Coyote Buttes, Coral Pink Sand Dunes and Dinosaur Tracks!

After my amazing, wonder-filled visits to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks it was time to move on to yet another place that had long been on my “bucket list”. I read about “The Wave” (part of Coyote Buttes North in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument) years ago and decided then that I must hike it one day. I guess I was almost as intrigued by degree-of-difficulty in obtaining a permit as I was the geological wonder of the rock formation itself.

Obtaining a permit to The Wave is tricky. Only 20 permits are issued per day, 10 of which are booked well in advance online, and the other 10 are issued in a daily lottery at the BLM office in Kanab, Utah. I had no idea how many people would be vying for those 10 permits or what my chances would be, but found a spot at the Crazy Horse Campground in Kanab and allowed myself four days there in hopes of snagging one of those coveted permits.

The first morning I was at the BLM office by 8:30 as directed, filled out my form, and walked down the hall to the lottery room feeling very hopeful. My hope diminished substantially when I walked in the room and found myself surrounded by 70-80 other hopeful hikers. One by one the permits disappeared, and I found myself holding my breath as the last number was drawn. Ten people remained in the room for the “low-down” on doing this hike. I was not one of them.

When I returned to the campground I visited with the manager there about other things to see and do in the area. He suggested that Coyote Buttes South was also well worth seeing. This also requires a permit, but they are much easier to obtain. In addition, it’s off-road through rugged and remote terrain and way beyond cell service, which meant that I’d be foolish to traipse out there on my own in “Zippy” (my trusty tow car… a Honda CRV… which has never failed me off road.) The manager, whose name eludes me, put me in touch with Paria Outpost & Outfitters. It’s rare I pay for a “tour” of any kind, but this turned out to be my best option.

I had to forgo my trip to the BLM office the following morning in order to make it to my early meet-up with fellow tourists, Nadine and Martin from Germany, and our Paria Outfitters guide, Mike. After a round of introductions we set out for Coyote Buttes South and White Pocket both a part of Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness on the northern edge of Arizona.

We drove deep into the desert in Mike’s “trusty steed.” I don’t recall what kind of SUV it was, but I was glad it was big, sturdy and AWD! Zippy would not have made it out alive! 🙂 We spent the entire day driving and hiking in the desert, enjoying Mike’s historical and geological tidbits and humor all along the way. This is a tour well worth taking if you find yourself heading toward Page AZ and/or Kanab UT.

I continue to be in awe of this world’s natural wonders. Coyote Buttes South was no exception…

Eroded sandstone hillside in Coyote Buttes Southdetail of eroded sandstone in Coyote Buttes South

Chimney-like formation in Coyote Buttes

Chimney-like formation in Coyote Buttes

Paria Canyon, Utah, Arizona

Colorful “teepees” of Coyote Buttes

Paria Canyon

Dinosaur track in Coyote Buttes

Paria Canyon

Arrowhead found in Coyote Buttes, and left in Coyote Buttes

Paria Canyon

Coyote Buttes

Paria Canyon

On the trail in Coyote Buttes

Paria Canyon

Colorful geological wonder, Coyote Buttes

Paria Canyon

As if to confirm the magic… ray of light shines on Coyote Buttes

Paria Canyon

“Teepees” tower high in Coyote Buttes

Paria Canyon

Thin sheets etched in the sandstone over time, Coyote Buttes

And then there was White Pocket, also a part of the Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness area…


Silhouette “selfie” in White Pocket, Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness

Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona

Hiking amongst the sedimentary layers in White Pocket


White Pocket, Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness

Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness

White Pocket

Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness

Lone tree in White Pocket

Lichen leave “etchings” in the white sandstone throughout White Pocket. These etching are far from exclusive to this area, but they were apparent everywhere I looked. Interestingly, while looking for information to share I came across this article by Jeff Mitton (a professor at the University of Boulder), which happens to include detail about the etchings in the white sandstone of Vermilion Cliffs.

White Pocket, Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Arizona

Lichen “etchings” in the white sandstone

Day three started with another trip to the BLM office in hopes of obtaining a Coyote Buttes North/Wave permit. With even more anxious hikers in the lottery than before, I wasn’t surprised to walk away empty handed again.

