Why I'll Probably Never Hike the Wave (a.k.a. #35)

When you have a travel bucket list as long as mine, you have to be an optimist! I am optimistic that somehow, someday I'll have unlimited funds and time to accomplish the items on my list. I am optimistic that I will have the health and fitness to explore with energy and enthusiasm. I am optimistic that my husband won't divorce me after I either a) drag him around the globe several times or b) ditch him repeatedly to globe-trot on my own.

But every now and then, I must also be a realist. This is why I am willing to admit that there might be one item on the list that might not get checked off. (Just one though... let's not get too crazy here.)

I am talking about Travel Bucket List item #35, section A: See the Painted Desert (the Wave) in Arizona. It is beautiful, mysterious, unique, and seemingly virtually impossible to visit. Allow me to explain.

The Wave, Arizona, courtesy of http://www.newwest.net

I have indeed decided to go to Las Vegas for my Fall Break week in November. I am going to the National Convention for Teachers of English, and I am going to aspire to meet Nicholas Sparks and many other famous authors. I'm going to learn about teaching Language Arts in a world of digital books and graphic novels. And, yes, because it is officially my Fall Break and a holiday for me too, I am going to do some sight-seeing.

But what to do? I have been to Vegas twice now, and have seen most of what the Strip has to offer. I have been to Hoover Dam, the roller coaster at New York New York, the rides at the Stratosphere, eaten in some raunchy restaurants, visited a chocolate factory with a cactus garden (weird combo), and ziplined in the Nevada desert. These were all amazing activities, and I'd certainly do them again, but I like trying new things and going on new adventures.

One of the items (#35 on my list) is to hike through the Painted Desert and find the formation known as the Wave. The Wave is located in Arizona, but near the Utah border in a protected park called the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. This patch of land is controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, who strive to keep the Wave pristine, natural, and un-trampled by thousands of tourist feet. This I respect, but boy! Does this ever make it tricky to get to!

A play of shadows and light in the Wave, courtesy of http://www.connectionworld.org

For starters, the Wave is about a 5 hour drive from Las Vegas, and no tours can be booked from Vegas to the town of Page, which is the closest settlement to the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness. So you'd have to rent a car. This is not really a big deal, because I'm sure it would be a fun drive with lots to see and do.

Second, in order to hike in the Wilderness area, you require a permit. This is where it starts to get challenging. The Bureau of Land Management limits permits to only 20 issued per day. 10 of those permits can be gained through an on-line lottery system, but this must be done four months in advance. The other 10 "walk-in permits" are given out (lottery-style) at the ranger station at 9:00 a.m. the day before you can go hiking. There is no such thing as 'dropping in' to see the Wave. You plan your whole vacation around this landmark!

The Wave with a beautiful pool of water, courtesy of http://intelligenttravel.nationalgeographic.com

BUT... but... that's not all. If you are lucky enough to acquire a permit, you still have to find the Wave. Due to the protected status of the Paria Canyon area, there are no trails or paths that lead you safely and surely to the beautiful Painted Desert sight. IF the weather is nice, you won't get flooded out or washed away or covered in sand or cooked in the heat or eaten by vultures. Chances are, however, that it will either be super hot, or super wet, so come prepared for the elements.

You must also come with a GPS device or your own magical sherpa. No trails and very little landmarks make this nearly 5 kilometer hike to the Wave difficult to say the least. Your only 'signpost' is a ripple in the distant hills known as the "Black Crack". The Wave lies directly under this creatively-named formation, if you can get there. Don't forget that 5 kilometer hike back home, too! As you pick your way towards the Wave, beware crossing the open desert, with its baking hot stretches of sandstone, slippery sand dunes, and the wind blowing into your face - you guessed it - more sand!

Enroute to the Wave, courtesy of http://outindewoods.blogspot.ca/2010/05/wave-arizona.html

As I continued to do my research on how to find the Wave and the best ways to get there, I came across a lot of articles about "Missing Persons" who had gotten lost in the unforgiving desert whilst searching for the elusive Wave. Apparently, as the sun shifts, the shadow of the "Black Crack" can shift like a sundial, often causing hikers to misjudge the final location of the Wave, and leading them to get hopelessly lost. This sounded promising. P.S... Searchers must stop looking for you after sunset, or if the weather gets bad, so people, be prepared to be out there on your own after dark!

The "Black Crack", courtesy of http://www.hikingallery.com/vermillion_cliffs.htm

All in all, this is one bucket list item that I might not be exploring just yet. I enjoy a good hike just as much as the next travel-obsessed girl, but getting lost in a desert and eaten by a vulture doesn't fall into my definition of a "good time"! Perhaps I will enjoy instead Googling pictures of the Wave, and focus on completing section B of #35, which is hiking the much more accessible Antelope Canyon!


  1. I recommend renting a car and taking a drive to Utah to hike Johnston Canyon. It is amazing (and less deadly) there. I did the Angels Landing hike, it was a thrill!!

    1. Awesome! Thanks for the advice! Is it a long drive? I will be Googling this as soon as I post this reply! ;)

  2. Dropping in to say HI after meeting on twitter... I have an unwritten bucket list and I love a challenge so hiking the wave has been added.

    1. I am glad you came to visit! I'd love to see your travel bucket list - if you ever write it down, let me know and we can compare notes! I hope for both our sakes we someday make it out to this amazing feat of nature!