The surreal landscape of The Wave in Coyote Buttes on the border of Utah and Arizona
The hike to the Wave ended up being the central point in our entire excursion to the Utah/Arizona border region. As spectacular as all the other sights in the area may be, the Wave is the most difficult to visit legally. The Bureau of Land Management controls the real estate on which the Wave and the surrounding wilderness area are located. So, they set the rules for access there. The rules they have determined most suitable for access to the Wave is no more than twenty visitors per day.
Why twenty? I don’t know. But, twenty it is. Ten spots are given out in advance and ten spots are given out in a lottery each day for the following day. So, if you want to hike to Wave legally you need to apply in advance and be awarded a spot or show up and hope you win the lottery. The window for advance application is 120 days or less from the day you want to hike. So, 120 days out we applied for three different days and somehow won two spots for the Friday of our trip. No big deal, you might think. Well, some people have applied many, many times and not won a spot. Then, they show up at the BLM office and put their name in with thirty or forty others hoping to win a spot for the next day. There are lots of stories out there of people like us who have a limited window of time when they can hike and just don’t win a spot. Therefore, when we won a spot, we literally arranged our entire trip around our hike to the Wave.
One other influence on how we conducted our hike came around the time that we applied for our spots. Remember we were hiking in the fall of 2013. Our applications were being submitted in the summer of 2013. It turned out to be a pretty bad summer for hiking to the Wave in 2013. Three people died from heat exhaustion while hiking in the brutal heat of the summer. It turns out that when they call this a wilderness, they mean it. There are no markers to guide you. (Well, there is one rock cairn but it would be super easy to miss.) If you don’t know where you are going, it would be incredibly easy to miss the Wave altogether. It seems that ten or twenty percent of those who start the hike probably just give up in frustration and go back to the trailhead. In the heat of the summer, getting lost without adequate water could easily lead to heat stroke, heat exhaustion, dehydration, and even death.
Knowing all that, we hired a guide. It wasn’t cheap, but as it turned out, it was a really wise investment. I don’t know for certain that we would have gotten lost, but I can’t say for certain that we would have found the Wave either. It happened to be a great day to hike with temperatures in the fifties and sixties. So, I don’t think we would have become dehydrated or suffered from heat exhaustion. But, it wasn’t exactly obvious how to get to our destination. Having done it once, I could certainly get there again. I’m certainly glad we hired a guide for the day, though. The hike wasn’t overly long. Including one intentional detour on the way out we logged about eight miles.
The hike in was certainly worth the effort and the anticipation. I’ve never been anywhere remotely like the Wave. I honestly think you could drop most people down in the middle of that landscape and ask them where they were in the universe and many wouldn’t pick Earth! It’s that alien of a landscape. And it’s not just the Wave. The rock formations all around the area are just unbelievable. There are formations that look like hamburgers, brains, ice cream cones, and other wave-like scenes. It’s truly an incredible place to visit.
Interestingly, although the Wave is difficult to get permission to visit, it’s easy to photograph. We intentionally arrived mid-day when the Wave was in full sunlight. I missed the one classic shot of the Wave as a landscape oriented image in full sun. But, I like a lot of what I got. Also, it may appear that I have a polarizer on my lens because of the blueness of the sky. I didn’t though. The sky really was that blue. I suppose it’s the purity of the air in the desert. It’s truly beautiful. There’s more to come. Enjoy this for now.