190 Million Years Ago

The Wave, Coyote Buttes North
Water and wind have eroded this channel in the sandstone revealing The Wave in the rock.

The Wave, Coyote Buttes North, Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness

It began 190 million years ago during the  Jurassic period when dinosaurs roamed the earth. In the heart of what is now known as the Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness area that spans the border of Utah and Arizona  an unusual and stunning rock formation began to take shape. Layers of windblown desert sands solidified and later eroded to create what is now one of the most spectacular, picturesque examples of crossbedding in Navajo Sandstone that people come from around the world to visit and behold: The Wave.

The Wave, Coyote Buttes North
The Wave is a little canyon hidden the amazing and stunning Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness that spans the border of Utah and Arizona. The most common route hikers take to The Wave begins in Utah but crosses the border into Arizona. Yes, you have to climb that hill to get to The Wave and a good portion of the climb is in loose sand. Throw in a little rock scrambling for good measure.

The Wave, as it has come to be known, was a much less visited place before Microsoft decided to use a photo of the formation in its screensaver for the Windows 7 operating system back in 2009. When that happened it triggered, umm, err,  a wave of interest and visitation. (I apologize for that! I simply could not help myself.) The Wave has since become a bucket list item for many people.

The Wave, Coyote Buttes North
This view from The Wave looks back at the wilderness through which one must hike in order to reach The Wave.

The visual interest, beauty and uniqueness of The Wave do, IMHO, make it well worth a visit. Its appeal is further heightened by the fact that it is a tough ticket, if that’s the right phrase. You see, in order to preserve The Wave for future generations to enjoy, permits to visit The Wave are limited to 20 people a day. Otherwise, hordes of people would overrun the place and trash it in relatively short order, something that some cultures within humankind are so very good at–destroying everything good and beautiful with which they come into contact. Here we can learn a lesson from Native Americans who believe the creator has placed them on this earth to care for and protect it, not to rape, pillage and eventually destroy it in favor of short term gain… but I digress… down from my soapbox.

Spectacular scenery along the hike to The Wave.
If you didn’t know where this was you might think it a photo of the surface of Mars.

That the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) has taken the step to limit visitation to The Wave is a good thing. If you are interested in obtaining a permit know that it is not easy to get one. An online lottery is held via this web page at which 10 of the 20 daily permits are issued about 4 months prior to the permit date. The remaining 10 daily permits are issued via a lottery at the BLM office in Kanab (745 Highway 89, Kanab) on the day before they are valid. On the day I entered the lottery in Kanab 47 applications representing 114 people were filed vying for 10 permits. My application was one of them and my number, 32, was the third of four drawn for which permits were issued. Awesome!

Coyote Buttes North
I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore. Is this even the earth?

Getting a permit is half the battle. The other half is hiking to The Wave. It’s in the wilderness. Although there are a few signposts along the way and in places footprints to follow in the sand, there is no official trail, no cairns, and much of the hike is over rock with nothing to guide you but visual landmarks, unless of course you have prepared a route using GPS technology. (People do get lost out there). A substantial portion of the hike is slogging through loose sand and some of that’s uphill. It’s not the easiest hike. Fortunately, in early November the weather was delightful. In the summer temperatures of over 100º are not uncommon; dehydration and heat stroke are real risks, and in the winter snow and freezing temperatures add danger to the 6 mile round trip hike. The weather might be fine during the day but the area is known for day-to-night temperature swings of 40 to 50 degrees, so a pleasant day can turn into a very cold night if one were to get lost and have to spend a night out there.

The Wave, Coyote Buttes North
Diane models for me standing between the waves of sandstone.

If you love nature, are fit enough, properly equipped, wilderness savvy and of course lucky enough to garner a permit, a visit to The Wave may be one of those once-in-a-lifetime experiences you will always remember. It bears mentioning that many other features in the area of The Wave and along the hike to it have their own unique, wondrous beauty and the area would be well worth hiking through even if The Wave did not exist–The Wave hogs most of the attention, though.

Related Links:
The BLM video about the area can be found here.

This link will search Google for YouTube videos currently online.


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