The Wave, Arizona

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Not to be confused with Wave Rock.
The Wave, Arizona
TheWave 1600pixels.jpg
The Wave
Elevation 5,225 feet (1,593 m)
Latitude 36° 59′ 45.84″ N
Longitude 112° 0′ 21.9″ W
Location Coconino County, Arizona, USA
USGS Topo Map Coyote Buttes
Age of rock Jurassic

Coordinates: 36°59′45.84″N 112°00′21.9″W / 36.9960667°N 112.006083°W / 36.9960667; -112.006083

Thin ridges created by the erosion of differentially cemented, large-scale eolian cross bedding within Navajo sandstone
Another view of differentially eroded large-scale eolian cross bedding within Navajo sandstone

The Wave is a sandstone rock formation located in the United States of America near the ArizonaUtah border, on the slopes of the Coyote Buttes, in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, on the Colorado Plateau. It is famous among hikers and photographers for its colorful, undulating forms, and the rugged, trackless hike required to reach it.


“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 (36 m) long and 7 feet (2 m) wide by 52 feet (16 m) 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.[1][2]

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 as huge 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, including the ridges and ribbing, of The Wave is fragile. As a result, persons must walk carefully to avoid breaking the small ridges.[3][4][5]

In places, 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 right after their deposition. Dinosaur tracks and the fossil burrows of desert-dwelling arthropods, such as beetles and other insects, have been found within the Navajo Sandstone within the North Coyote Buttes Wilderness Area.[3][6][7]

Artistic significance[edit]

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 tadpoles and fairy shrimp. These pools can be present for several days.

Above and slightly west of The Wave is what many call "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."[8]

Access policy[edit]

The Wave is located within the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. This wilderness is administered by the Bureau of Land Management ("BLM"), part of the United States Department of the Interior. A day-use permit from BLM is required to visit The Wave.[9]

BLM limits access to the North Coyote Buttes Wilderness Area to just 20 permits per day.[9] Ten of the permits are available in advance by an on-line lottery conducted four months before the month for which the permit is sought. The remaining ten permits are made available by lottery the day before one's intended hike.[10] Year-round the lottery is held at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah. The lottery for the walk-in permits takes place at 9:00 in the morning.[10] Spring and autumn are the most popular times of year to visit, but the popularity of The Wave is such that the chances of obtaining a permit by either advance lottery or the day-before lottery are much less than 50% from March through November. The Wave is particularly well known among European tourists, partly because it appeared in the German documentary film Faszination Natur - Seven Seasons (1996).[11]

Access trails[edit]

The trail to The Wave begins at the Wire Pass Trailhead, about 8.3 miles (13.4 km) south of US 89 along House Rock Valley Road, a dirt road about 35.4 miles (57.0 km) west of Page, Arizona or 38.6 miles (62.1 km) east of Kanab, Utah, that is accessible to most vehicles in good weather. During and after a storm the road may be impassable, even with a four-wheel-drive vehicle. Wire Pass Trailhead includes a wide parking lot with restrooms, but no water. It is also accessible from the Arizona side by taking U.S. Highway 89A from Jacob Lake on the Kaibab Plateau toward Navajo Bridge, turning north onto the House Rock Valley Road, after descending from the Kaibab. This is a longer access route over dirt road than from the Utah side.

From the Wire Pass Trailhead, The Wave can be reached by hiking approximately 3 miles (4.8 km) across open desert, making the round-trip to and from The Wave nearly 6-mile (9.7 km) climbing about 350 feet (110 m) in altitude. Temperatures in this area typically climb above 100 °F (38 °C) in the summer, so it is best to start the hike early. Anyone attempting the hike in any season is wise to be prepared for harsh desert conditions, including fierce winds, blowing sand, and little shade.

The Wave is challenging to find. In an effort to maintain the natural integrity of the region, there is no formal trail to The Wave. Most hikers are guided to The Wave either by GPS or a prominent landmark known as "the Black Crack," which is widely visible within the Coyote Buttes region. The Wave lies directly below the Black Crack. Hikers must choose their own route across the open desert, which requires traversing exposed sandstone, sand dunes, and sandy wash bottoms. It is not uncommon for hikers to get lost and never find The Wave.

