We set our alarm for 7 am on day 10, the last day of our trip. We stayed just a few hours at the Jacob Lake Inn, our admittedly beautiful but pricey…
We set our alarm for 7 am on day 10, the last day of our trip. We stayed just a few hours at the Jacob Lake Inn, our admittedly beautiful but pricey cabin that we barely enjoyed. At least we were able to get some sleep. Just the night before, we came in very late from the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, about an hour away. Yet there was no time to linger. We were on a mission.
Let’s back track a bit. Less than 24 hours earlier in Kanab, UT, we similarly flew out of bed and drove immediately to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center, which was just up the road from the rickety motel we were staying in. Every morning, often over a hundred visitors hailing from all over the world arrive at the Visitor Center, hoping to win a permit to explore the absolutely breathtaking sandstone rock formation, the Wave in Coyote Buttes. Only 10 people in person and 10 people online can be accepted into the lottery per day, in order to preserve his delicate and special natural wonder. Months earlier, we had applied to the online lottery to hike the Wave, and didn’t win. Feeling our traveler’s luck so close to the end of our journey, we planned the gamble into our route.
Out of 100 people (including some eager folks from Europe and Asia) we were the second random bingo ball to be chosen — lucky number 7! I say this now, but I just had a feeling we’d get in!
We stayed for a 40-minute presentation on how to prepare for the four hour trek we won for the following day. We of course had visited other unmarked trails on this trip, but the ranger outlined some pretty serious warnings — that we bring 2 gallons of water per person, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants for sunny conditions, and pack plenty of salty snacks to replace any sodium we may lose through sweat. And, don’t forget: SUNSCREEN. They also provided an impressive photographed, step-by-step map, which showed us exactly which landmarks to keep an eye out for in our search. The ranger also emphasized that we were not to leave behind cairns, stack of rocks often created to mark trails; that could potentially mislead other hikers for the worse. There have been cases of unprepared hikers getting lost, or even dying in Coyote Buttes; however, I think the warnings were amplified due to the widely mixed experience levels, age ranges, and physical capabilities of Wave-seekers.
And so, we were in. Day of — here we go:
Driving from Jacob Lake Inn to Coyote Buttes was an hour and a half drive, and so we arrived to comfortable hiking conditions — dry heat but not too scorching, and moderately bright sunlight (though sunset would have been ideal for photos). We pulled into a dusty parking spot and saw a few other cars already there, green permits showing off on their dashboards. I think it’s a $500 penalty to hike that area without a permit. Not like we would have tested it, should the lottery not have worked out…
Almost immediately, we started the hike. It kind of felt like a race whenever we ran into other pairs of hikers — we definitely wanted to see the Wave as a blank canvas, so we booked it past other permit-holders rather competitively.
This journey seemed to encompass the different terrains we encountered throughout the trip — our rushed strides ceased once we hit 30-minute increments of forced sluggishness through stretches of deep sand (any time that happened on our trip, I hated it!) Sometimes we went up hill, sometimes we went downhill, all in the bright sun. Every so often we’d stop and hold up our map to compare shapes of visual landmarks, it was wonderfully accurate, or we’re just that gooood. There was no climbing until the “entrance” of the Wave — a nearly vertical wall of layered sandstone that of course I enjoyed scrambling up, but had to stop frequently because of the asthma. But just one look at the small group of hikers behind me was enough motivation to keep racing to the top.
Once over the entrance, it was pretty easy from there.
The Wave is an immense beauty, but surprisingly petite. You can climb throughout the formation pretty fast, and there’s no way you can lose your hiking buddy behind the gentle maze of silent, majestic walls. But in the right spot, and at the right time (I think we managed to be alone for over 30 minutes, we are winnerzzz!) you can find yourself completely surrounded by the smooth, perfect, natural patterns formed by ages of wind and water. The graceful stripes of oranges and blacks stretch up into the sky, boldly blue and still for us that day.
I took my shoes off and slapped my bare, sweaty feet on the sandstone like a lizard, skipping, jumping, and inspecting while Michael took some good shots. Eventually an older couple came along and I congratulated them on making it up, (welcome to the club!) and took their photo. Soon more hikers showed up, those who teamed together along the way, and it was a full house, but we still welcomed the others with knowing smiles. We found a quiet spot behind a boulder and munched on trailmix and water, loving the Arizona-Utah border ahead of us.
Photos managed to do this renowned formation visually, but the feeling of navigating to the final destination on our 10-day list, is simply immense. Ten days of driving, hiking, climbing, hours of listening to Harry Potter book-on-tape, holding back on hangry retorts and short bouts of impatience, endless rounds of memorable puns and horrible jokes, a couple of ill-timed Reddit ghost stories recited from an iPhone screen, junk food for dinner, wacky characters in wacky places, constant asthma attacks, snow, desert, heat, elevation…
The whole trip was a lottery. A 50/50 chance that we wouldn’t kill each other by the end. And we didn’t, we only nearly died a few times (my first time mountain driving, yeesh), endured some scrapes and bruises, and laughed it off when it was all over. If I could, of course I’d do it all over again.
And I will, just somewhere else just as amazing.
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center: 745 U.S. 89 | Kanab, UT 84741
The Wave: $7 permit. Coyote Buttes, AZ