Hike to The Wave

Monday, January 4, 2010

I didn’t leave quite as early as normal because I wanted to arrive at The Wave around noon when the light would be the best. I drove along the main highway 89 to the turnoff for House Rock Road. It’s less than 10 miles along the House Rock Road to the trailhead, but the woman in the permit office warned us it wouldn’t be easy driving. In the morning, the road is bumpy and rough with frozen tire ridges. In the afternoon it turns into a quagmire of mud and snow and many people get stuck. The best advice, she said, was that if you get stuck you should wait until after dark when the road freezes again and you can drive out. A tow truck, she warned, would cost hundreds of dollars.

I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but nothing prepared me for how bad it would be. Even creeping along in first gear to drive in was extremely bumpy and I’m sure I did it damage to my car. Later in the day, when I drove out again through the mud, I didn’t have the option of going slowly, or I would’ve gotten stuck. I definitely damaged my car, but I did make it both ways. Driving out I had to gun it through mud patches fishtailing back-and-forth as mud sprayed up like on those TV four-wheel-drive commercials. But my car was only two-wheel drive. The easiest part was on the higher ground where the road stayed constantly frozen and you are only driving on packed snow and ice.

The hike itself was incredibly beautiful. There is something magical about walking out through desert surrounded by amazing sandstone formations and rocks and navigating through the solitude. Occasionally I saw other hikers, but mostly I was alone. There was some snow in parts, but most of it wasn’t difficult hiking, despite a few climbs. Slightly more difficult was navigating. The permit office issued us with instructions on finding The Wave and these included photographs of what the route should look like at various marker points along the way. It was relatively easy navigating the way there, though returning was harder as the pictures of the route in did no good with features photographed from the opposite side. The woman had warned us that a lot of buttes can look the same, and following footprints are reliable because the people might be doing side trips or might be lost. That’s exactly what happened on the way back. I followed the footprints to what I thought were the two buttes I had to go around, but I ended up at the top of a cliff that would’ve been dangerous to climb down. Fortunately, I was carrying my car GPS with me and had a topo map loaded into it. Although I had to shut it off during the hike as the battery was running down, I was able to locate where I was in relation to the route I took in, and to hike back to the correct trail. Getting lost could have been very unpleasant with limited water (despite the snow), and with the nights getting very cold. Fortunately I made it in and out with no real problems.

The Wave itself is an amazing formation of rock that looks like rolling waves sculpted into the sandstone. It has large curves and colorful lines. There was a number of German tourists taking pictures there when I arrived, and unfortunately they didn’t move out of the way for me to get a clear shot until after the sun had passed to the point where part of the area was in shadow. Some of the area was also snow covered with heavy footprints, so it probably wasn’t as attractive as it can be at other times of year. I still managed to get many close-up pictures of the curvy rocks and abstract formations. It truly is a wonderful place.

The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Arizona

The Wave, Coyote Buttes, Arizona - © Richard McGuire

Once I got back to my car and drove out, I continued along the main highway 89 through Page and then carried on for several hours to Flagstaff where I spent the night. The exploring part of my journey was now pretty much over, and other than a few stopovers, I would now be heading directly home.

About Richard McGuire
Richard McGuire is a part-time photographer and photography enthusiast based on Ottawa, Canada.

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