A formal guide sheet for navigating to the Wave is now provided to every permitted hiker by the BLM. The guide is designed for use with compass, GPS, or visual navigation. There are six checkpoints each for the outbound hike to the Wave and the return to the trailhead. Each checkpoint includes a marked color photo of the terrain ahead, azimuth, latitude, longitude, UTM, northing, and easting. While less reliable, hikers may also observe many footprints in sandy areas and informal cairns on the slickrock. Visitors are well advised to closely study the guide sheet before starting their hike.

In past years there have been a significant number of Search and Rescue Operations conducted by both the Coconino County Sheriff's Office (Arizona) and the Kane County Sheriff's Office (Utah) for persons lost during the over-land hike to and from The Wave. Visitors are advised to take particular care in their navigation, carry a topographic map, compass and GPS and use them in the course of their excursions. The changing appearance of the terrain as the direction of the light shifts seems to be an important factor in a number of incidents. Any lost or missing persons should be reported immediately to either Sheriff's Office as the response time for SAR personnel to the area can be protracted. (It is best to call early and possibly have to cancel the response, rather than wait, which may cause the SAR operation to be conducted in the dark or after inclement weather moves in.)

Guided tours out of Kanab and Page are available to permitted Wave hikers and may be advisable for first-time visitors. This is especially true in the case of recent rains (road conditions have been known to be highly variable on House Rock Valley Road) or if one is inexperienced in navigating in the Wilderness or hiking in desert conditions. Often guides can share knowledge and lead a group to many of the features proximal to the Wave that are more hidden or subtle. Most carry satellite communications in case of emergency.

In media[edit]

A photograph of The Wave was used as the cover for Scale the Summit's album Carving Desert Canyons.


  1. ^ Loope, D.B. and J.A. Mason (2006) Landforms generated by wind erosion of Navajo Sandstone outcrops at the Wave (Colorado Plateau, Utah / Arizona border.) Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs. vol. 38, no. 7, p. 279.
  2. ^ Loope, D.B., W.M. Seiler, J.A. Mason, and M.A. Chan (2008) Wind scour of Navajo Sandstone at the Wave (central Colorado Plateau, U.S.A.) Journal of Geology. vol. 116, pp. 173-183.
  3. ^ a b Seiler, W.M. (2008) Jurassic Navajo sandstone of Coyote Buttes, Utah/Arizona : coloration and diagenetic history, preservation of a dinosaur trample surface, and terrestrial analogs to Mars. Unpublished M.S. thesis, Dept. of Geology and Geophysics, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  4. ^ Chan, M.A., and A.W. Archer (2000) Cyclic eolian stratification on the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone, Zion National Park: Periodicities and implications for paleoclimate. in D.A. Sprinkel, T.C. Chidsey, Jr., and P.B. Anderson, eds., pp. 607-618. Geology of Utah's Parks and Monuments. Utah Geological Association, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  5. ^ Caputo, M.V. (2003) Geology of the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, Utah and Arizona. in D.A. Sprinkel, T.C. Chidsey Jr., and P.B. Anderson, eds., Geology of Utah's Parks and Monuments. Utah Geological Association, Salt Lake City, Utah.
  6. ^ Milan, J., D.B. Loope, and R.G. Bromley (2008) Crouching theropod and Navahopus sauropodomorph tracks from the Early Jurassic Navajo Sandstone of USA. Acta palaeontologica Polonica. vol. 53, no. 2, pp. 197-205.
  7. ^ Ekdale, A.A., R.G. Bromley, and D.B. Loope (2007) Ichnofacies of an ancient erg: a climatically influenced trace fossil association in the Jurassic Navajo Sandstone, Southern Utah, USA. in W. Miller, ed. , 562–576, Trace Fossils. Concepts, Problems, Prospects. Elsevier, Amsterdam.
  8. ^ Martín, Hugo (November 25, 2007). "Arizona's Wave rock formation a stone-cold stunner". Los Angeles Times. 
  9. ^ a b Bureau of Land Management. "Coyote Buttes Permit Area". BLM Website. Retrieved April 6, 2012. 
  10. ^ a b Bureau of Land Management. "BLM-AZ How to Obtain a Permit - Coyote Buttes Permit Area". BLM Website. Retrieved April 6, 2012. 
  11. ^ Faszination Natur - Seven Seasons at the Internet Movie Database

External links[edit]