. Nevertheless, in spite of the pace I was able to admire the grand surroundings that rose up around me. About 60 minutes after leaving the trailhead I reached the top of the final sandy section of the trail and had arrived at the entrance to the Wave. Turning around to view the area I had just covered gave this view. Note the bluff in the distance, in the upper left of the photo: the entire bluff is an amazing cross-hatched display of stratified sandstone, with every shade of red, yellow and orange imaginable. In the foreground is the bowl-like entrance to the Wave. More tomorrow.

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah.  The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20644, all rights reserved worldwide.
The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only. North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20644  
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
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In case you want some GPS coordinates, here are the ones I logged on my walk. They roughly correspond to the GPS coordinates provided by the BLM, with a couple additional ones thrown in for good measure. I found that my GPS differed from the BLM waypoints by 50-100′ or so and decided it was best to store my own series of waypoints on my walk to the Wave since I was planning to return to my car after sunset in enough darkness that I would not be able to rely on the visual cues that make the hike simple in the daytime. (As it turned out the return to the car was still pretty straightforward after sunset, in spite of the lack of light — I did not need to use the GPS.)

37.02000, -112.01589 (Wire Pass trailhead)
37.01723, -112.01313
37.01541, -112.00893
37.01311, -112.00835
37.01015, -112.00832
37.00328, -112.00689
36.99945, -112.00633
36.99597, -112.00619 (The Wave)

Photos of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

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A Day At The Wave, North Coyote Buttes, Part II

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Latitude: 36° 59' 45.48" N, Longitude: 112° 0' 22.28" W, Coord: 36.995969°, -112.00619°
Filed under: Arizona, Stories, The Wave on 4/20/2008

The last 20 minutes of my flight to Vegas were crazy, with the plane dipping and bobbing all over the place in the wind. The steward seemed to enjoy it, stating that it was just normal flying conditions for Vegas when summer approaches and the weather warms up, so I figured it was no big deal. However, driving from Las Vegas to northwest Arizona on Tuesday afternoon I was pretty worried. The winds were HOWLIN’ and visibility was down to about 2-3 miles, with occasional near-whiteouts. There was no way any photography could be done in those conditions, and I figured if the winds did not subside significantly by the next day my visit to the Wave would be a big bummer. The big fat gas-guzzling SUV rental I was driving was getting buffeted as I made my way from Hurricane to Page on Highway 89. In fact, I wondered whether it would be a mistake even to simply hike to the Wave (leaving my camera junk behind), given the unrelenting winds and the frequent very strong gusts. I made a stop at the BLM station to get some advice about what to look for on my hike other than the Wave itself, and they sort of laughed at me and wished me good luck dealing with the wind, suggesting it might be a good idea for me to take a parachute (wa-huh?). After a pause, one of the rangers informed me that the entire state of Arizona was awash in a Navaho dust storm, and indeed the sky was quite red. But, he said, a cooler front advancing down from the northwest was due to arrive Tuesday night, and would (hopefully) settle things down a bit. OK, I thought, hope springs eternal.

Wednesday morning in Page dawned much cooler (cold actually) and calmer, with just a twitter of movement on the tips of the tree branches. By 6:30am I was on Highway 89 for the 30 minute drive to House Rock Valley Road, and was at the Wire Pass trailhead by about 7:30am. Not a cloud was in the sky and the air was clear, no longer filled with dust. The sky was deep blue (great for photos) and there was still very little wind. It looked as if cool temperatures (which I prefer when hiking) were to be the order of the day. All looked promising! There were a few other people at the trailhead as well, putting on shoes and adjusting packs and locking their cars. One family had their dog with them; what a great day for a hike with the dog I thought, telling myself that our old dog Bailey (who had passed on a few years ago) should have been here with me too. And so I began my walk to the Wave.