When I arrived back at my motorhome I got chatting with my new neighbors (David, Judy and Lee)… friends of one another from Alberta who were traveling in two different motorhomes. I was invited to join them for coffee, and a short while later we all set out together in search of dinosaur tracks! Along the way we stopped to see (and climb as it turned out) the Coral Pink Sand Dunes


Coral Pink Sand Dunes

New friends David, Judy and Lee

New friends David, Judy and Lee


Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Utah

Rare shot of me doing what I do. Photo credit- Judy Cornish of Alberta Canada

Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Utah

Heavy winds sweep the dune

Lone purple cactus

Lone purple cactus

Once again I was glad to be the passenger in a big and sturdy AWD rig because the off-road trek to Moccasin Mountain Tracksite would have been far too much for Zippy to handle! This place was fascinating! With brochure in hand we set out in search of the fossilized footprints left by dinosaurs that roamed here 185 million years ago. There are no signs or markings of any kind, and the “track site” area is about the size of a football field. Finding the tracks took a while, but once we found the first set it was just plain fun tracking down more!

There are at least six different kinds of foot prints preserved here, and in the case of many you can actually follow their steps. I, of course, could not resist “walking in their footsteps”… attempting to match their strides and guess their size. I was amazed at the short gates of some, and the larger gates of others. In researching I discovered that the larger ones, like the three-toed track below, belonged to 15-18 foot carnivores. <Gulp> It’s not hard to let your imagination run wild with the comings and goings in this canyon all those millions of years ago.

Moccasin Mountain Tracksite, Utah

Kayentapus footprint

Kayentapus tracks

Kayentapus tracks

Dinosaur print, Moccasin Mountain Tracksite Dinosaur print, Moccasin Mountain

Dinosaur footsteps, Moccasin Mountain Tracksite, Utah

Dinosaur print, Moccasin Mountain Utah

Moccasin Mountain Tracksite, Utah

Grallator track

Dinosaur track, Moccasin Mountain Tracksite, Utah

Dinosaur tracks, Moccasin Mountain Tracksite, Utah

Dinosaur tracks in the sandstone, Moccasin Mountain Tracksite, Utah

What a splendid way to spend a gorgeous day (albeit cold and windy) in southwest Utah… in search of dinosaur tracks and climbing sand dunes. It was like being a kid again! All the better because it was a day shared with new friends! It’s not often that I get to share my adventures with others, so this was indeed a blessing to me. Thank you David, Lee and Judy… for including me in your outing! I do hope to see all three of you when I make my way to Alberta!

Colorful mesa near Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Utah

So… I KNOW you’re all as anxious as I was to know if I obtained my Wave permit! (Actually, probably not but let’s pretend!) I had one more chance… one more morning set aside to trek back into that BLM office with my fingers crossed. Unfortunately this blog post is full, so you’ll have to wait for the next one to find out!!! 🙂

The sun is shining outside my windows and the girls and I are in need of a hike! The tale will continue soon. I promise!


6 thoughts on “Coyote Buttes, Coral Pink Sand Dunes and Dinosaur Tracks!

  1. It was so nice to meet you during the tour to the Coyote Buttes South! We really enjoyed reading your blog post (actually all of them, but this one specifically) and the photos are amazing. We’re looking forward to your next post, especially because you left us with this cliffhanger, ha, ha!

    • It was wonderful to meet you two as well Nadine! So glad to know you’ve enjoyed so much of the US in your travels. I’m slipping off-grid into the desert for a few days, but will get on the next post upon my return! 🙂

  2. Your stories and pictures of Utah have all been amazing!!! I’m sure you can imagine how much we loved seeing all the sites on our Harleys, Utah is definitely one of our favorite states to tour. I think some of your pictures need to become part of our “art gallery”!! You were right about the advantages of waiting. Hope you have a great New Years Eve!!!

    • Thanks Susan. Yes, I can well imagine how amazing the state would be from the seat of a motorcycle. A gallery collection of Utah awaits you when the time is right! 🙂 Wishing you two many blessings for the New Year!!

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