Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Part 3: Coyote Buttes and The Wave

An extraordinary set of circumstances occurred when I returned to the trailhead from my morning in Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch. I had decided to drive to a different trailhead for an afternoon hike since my planned all-day excursion in Buckskin hadn’t quite worked out. And with this in mind, I arrived back at my car and was drinking some water when a woman approached me and asked if I knew the way to The Wave.

The Wave is a famous, oft-photographed sandstone formation in the Coyote Buttes which shares the trailhead with Wire Pass. Twenty permits per day are issued by lottery, ten of them four months in advance, and ten the prior day at the BLM office in Kanab. Rangers patrol the area and regularly give out fines up to $5,000 and six months in jail. There are no real maps to The Wave though there are a couple landmarks apparently. If you are able to secure a permit, the BLM provides you with these and with GPS coordinates. The three mile trail out crosses open desert and more than a mile of slickrock towards the end, so following footprints is impossible after about halfway. Getting lost is very common.

I did not anticipate hiking The Wave (certainly not that day since I didn’t have a permit) and thus was not able to provide much help to the woman inquiring though I was able to tell her where I thought the trail broke to the buttes broke off from the wash that led into Wire Pass. I asked if she had a permit because I was pretty certain that they gave you information and she told me that she had showed up that morning to get a permit but because of the government shutdown they were not issuing any. And – LOOP HOLE – because the area wasn’t technically closed until noon (it was just after 11am), she was told that she could try it on her own. There would be no rangers would patrolling for permits because they were furloughed. This was a once in a lifetime set of coincidences. I don’t know what happened because I’m really quite the loner but I heard the words come out of my mouth: “Can I go with you?” Judi immediately said that yes, of course, we would do it together! And that was how I came to hike The Wave.

Well, we were able to follow footprints for a while but as soon as we hit rock, we took a wrong turn. There were intermittent footprints that we thought were a promising, but that were apparently left from other lost hikers. We finally saw another group walking the in the distance across a shallow canyon towards the direction of the trailhead but then a few minutes later we saw another group heading away from the trailhead, along much the same path. We chased them down. It turned out that this group of three were also unpermitted but seemed to have a better idea of where they were going. They were at least going in the right direction; the five of us were assured this about fifteen minutes later by another group returning from The Wave. Somewhere after that point we all got lost again but luckily as we were wandering around we encountered more people who were able to point us in the right direction. And so, after about three and a half hours, we had found The Wave.

This landscape is otherworldly. Coyote Buttes is one of the most inconceivable sections this planet: the sandstone is fantastically striped and twisted and vivid. The sky is impossible blue. It is heavenly. Here are approximately 1% of the total pictures I took:

Landscape of the Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Landscape of the Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Close-up of sandstone layers, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Close-up of sandstone layers, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Close-up of swirled layers, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Close-up of swirled layers, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Looking out from The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Looking out from The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Shadows coming over The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Shadows coming over The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Me by The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Me by The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Near The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Near The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Near The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Near The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Judi and I by The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

Judi and I by The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

View from the hike back (we stalked those people in the photo so we wouldn't get lost), Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

View from the hike back (we stalked those people in the photo so we wouldn’t get lost), Coyote Buttes, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah-Arizona border

The whole trip took us a little over five hours round trip It should have been a six mile roundtrip hike but was probably closer to nine or ten miles. However, as I told Judi, I consider this the scenic route – because the scenery was some of the most amazing I’ve ever seen. In fact, some of the landscape we saw beyond The Wave was just as amazing as the famous formation itself.

It was such a wonderful afternoon and I am so thankful that I met such an awesome person. Together, and with help from a few groups of people we met, we made it. It was truly spectacular.