The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah.  The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20623, all rights reserved worldwide.
The Wave, an area of fantastic eroded sandstone featuring beautiful swirls, wild colors, countless striations, and bizarre shapes set amidst the dramatic surrounding North Coyote Buttes of Arizona and Utah. The sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, date from the Jurassic period. Managed by the Bureau of Land Management, the Wave is located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and is accessible on foot by permit only. North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20623  
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
Click To View This Location in Google Earth.  You must have Google Earth installed for this feature to work correctly. View this Image in Google Earth!

 

I should mention that when your permit to visit the Wave arrives in the mail, it is accompanied by a three page set of directions for finding the Wave amongst the rolling sandstone bluffs and sand dunes. Azimuth headings are provided for those using a compass, while latitude/longitude coordinates are given for five waypoints between the trailhead and the Wave for those using GPS. Hmmm, this looked serious. Rangers and other authorities are always telling us to take the outdoors seriously, don’t underestimate the risks involved in hiking in the wilderness, and other stuff like that — and usually I sort of note it and file it away, recalling it after I’ve gotten myself in trouble. Also, I had read some comments on the internet about how tough the hike to the Wave was (not knowing these were apparently fairly inexperienced or unfit hikers). However, better safe than sorry this time. Not being a desert expert and not knowing what to expect, I brought both my GPS and compass, but really did not need either. The directions, which included some annotated photos identifying major features along the trail, were more than sufficient. The fact that one couple was ahead of me, leaving their footprints where the trail was sandy, also helped a little. At least if they were lost, I was lost with them. I did check my GPS against the waypoints provided in the directions and they matched reasonably well. The conditions were so perfect for walking that it was hard to imagine how I could go wrong. But considering the surroundings, I could see how a hiker could become lost easily in the North Coyote Buttes area if the weather turned bad, or stayed out past sunset and was unable to find the visual landmarks needed to return to the trailhead at the end of the day.

Photos of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

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A Day At The Wave, North Coyote Buttes, Part I

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Latitude: 37° 0' 24.53" N, Longitude: 112° 0' 27.64" W, Coord: 37.006814°, -112.00768°
Filed under: Arizona, Photo of the Day, Stories, The Wave on 4/19/2008

I have long heard comments from hikers and landscape photographers about the beautiful and bizarre sandstone formations of the North Coyote Buttes area of Arizona. I am not a serious landscape photographer nor am I a what you would consider a “desert lover”. However, on a lark, I decided to apply for a permit for a hiking permit to the Wave, a particularly fantastic and odd section of the North Coyote Buttes. The Wave is so popular that the Bureau of Land Management must limit access to the Wave to only 20 people per day, by lottery. Summer is to be avoided due to the heat, and winter is not particularly pleasant due to cold and possible ice, snow or rain out there. Spring and Fall are the times to go. In spite of my applying for the most popular time of year, I lucked out and scored a permit. It came in the mail about 5 weeks later, along with some cool topo maps and directions to find the Wave amid the crazy random sandstone confusion that is the North Coyote Buttes. (More about finding the Wave in future posts.)

Geometric joints and cracks form in eroding sandstone.,  Copyright Phillip Colla, image #20610, all rights reserved worldwide.
Geometric joints and cracks form in eroding sandstone. North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA.
Image: 20610  
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA
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As my permit date (April 16) approached, I was besieged with work and family responsibilities, and it became clear that I would not be able to take a proper four- to seven-day trip allowing me to explore the area immediately around the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument (in which the Coyote Buttes and the Wave are located), which includes cool places like Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, Antelope Canyon, Buckskin Gulch, etc. Instead I pulled a virtual overnighter, hopping the hooker flight to Vegas on Tuesday, driving four hours to Page, getting up at dawn on Wednesday, hitting the trail, spending the whole day out in the area of the Wave exploring and admiring the sandstone formations, getting back to my car after sunset, driving back to Vegas, settling down in some nasty hotel next to the airport (should have stayed on the Strip, what was I thinking), finally hitting the sack at 1am only to rise at 4:30am Thursday for a 6am flight back to San Diego. Back in my office at 8:30am on Thursday. Door to door about 40 hours. Whew. It was worth it though: it was one of the coolest hikes I have ever taken, and I am looking forward to going back to look around the area more.

Photos of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

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