Category

The Wave

Hiking the Wave in Arizona’s North Coyote Buttes

Arizona, The Wave

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

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: 20609
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA

Photos of the Wave, North Coyote Buttes

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

Arizona, Stories, The Wave

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

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: 20607
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA

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

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

Arizona, Stories, The Wave

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

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: 20644
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA

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

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

Arizona, Stories, The Wave

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

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: 20623
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA

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

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

Arizona, Photo of the Day, Stories, The Wave

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, North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona

Geometric joints and cracks form in eroding sandstone.
Image ID: 20610
Location: North Coyote Buttes, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona, USA

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