Experiencing “The Wave”

At last writing I left you all wondering if I ever got my coveted permit to hike “The Wave”. Sorry to leave you on the edge of your seats longer than I had planned. After several days of “off-grid” tent camping in Anza Borrego Desert I’m back online to finish the tale. (If you didn’t see the previous post you might want to catch up there before reading on… Coyote Buttes, Coral Pink Sand Dunes and Dinosaur Tracks!)

The Wave is an unusual sandstone rock formation etched by nature into the slopes of the Coyote Buttes, in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. Permits for this hike (only 20 per day) are highly coveted by hikers and photographers who travel to this area from around the world hoping for the experience. Of the twenty daily permits 10 are issued by lottery each morning in the BLM office in Kanab, Utah. (My first two hopeful attempts are shared in the previous post.)

Before describing my last ditch effort at a permit I should tell you what I already knew about hiking The Wave… long before my arrival. My desire to hike The Wave was, in fact, the reason a ventured to Kanab in the first place. (Other gems I discovered in the area can be found in the previous post as well.)

The Wave is not a particularly long hike… about 3 miles in from the trailhead, (6-7+ miles round trip if you explore the surrounding area) but it is a rugged trek across, up and down exposed sandstone, sand dunes, and sandy washes. The thing to note is that there are no marked trails in this exposed desert, which can reach well over 100 degrees during summer months. Navigational skills, smart preparation, and good health are crucial when doing this hike. Sadly, many have died trying… three last July I understand. (My experience was in mid November)

Knowing all of that I still made my way back to the BLM office one last time in hopes of obtaining a permit for the following day… my last in the area. When the clock struck nine the gathered crowd of hopeful hikers hushed. There were 30-40 of us this time… better odds. I recognized many of them from previous mornings. When I was issued number thirteen I let out an audible gasp, and I’m not even superstitious! One by one the numbers were plucked out of that little turning ball. One by one I watched my chances diminish, and with each we were told, “7 down, 3 to go. 8 down, 2 to go. 9 down, 1 to go. Last draw…” and once again the balls started spinning… klickety, klickety, klick… for what seemed like 5 minutes, while I sat there holding my breath. “And the last number is… … … 13!”  I did my best to contain myself as the unlucky ones slunk out of the room.

The rest of us stayed for instructions, guidance literature, our permits, and “the lecture”. Later I heard some grumbling about the lengthy oration on the risks and how to prepare for this hike. I didn’t mind. Obviously it’s important. The information they shared can clearly make a difference between life and death for some. Much of it was basic… carry enough food and water, wear a hat and sunscreen, carry map and compass or GPS device, pack it in-pack it out… but they also stressed how and why things go wrong. I can attest to the fact that no one walks away with a permit in hand without knowing what they’re getting in to.

These were my safety measures;

  1. Paid extra to take my dogs along on the hike
  2. Notified two people of my plans, and supplied them with coordinates and emergency phone numbers in case they didn’t hear from me when I expected to be back in cell range (nonexistent in that desert)
  3. Carried enough water for myself and the dogs (2+ gallons)
  4. Wore multiple layers of clothing (most of it stripped off early) and a hat
  5. Announced to the other 9 permit holders that I would be hiking solo the following day and what kind of car I drive (hard to miss the kayak atop my Honda in the desert)
  6. Set out early to avoid the hottest part of the day and to insure I would not be the last one off the trail
  7. And, understanding that finding your way back is much harder than finding your way in, I frequently turned around and took pictures of where I’d just come from… my finger in each image pointing at landmarks to look for on the way back. (I referenced these images on my camera several times on my way out!)
Hiking "The Wave"

Pointing the way out

I was filled with excitement when I loaded the girls, my backpack and camera gear into the car well before daylight, and my excitement only grew during the 38 mile drive east on Highway 89. I had been dreaming of doing this hike for more years than I could remember! From the turn-off I had another 8.3 miles of rugged off-roading to reach the trailhead. A few of the other hikers arrived as I set off into the desert with the girls.

Jazzy and Sadie were so thrilled to be off-leash on the trail with me they could hardly contain themselves. They easily put on twice the distance for the first mile or two out… excitedly running ahead and then back to me, slowing only long enough to sniff at things before darting ahead again. These dogs actually smile, Sadie with her mouth and Jazzy with her eyes. In addition, Jazzy, who is normally very mellow, does what I describe as her “shuck-n’-jive dance” when she gets excited. There was plenty of all of that going on out there. They love it when I laugh at them which makes them do it all the more!!

In the cool of the morning the hike was not difficult. Hiking in the sand is always a good workout which I never mind. I knew though, that hiking across the hard and rugged sandstone would take its toll on all of us by days end, especially downhill.

I don’t recall how long it took us, but we found our way to The Wave without incident, and since mine was the first car at the trailhead I wasn’t surprised no one else was there. When we crested the final hill and stepped into this magical wonder… even after seeing a gazillion pictures of the place… I still gasped in amazement. Jazzy and Sadie seemed in awe as well, and we spent a good twenty minutes wandering alone… around the bends and up and down the waves. The firm ridges of perfectly geometric texture were fascinating, and the colors powerful. The peacefulness, to me, felt spiritual and engulfing.

Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah/Arizona border

The Wave


Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah/Arizona border

Colors of The Wave

Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah/Arizona border

Sadie and Jazzy riding The Wave 🙂




Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah/Arizona border

“Good girls! We rocked The Wave!”

As others arrived we climbed beyond (mostly to get out of the way and let them experience it as we had) and wandered amongst the surrounding cliffs and pools of water.

Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah/Arizona border

Pool of water above The Wave

Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah/Arizona border

with Jazzy and Sadie above The Wave

Although similar, I’m sharing the following sequence of images in hopes they might “complete the picture” a bit more… give y’all a stronger sense of perspective and the magnitude of this place. They’re taken as I walked back down into The Wave from above. The last shot in the sequence is very similar to one shown above, but illustrates the difference lighting (location of the sun) can make when it comes to color, texture and contrast.

The Wave hike, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah/ArizonaThe Wave Hike #2, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah/ArizonaThe Wave hike #3, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah/Arizona

Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah/Arizona border

Jazzy loved The Wave

The Wave, Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah/Arizona

After a few hours of oohs and aahs and chatting with some fellow hikers we started our trek back toward the trailhead. After expending so much extra energy on the first leg of the hike the girls were moving at a much slower pace, Jazzy in particular. We stopped frequently for water breaks, consuming almost all of the two gallons I schlepped out there. (Note to self… buy these girls their own backpacks!)

Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah/Arizona border

Coyote Buttes


Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah/Arizona border

Sadie nearing the end of a long, hot hike

Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah/Arizona border

Lizard, our one and only wildlife sighting along the trail

We made it! Together with my little road-warriors we hiked The Wave!!

On the way back to Kanab that afternoon I couldn’t help but turn off-road yet again to check out Pahreah Town Site, another ghost town I’d heard about. The colorful layers of the hillsides along the way were amazing, but I didn’t actually find the site. I went as far as I dared to go… alone on a rugged sandy road in Zippy (my AWD Honda CRV tow car). We stopped along a shallow river, the site likely not too far on the other side, but Jazzy made it very clear she wanted nothing to do with another long walk. I couldn’t fault her, and in fact applauded her for her skill at non-verbal communication. With that we bounced our way back to the highway and headed “home”.

Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs

Hills near  Pahreah Townsite

Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah

Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs, Utah

Before I left Kanab the following morning I visited another place I’d been hearing about for some time, Best Friends Animal Society. This amazing non-profit organization not only cares for thousands of animals on their vast 3700 acre sanctuary, but work nationwide to promote pet adoption, spay-and-neuter services, and humane education programs. I was highly impressed with the vastness of this sanctuary, their mission, and the obvious care given to these animals!

Best Friends Animal Society, Kanab Utah

Gates to Angels Rest at Best Friends

Just a few of the well loved animals I encountered at Best Friends…

IMG_8738-2 IMG_8719-3 IMG_8699-2

After my early morning visit to Best Friends, with snow clouds moving in my direction, I “pulled stakes” and headed south on Hwy 89A with the North Rim of the Grand Canyon on my radar. All campgrounds in the area were already closed for the season so I knew my only option would be a side trip on my way south. The 44 mile-long stretch of Hwy-67, between Jacob Lake on Hwy-89A and the North Rim, closes each year on December 1st… or at first snow fall… so I confirmed before setting out that it was indeed still open. My plan was to find a safe place to leave my motorhome behind in Jacob Lake and drive Zippy to the canyon rim. As I drove south that morning, excited to finally be making my way to yet another long awaited destination, the snow clouds found me. What happened next, my friends, is part of the next tale!


I sincerely hope you’re all enjoying the wonders of a brand new year!! Wishing many blessings and happy trails to you all!

11 thoughts on “Experiencing “The Wave”

  1. What a great story, Fran!!! I was really excited to see your update waiting for me so I could find out if you got selected to do The Wave… You probably heard a big “CHEERS” from Texas when I read you did! The pictures and your story are amazing, I absolutely love that part of our country and you definitely show/tell it very well!

    Now you have me waiting to hear yes or no on a snow storm! Best wishes for a fabulous 2014 to you, Jazzy and Sadie! 🙂

    • Thanks Chris. I often wonder… If I share too much… Not enough… Tales of interest? Good to know I hit the mark for some. 🙂

  2. There it finally is – your Wave blog post! I knew your pictures would be great but they are in fact breathtaking. I can see that the light is really different from the one we had in the summer. Really interesting! I love to read about your dogs too!
    Happy new year and lots of great travels in 2014!

    • Thank you Nadine. It was one of the most amazing places I’ve ever experienced. I’m sure the light changes dramatically throughout the year.

      Happy 2014 to you!

  3. Fran, you are one A M A Z I N G woman to travel this way with your ‘girls”. Thank you for sharing your wonderful journey. I just wished I could have been there when I was younger and able to trek those beautiful waves that you captured so beautifully. You could probably earn your PPA masters degree by entering them. I am loving my calendar too. Stay well, safe and healthy while living your dream. God Bless, always, in all ways.

    • That is so very kind of you to say Joanne. I’m enjoying my journey immensely. This world is captivating to me. The WAVE… was awesome, and so worth the effort.

      BTW… I earned my PPA Masters and Craftsman years ago. All on my portrait work, and teaching/mentoring in the portrait world.

      Thanks again for the precious note!

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