My friend Wendy “the permit whisperer” was able to secure a highly desirable February 17th permit for four to The Wave in the Coyote Buttes North Wilderness, on the Utah/Arizona border. As the date neared, we watched the forecast intently, which was not at all encouraging, calling for cold, snow and rain. We had reservations at the Paria Canyon Guest Ranch bunkhouse, which is located right by the Paria river crossing on Milepost 21, Highway 89 between Kanab,UT and Page, AZ.
Wendy, Sarah, and I left Tucson and picked up Angela in Phoenix on our way to Utah. We stopped for dinner in Cameron, and since it was my birthday, Angela had come prepared with some electric tea candles for ambiance at dinner. The restaurant brought me a very nice sundae decorated with carnations for dessert. At the guest ranch, it was cold and rainy and we were happy to have the whole, warm 16-bed bunkhouse to ourselves. It had a nice kitchen area and a large sectional couch near a gas-burning stove. Angela once again came through with the ambiance- she brought these great wine glasses for everyone that had LED lights that made the stem and base change colors. Very fun!
The next day, we were hoping that the forecasters were mistaken, and sure enough, we ended up with the most gorgeous blue skies for the main event: our hike to The Wave. We reached the Wire Pass trailhead at 10am, signed the register, and hiked down the sandy trail. Patches of snow remained in shady areas. When you get a permit to The Wave, they send you a very nice map with pictures of landmarks to navigate by. The Kaibab Plateau could be seen diving down toward the Coyote Valley. The Arizona Trail’s northern terminus at the Stateline Trailhead is just a mile and a half south from Wire Pass Trailhead. I had seen this area from above when I hiked this passage of the Arizona Trail in June 2008 and I remember being awed by the rock formations and colors of Utah from the Kaibab Plateau. Today I was finally getting to explore it.
After the turnoff to The Wave, the terrain goes from loose and sandy to sandstone staircases and angled slabs. There were fantastic views of hoodoos and the white mass of the West Clark Bench provided a stunning backdrop. There was so much to see- at every turn a new begging-to-be-explored side canyon or formation would catch our eye and we’d go play for a bit, then get back on track toward our destination.
We reached The Wave at about 12:30 pm and it was just as incredible as I’d imagined. It’s a small area, but the striations in the formations create a multicolored wavy bowl that surrounds you. Here’s a video:
Ours was a well-matched group, all of us into photography, and we shot away. Sarah pulled out a surprise- a box of chocolates that she’d carried in her pack. When someone would come in, she would approach them and say, “Welcome to The Wave, would you like a chocolate?”
There were a bunch of areas to explore around The Wave, and I had a great time climbing around and looking at the different views. There was one area above The Wave that I dubbed the Brain Domes and another that we called the Goblin Houses. The textures and colors changed at every turn. Video of the Brain Domes:
Video taken from the cleft in the cliff looking at the area around The Wave:
We spent a couple of hours in and around The Wave, then left to seek out dinosaur tracks that were across the drainage from The Wave. It took a little time to find, but there were a number of very well-defined three-toed prints in the sandstone. Then we went in search of The Wave 2, but we got off track and instead followed the sandy, windblown wash for a ways before turning around. My camera did not like the sandy conditions and began to have problems with the lens opening all the way. The sand eventually led to the camera’s demise.
On our hike back we enjoyed the changing light on the formations we’d passed earlier. We had a little bit of daylight left, so I suggested that we visit the Arizona Trail. There is a new sign proclaiming the National Scenic Trail status. I took us on some of the fanciest, log lined, handicap-accessible trail on the whole AZT toward one of my favorite rocks. When I hiked this part of the Arizona Trail, my dad came along as my support crew for parts that were far away from Tucson. I remember coming down the switchbacks on the Kaibab Plateau and seeing my dad waiting for me- a small dot in the valley. When I got to him, he was all excited about finding this rock with a perfect hole in it. (Guess where I get my enthusiasm for the outdoors?) This is one of my favorite pictures of my dad:
We took some pictures and were heading back toward the car when we saw a naked guy jump out of a van, get his picture taken with the Arizona Trail sign, jump in the van, then do it again! Mind you by this time we were all wearing down jackets- it couldn’t have been too flattering a picture, if you know what I mean… As we were driving back to the bunkhouse, we saw a group of bucks running in the hills right by the road. Then, we turned the corner to one of the most incredible moonrises over the white rocks of the West Clark Bench. Wendy stopped the car and we all jumped out, taking pictures and oohing and aahing at the fantastic sight. A perfect day was topped off by a gourmet meal with each of us contributing a course.
The next day, we were going to hike to Starlight Arch, near the old Pahreah townsite. The hills in this area are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. Eroded badlands with the most vibrantly colorful stripes, topped with crumbling and white rock. It was snowing and overcast when we started our hike, and we weren’t sure how far we would get before weather intervened. Sadly, my camera was still acting up from the sandblasting it had gotten yesterday, so the pictures for this next day are all Angela’s. Our route started out on a roadbed, then turned off into a mudstone canyon that wound back and forth. The bottom of the canyon had slippery patches of mud that provided some entertainment when one of us would lose our balance and start flailing. The walls of the canyon had blue and white stripes and intricate veins of sparkling white gypsum deposits that had crystallized in the cracks in the mud. The directions that we had made only one mention of a tricky spot for navigation, and we passed that without incident. At 3 miles from the trailhead, the canyon was supposed to start opening up and we were to look for a Chinle Dome that marked our exit out of the wash up toward the arch. We had passed a cairn a little ways back, the canyon had opened up, but there was one issue: none of us knew what a Chinle Dome was supposed to look like. Where we were, there were several that looked like they would qualify. We followed a couple of cairns to where the drainage angled steeply toward the base of the Vermillion Cliffs. There were gorgeous pieces of multicolored petrified wood, and we found a couple of really interesting ones, including a petrified knot and several with bark. The skies began to darken, and we figured that it was probably a good idea to turn around. Our entire path had followed a wash, and we didn’t want to be having to navigate it in a rainstorm. We explored several other options, looking for the elusive Chinle Dome before turning around. On our way back we saw the drainage we were supposed to take, the junction of which was far more confusing than the one mentioned in the guidebook. We’d turned north one drainage too early. Of course, at this time the weather had decided to change yet again and was bright and sunny. We just didn’t have the time left in the day to make it to the arch. Too bad, it looked like it would have fantastic views. Definitely begs for a redux. One thing that was great the past couple of days was that us Sonoran Desert dwellers were very pleased to have done all that exploring with nary a scratch. Bushwhacking without the bushes- I like it.
We had one last place that Wendy wanted to stop on our drive down to Flagstaff to stay the night. The Paria River Rimrock Toadstools- even the name is enticing! It was a short hike to some of the funkiest formations I’ve seen in a long time. Definitely worth the trip.
We got back to the car as the sun was setting and drove to Flagstaff and picked up some takeout from my favorite place, Pato Thai, before retiring to the hostel for the evening. The hostel gave us a nice, clean six-bed room to ourselves and the ceiling of the bottom bunks were all covered in amusing notes, pictures, and drawings of eyes contributed by people passing through. It had just started snowing when we arrived in Flag, and we woke up to a couple of inches on the ground and fat snowflakes falling from the sky. On our way back to Tucson, I think we drove through every type of nasty weather imaginable. As we drove south, snow storms turned to rainstorms and then to dust storms near Casa Grande that caused an accident that closed the interstate. I made it home just in time to go to work in the afternoon. What a revitalizing couple of days marveling at all that nature’s palette has to offer.
Here’s the link to the full set of pictures from The Wave:
|The Wave 2-16-11|