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The Wave -- One of the World’s Most Exclusive Hikes Just Got "Easier" to Visit

Sedona, Arizona

January 13, 2021

I would not usually write a post about someplace I have not been yet but The Wave is in a different category than most places. You need to apply four months in advance in The Wave lottery and your chances of getting picked for a permit are rather small. (I applied anyway this morning for the the first three days of May (for $9 you get to choose three dates.)). If you know you are going to be in the area of Page, Arizona or Kanab, Utah,the following information should be helpful.

I'll probably take my chances on a walk-in permit (see below) when I get back to that area. I am kicking myself for not trying the walk-in route when I was in Page and Kanab. Oh well.

And now for the rest of the story:

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that it will allow 64 people per day to hike the popular rock formation known as "The Wave," in the Paria Canyon–Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness near the Utah-Arizona border. Previously, only 20 hikers per day were allowed onto the formation. That limit had been in place for more than two decades.

The Wave is a sandstone formation that is famous among nature photographers and hikers for its unusual features. Its popularity is also due, in part, to the fact that it is extremely difficult to access.

Only 10 visitor passes per day are available to pre-book. An additional 10 passes are released for walk-ins every day. In 2018, more than 200,000 individuals applied for the 7,300 hiking permits available that year. Through both the online and walk-in lotteries, only 3.6% of applicants were granted permits to visit The Wave.

The new limit of 64 visitors per day will go into effect on Feb. 1. From that time, the BLM will monitor "resources and social conditions" and "could implement further increases or decreases in the future."

"The Wave is one of the world's most incredible and visually stunning natural wonders," Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals Management Casey Hammond said in a statement. "We're pleased to be able to expand options for public viewing of this amazing landscape in a way that's consistent with its preservation."

The visitation increase has been in development for more than a year, with the BLM considering increasing the number of daily visitors to as high as 96.

But some conservationists are bemoaning the increase, saying their footsteps will erode the natural sandstone.

"It is going to damage the unique geology there," Taylor McKinnon, a senior campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Associated Press. "There are going to be bigger crowds. It is going to be harder to get a picture without somebody else in it."

The Center for Biological Diversity plans to consider a lawsuit to reverse the decision.

The Wave is about half the size of a football field and located in the Coyote Buttes North section of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument.


The Wave consists of intersecting U-shaped troughs that have been eroded into Navajo Sandstone of Jurassic age. The two major troughs which comprise this rock formation are 62 feet (19 m) wide by 118 feet long and 7 feet wide by 52 feet long. Initially, infrequent runoff eroded these troughs along joints within the Navajo Sandstone. After their formation, the drainage basin, which fed rainwater to these troughs, shrank to the point that the runoff became insufficient to contribute to the cutting of these troughs. As a result, the troughs are now almost exclusively eroded by wind, as indicated by the orientation of erosional steps and risers cut into the sandstone along their steep walls. These erosional steps and risers are oriented relative to the predominant direction of the wind as it is now naturally funneled into and through these troughs.

The Wave exposes large-scale sets of cross-bedded eolian sandstone composed of rhythmic and cyclic alternating grainflow and windripple laminae. The rhythmic and cyclic alternating laminae represent periodic changes in the prevailing winds during the Jurassic period as large sand dunes migrated across a sandy desert. The thin ridges and ribbing seen within the Wave are the result of the differential erosion of rhythmic and cyclic alternating grainflow and windripple laminae within the Navajo Sandstone. These laminae have differing resistance to erosion as they have been differentially cemented according to variations in the grain size of the sand composing them. The soft sandstone is fragile, especially the ridges and ribbing of the Wave. As a result, visitors must walk carefully to avoid breaking the small ridges.

In some areas the Wave exposes deformed laminae within the Navajo Sandstone. These laminae were deformed prior to the lithification of the sand to form sandstone. Judging from their physical characteristics, this deformation likely represents the trampling and churning of these sands by dinosaurs after their deposition. Dinosaur tracks and the fossil burrows of desert-dwelling arthropods, such as beetles and other insects, have been found in the Navajo Sandstone within the North Coyote Buttes Wilderness Area.

Artistic significance

An ideal time to photograph the Wave is the few hours around midday when there are no shadows in the center, although early morning and late afternoon shadows can also make for dramatic photos. After a rain storm, numerous pools form which can contain hundreds of tadpole shrimps (Lepidurus apus). These pools can be present for several days.

Above and slightly west of the Wave is what many call "the Second Wave", or "the middle Wave", which has fainter colors but is still of interest to most visitors and photographers. Hugo Martin from the Los Angeles Times said, "You can't call yourself a landscape photographer if you haven't snapped a photo or two of the Wave."

Information About The Walk-In Permits

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