[landscapephotograph description=”Panoramic view of The Wave in all its glory!” photoname=”The Wave” photo=”https://timmulholland.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Wave-Pan-3c.jpg” photourl=”http://IlluminataPhoto.zenfolio.com/p839107791/e46fb6cd9″][/landscapephotograph]
I’ve always been interested in science and the natural world, as well as reading. One day, likely in the mid-1970s, I opened a book and found a photograph of this amazing geological formation somewhere in the American southwest. I was mesmerized by this photograph. At that time, there wasn’t a lot of information on the location of this sandstone formation or how to get there – life before the internet. But, that image was burned into my memory.
At some later point in my life, as well as with the growth of the internet, my consciousness came back to this sandstone beauty. I found that it was called “The Wave,” and that it was somewhere in the middle of nowhere in northern Arizona. The more that I searched about The Wave, learned about it and viewed more photographs of it, it became sort of an obsession, which is typical of a nature and landscape photographer. We all have these lists of places that we must visit and photograph. The internet and various travel guides have increased awareness of The Wave to the point that obtaining a permit is even more difficult than it was ten years ago (and, yes, I’m contributing to that difficulty by writing this piece).
And, dreams do turn into realities. The dream of visiting and the result of all of this research is eventually getting to see The Wave and a host of other beautiful, natural locations. I’ve been fortunate to be able to visit “The Wave” on three different occasions.
The Wave is a natural formation of folded sandstone that used to be wind-blown sand dunes. The sand eventually was cemented into place and natural geological forces folded and eroded the sandstone into the beautiful shapes that we see today. The Wave is also a relatively small geological feature situated in an area called North Coyote Buttes that offers a great many opportunities for hiking, photography and amazement.
In a break with my usual style, I’m placing two slideshows here for your enjoyment. If you’re inclined to learn more about how to obtain a permit to visit The Wave, then by all means, keep reading! The first slideshow is from my 2013 visit, while the second slideshow is our most recent 2015 visit.
Getting to The Wave is not difficult, but it’s definitely not easy. The most difficult and frustrating part of seeing The Wave is getting a permit from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Wave is found in an area called the Paria Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area of southern Utah and northern Arizona. The Wave is also extremely fragile, as you might guess, so the BLM limits the number of daily visitors to reduce the wear and tear on this spectacular site, as well as to provide visitors an outstanding wilderness experience. While many folks like to visit large crowded cities on their vacations, it’s also nice to have remote, quiet and intimate wilderness opportunities for the rest of us.
Let’s get back to that difficult part of getting a permit. The BLM allows up to twenty people per day to visit North Coyote Buttes and The Wave. There are two ways to obtain these highly prized and difficult to procure permits. The “easier” way is to apply to the BLM’s online lottery. This way is easier because you can do it from home in front of your computer. You apply for your permits about five months in advance of when you hope to visit The Wave. For example, if you want to visit in April, then you apply during the previous December. The BLM holds a lottery on the first day of the fourth month before you’d like to visit; in my example, the lottery would be held on January 1st and you’ll be notified by email whether you received a permit or not. Through the online lottery, BLM distributes ten of the twenty permits it offers. The advantage of this system to you is that you’ll know in advance whether you’ve been extremely lucky to obtain a permit. The bad news is that for these ten daily permits, there are typically 200 or more requests for those few permits, which means that your chances of getting one of those permits is about 1% or less – yeah, not great odds. You’re permitted to request up to three different days in your lottery entry, so that might seem to increase your odds, but then, everyone gets to pick three days. I’ve also heard of some “tricks” to increase your chances of winning a permit, but the odds are still stacked against you. I’ve only known one or two people who have earned a permit through the online lottery; I’ve applied to the online lottery four or five times and never earned a permit in this way.
The other way to obtain a permit is to enter the “in-person” lottery that is now held at the BLM’s Interagency Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah. To be clear, the BLM distributes the remaining ten permits through this process and these permits are good for the following day (i.e., tomorrow, not the day of the lottery). The first time that I attempted to visit The Wave, this lottery was held at a different location (the BLM’s Paria Contact Station). My wife and I entered the lottery and didn’t receive permits, but the BLM staff kindly told us that there were still permits available to visit a similarly beautiful area known as South Coyote Buttes, so we went there. (Permits for South Coyote Buttes are now becoming increasingly difficult to obtain through the same two lotteries; the information that I’m providing for North Coyote Buttes/The Wave lotteries also apply to the South Coyote Buttes permit lotteries.) When we applied at the in-person lottery, there were maybe fifteen to twenty total people requesting permits. The second time that I planned a Utah/Arizona trip with the hope of visiting The Wave (June, 2010), I applied online for a permit (no luck) and then entered the in-person lottery. Again, there were fifteen to twenty applicants and I scored! The weather was extremely pleasant and this was truly a happy moment in my life.
