(Paria Canyon-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness Area)
Utah's Incredible Backcountry Trails
by David Day
Distance: 5.2 miles (round trip)
Walking time: 3 hours
Elevations: 500 ft. gain/loss
Trail: About half of this trail is over unmarked slickrock and can be somewhat confusing. However if you follow the instructions below you should have no trouble finding the Wave
Season: Year round
Vicinity: Near Kanab and Page, Arizona
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For all of the publicity it has received, one might reasonably expect the Wave to be an enormous geological sculpture that stands alone, like Ayers Rock, in the middle of the desert. Actually it is a relatively small hollowed-out cove on the side of a sandstone hill, not much more than a half acre in size. Nevertheless, the Wave is extremely photogenic, and it is well worth the short hike required to see it. Its aesthetic appeal lies in the fact that the layers of sandstone in the Coyote Buttes area present a huge variation in hardness and color, and at the Wave the stratified stone has been weathered by the wind and rain into an amazing display of curving, multicolored bands and ridges that no artist could ever hope to duplicate.
From the parking area the route to the Wave starts out by following the well-marked trail to Buckskin Gulch. The trail proceeds east along the side of a sandy wash for 5 minutes, then drops down into the wash just as the streambed makes a turn to the south. Follow the wash for another five minutes as it bends around and starts heading north again, then within a hundred yards you will see a well-used hiker-made trail climbing up the east side of the streambed. This is the beginning of the Wave Trail.
The trail climbs about 100 feet to the plateau above the wash and then proceeds in a southeasterly direction for 0.2 mile to a trail register (the first indication that this is the trail to the Wave). From the trail register the route continues southeast for another 0.4 mile until it comes to a sandy wash on the west side of a long rocky ridge. From there the trail turns east and climbs over a low pass on the north end of the ridge.
Once you have crossed to the east side of the ridge you must turn right and continue walking along its flank in a southerly direction. There is no trail here and no cairns to guide you, but that should not be a problem. Just walk south over the slickrock, being careful not to gain or loose elevation. If you see a lot of cairns it probably means that you have gone too low. As I stated earlier, there are few cairns along the correct route. About 10 minutes after turning south you will come to an old fence, and if you are following the route correctly you should cross the fence very close to its western end.
1.2 miles after turning south you will come to an arroyo called Sand Cove Wash. The slickrock gives way to sand in this area, so it is easier to see the tracks left by previous hikers. Following these tracks across the wash you will come to a hiker-made trail that climbs up a sand dune and continues a short distance to the Wave. The Wave is 0.3 mile south and 200 feet higher than the bottom of Sand Cove Wash.
Another way to pinpoint the location of the Wave is to study the slickrock hill, called Top Rock, on the south side of Sand Cove Wash. Long before you arrive at the wash you will see a dark vertical crack near the summit of Top Rock. The Wave is located in smaller dark area on the side of the hill just below and to the right of the crack. (See photograph on previous page.)
Although the Wave is the most prominent feature in the Coyote Buttes Area, it is not the only formation worth seeing. Just 300 yards south of the Wave there is another interesting formation that some people are now calling Wave Two. To reach Wave Two just climb to the top of the Wave, turn right, and proceed along the slickrock at the same elevation for 4-5 minutes.
The rugged landscape around the Wave and Wave Two is littered with many other interesting sandstone sculptures, and if time permits a little independent exploration can be highly rewarding. Try walking south for a few hundred yards beyond Wave Two along the west side of Top Rock. You might also want to check out two clusters of buttes called the North and South Teepees. They are located east of Top Rock, about 1.0 mile southeast of the Wave.
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