What is the Wave?

Michaelangelo took 2 years to sculpt the statue of David. Leonardo da Vinci spent 4 years painting the Mona Lisa. Mozart could write an entire opera in less than 6 weeks! Yet these works of art don’t hold a candle to one sculpted by the forces of wind and water, and lots and lots of time: The Wave.  One look at The Wave, a small section of the Coyote Buttes North Special Management Area in the Paria Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness, and you might think you’re on another planet. The rippling symmetry of line, the myriad variations of earth tones of brown, beige, yellow, pink and maroon, and the quizzical, gravity-defying rock formations surrounding it surely cannot be of this world! And yet, they are, straddling the border of Northern Arizona and Southern Utah.

"The Journey Rivals the Destination"
Melisa S.

How was it made?

So, what is The Wave and how did it get here? The Wave is a real-life “Jurassic World.” This unique cluster of U-shaped troughs began as sand dunes, which eventually compacted and solidified into sandstone over 200 million years ago. The troughs were then carved into Navajo sandstone by intermittent streams and floods, whose run-off deposited minerals such as calcium, manganese and iron oxide, while simultaneously eroding the rock along its joints, gradually molding them into their gently rounded appearance.

The process of water erosion eventually tapered off, allowing wind and blowing sand to do the bulk of the work in sculpting The Wave into its present form, exposing large deposits of cross-bedded sandstone marked by rhythmic and cyclic alternating grainflow and undulating laminae (a thin layer, plate, or scale of sedimentary rock, organic tissue, or other material). In some areas, the Wave exposes deformed laminae within the Navajo Sandstone. These laminae were deformed prior to the timeframe when sand turned into to stone, which is indicative of the trampling, churning and digestive processes of dinosaurs!

The forces that created The Wave were time-consuming, complex, and fortuitous. Indeed, it was one of those rare instances when the elements were in the right place at the right time together, and the results are absolutely exquisite. It stands to reason that this area is unique in all the world. It is also ecologically fragile, and warrants as much protection as the law will allow. That’s why only 20 people per day will have the good fortune to see The Wave and Coyote Buttes North up close and personal by acquiring an advance hiking permit from the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency that oversees these areas. Those with adequate determination, and deep pockets, may also charter an airplane or helicopter over Coyote Buttes and The Wave from Kanab, Utah or Page, Arizona. Get A Hiking Permit For The Wave

10 Responses

    1. Hi Sherri,
      Congratulations on scoring that permit! Unfortunately, the weather in February can be quite unstable. Having lived in that area for ~20 years, in February, I saw everything from heavy snow to little “teasers” of spring-like weather where you could get away with tank tops and shorts. Naturally, it’s too soon to tell what this February will bring, but I’d recommend starting to monitor weather in Page, AZ, or Kanab, UT, about 2 weeks before you’re scheduled to hike. In general, plan on dressing in light layers that you can easily remove and stash in your backpack, or put back on again should the need arise.
      Good luck and safe travels,
      Alley 🙂

    1. Hi Merci,
      On average, it takes 3-4 hours, but you should set aside the better part of a day to fully explore and enjoy the area!
      Good luck and safe travels,
      Alley 🙂

  1. We are planning a vacation the end of September and would like to see The Wave but are elderly and don’t hike. Can we drive around and view any of this area? Thank you.

    1. Hey Kathy,
      Apologies for the delay in response to your inquiry, for some reason, I didn’t get an alert in my e-mail 🙁
      The good news? Late September is a great time to be here! The bad news? You can only get to The Wave by taking a 6+ mile round-trip hike, which is regulated by a very competitive permit process. Unfortunately, there is no way to see Coyote Buttes at all by car. The rock formations are concealed from the road behind several ridges.
      About the only way I can foresee you guys getting to see The Wave is if you fly over it. Airplanes or helicopters can be chartered out of the Page, AZ, Municipal Airport or Kanab, UT, Municipal Airport. Page typically has more aircraft on-field for this purpose. While touring aircraft would not land at The Wave, and yes, this is a pricey option, you would get to see a ton of incredible scenery without breaking a sweat! Advance reservations are strongly required if you wish to take us up on this suggestion. For more information on how to charter an aircraft over The Wave and surrounding area, check out “So You Didn’t Get A Wave Permit: Now What?
      I hope that helps! If you have further questions, please contact me directly at [email protected]
      Good luck and safe travels,
      Alley 🙂

  2. Is there typically snow on the hike in winter? thinking about trying to get a permit over the 2021 Christmas holiday. Thank you!

    1. Hi David,
      This is a great question! It is very common to see snow in the Coyote Buttes Area during the winter months. Snow or no snow, it is cold at that time of year, which is one of several reasons why getting a permit in the winter season tends to be slightly less competitive than at other times of the year. But, I wouldn’t let that discourage you from trying for a permit over the Christmas holiday at all. Snow only gives this incredible landscape an added layer of beauty, and the hike can be done safely as long as you are prepared with the right clothing, plenty of water and snacks, and proper footwear. To read a first-hand account of a winter hike to The Wave, visit our companion site, http://www.HorseshoeBend.com: Arizona Bucket List – The Wave
      Good luck — you’ll need it for the highly-competitive permit process.
      Have a Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas!
      Alley 🙂

    1. Hi Denise,
      The best season to hike The Wave is actually just around the corner — late October to early November offers mostly stable, cooler weather, just perfect for hiking! As for time of day, the earlier the better is the general consensus. A colleague of mine with several Wave hikes under his belt strives “be turning onto the House Rock Valley Road by sunrise.” It’s a six-mile round-trip hike, so it will take you the better part of a day.
      The bad part about all that? Competition for hiking permits will be fierce, and with only 20 per day given out, your odds of getting a permit at this time are very low. You actually stand a better chance when the weather is at its worst: the dead of winter, or the peak heat of summer.
      Hope that helps. Good luck and safe travels,
      Alley 🙂

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