On my attempt to visit The Wave in November, 2013, I applied online (again, no luck), and then entered the in-person lottery in Kanab. I again drew a permit in the lottery, but this time there must have been thirty or forty applicants, so I felt very lucky. I also savored the experience even more because I did more research about the area and found some other gems in the vicinity of The Wave, like Top Rock Arch.
My latest visit to The Wave was also the luckiest. Again, no luck with the online lottery, but that wasn’t surprising. We visited southern Utah during Spring Break, 2015. Unfortunately for us, Utah’s schools were also on spring break at the same time. Places that I had visited in the past where I was all alone were “swarming” with people (OK, in my case, swarming means that there were twenty to thirty people). We entered the in-person lottery at Kanab on two successive days, because that’s all the time that we had for visiting the area. The first day the BLM’s “lottery room” was full and overflowing. We heard that there had been requests for ~170 permits a day or two before, and the first day that we applied, there were about sixty requests applications requesting about 150 permits (you’re permitted to request up to four permits on a single lottery application, I believe). Yes, the odds were terrible and we weren’t too disappointed when we didn’t get a permit. But, it was exciting to see a mother and daughter squeal with delight when they earned their first permits after learning that this was about their tenth application to the in-person lottery! When you participate in the in-person lottery you really have to set your goals low (as in, I’ll not receive a permit) and also enjoy the good luck of others when they receive their permits.
We applied again on the following day. Our odds were slightly better, as there were “only” about forty applications for about 130 permit requests. What was interesting about this trip to the lottery is that the BLM does seem to be very strict about it’s policy of allowing one application per group of applicants. It wasn’t apparent on our first visit to the lottery, but on our second attempt the woman running the lottery was clearly reviewing the applications and she disqualified two groups of applicants who had two applications each. That meant that our odds increased – if only slightly. And, after watching one permit be awarded, then two more permits, and then two more permits, we knew that our likelihood of getting our four permits with our draw was pretty low – but we did! ELATION!
So, here’s one “trick” that I can offer for improving your odds at The Wave lottery – apply for yourself only, whether in-person or online. Plan on a solo visit. It might seem a little odd, but there are quite a few applications who are requesting multiple permits. Once the first five, six, seven permits have been awarded, then the multi-permit applications are less likely to take their permit(s) if they are lucky in the lottery. Why? Because the participants with a multi-permit application want to go as a group so that all or none can enjoy the experience. Yes, those multi-permit, in-person applications might choose to take the remaining permits and figure out how to distribute them amongst themselves, but more often it seems that they decline to take their permits – all or none. So, after those first few in-person permits have been awarded, your chances for an individual request increase because the multi-permit applicants will decline their opportunity. I know, it ‘s not a lot of solace, but it’s some. And, the same logic applies to the online lottery – if there are only three permits remaining, then an application for four permits can’t win.
After you’ve finally won the lottery celebrate and then continue your planning and preparation. And, here’s a bit of help to get you prepared before you get there. This site has quite a bit of good information on The Wave and the general area of the Colorado Plateau = TheWave.Info
With the popularity of The Wave increasing, the number of unprepared visitors is also increasing. The Wave is a wilderness area. It’s about an hour drive from either Kanab, Utah or Page, Arizona. There are basically no services nearby, once you leave these main towns. The road to The Wave, House Rock Valley Road, is rough, rutted, and rocky, and passable by most vehicles when it’s dry. If it’s wet, the clay can become quite slippery. During our last visit at the lottery, we heard one group’s amazement that you couldn’t drive right up to The Wave! No, this is a desert wilderness and you’ll need to hike and be prepared for many eventualities. In the summer of 2013, an older couple hiked to The Wave and didn’t return – it was very hot, they likely didn’t have enough water, became disoriented and died. On our way out from our visit, a family of five was walking in to visit The Wave. They had heard about while vacationing in Kanab, didn’t realize that you needed permits (or, face a $500 citation if you’re caught without one), didn’t have maps and didn’t have nearly enough water for all of them – including their three year old twins. The route to The Wave is not marked – again, it’s wilderness. Be prepared. Bring a GPS or map and compass and know how to use them. I’m not providing directions here because the BLM will give them to you or there are much better resources on the internet.
But, once you get there, you’ll be amazed with what you see. My favorite part of my most recent visit was watching my family’s reaction when they entered the main amphitheater – priceless. And, on this trip, I found Melody Arch, which was spectacular, The Alcove and the Second Wave – there’s always something to discover in this area.
I hope that you enjoy your trip when you can finally get a permit!!! Please let me know when you get to visit!!!
OK, I’m signing off…