Monday, January 4, 2016

The Wave

By Kristy McCaffrey

The Wave
In 2012, I had the opportunity to hike to the Wave—an iconic and well-photographed sandstone alcove, located along the Arizona/Utah border. To enter the area where the Wave is located, you must have a permit. Only 20 people per day are allowed—10 through a lottery system and 10 for walk-in permits submitted the previous day. It took my dad two tries to gain two permits and to my great fortune he invited me along.

We arrived the preceding day in Page, Arizona and stayed the night in a hotel. Arising early the next morning, we found a Denny’s open at 6 a.m. and ate a hearty breakfast since our day packs weren’t filled with anything hot and tasty. The drive to the Wire Pass parking lot—the start of the trailhead—was about 43 miles from Page. The last 8 miles were on a dirt road that is impassable when wet, the red clay turning into a slippery muck. With the day overcast and the air a bit misty, the fact that we threw a few sleeping bags into the back of my dad’s truck at the last minute suddenly seemed like a good idea.
Me signing the hiking register.

The parking lot housed a restroom and a sign-in—we’re here in December but there have been deaths of people trekking to the Wave during the hot summer months. Keeping track of hikers is a must for the local rangers.

We made sure we were as prepared as possible with a detailed map provided by the Bureau of Land Management, a compass, and a GPS (courtesy of my smartphone). But that confidence soon wavered—the start of the trailhead led to a non-trail and we didn’t pay close enough attention to the landmarks provided on the map. We spent the first hour in the wrong direction. The GPS did indicate that we were moving farther away from our target, but it was the first time I’d used the GPS app on my smartphone and I figured we were taking a circuitous route that would eventually bring us to where we needed to be. Our detour did lead to an awesome slot canyon, however. After backtracking, we were soon headed in the right direction. We made certain we nailed every landmark thereafter.

My dad and I were lost the first hour and ended up in this
slot canyon.

The 5.5 mile hike, scrambling over sandy hills and red rock, took about 2 hours. The terrain offered sweeping views of sandstone pillars and red rock buttes, tiny cacti growing in crevices, and giant juniper trees standing vigil. It’s a desolate and quiet place, far from civilization.

At last, we climbed a hill just below a prominent landmark called “the Black Crack” and entered the alcove known as the Wave. The undulating swells of sandstone greeted us and we were awed, but admittedly slightly confused. Is this all there is? We both thought it would be more like a bowl viewed from above.

Another hiker arrived and, having been here before, explained the layout. We needed to climb above the alcove to find the picture-perfect spot, the one that he staked out with his tripod and camera for the next several hours.

We took awesome and surreal pictures, the rock flowing like water around us, and found the Second Wave and Hamburger Rock (per the hiker’s directions).

The Second Wave
Hamburger Rock

There were dinosaur tracks in the area, but we couldn’t muster enough enthusiasm to begin the search. Instead, we dropped into a small canyon below and explored the narrow curves of the walls as they closed in on us. We ate lunch there, since it sheltered us from the wind, then decided to begin the return hike.

The way back wasn’t difficult but the landmarks weren’t easily discernible, blending into one another in a blur of red rock upon red rock. We referenced the map and GPS frequently. My dad attempted a few compass readings, but the simple device was deceptive. In our weary state, we realized neither of us really knew how to use it. Luckily, my phone battery was still above fifty percent so we relied on the GPS. We were quite happy when we finally made it back to the car.

My dad and I at the Wave.

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Shanna Hatfield said...

What a wonderful experience for you, Kristy! And such great photos!

Kristy McCaffrey said...

Thank you Shanna!! Happy New Year to you and yours.