Catch the Wave 2007
Last month Dianne, Cheyenne, Cody and I traveled out
West. I have some musings about part of that trip that I offer for your perusal:
Driving in the pre-dawn darkness, in the driver's side
window I can see the reflection of the instrument panel. The soft green lights look
vaguely mysterious. The headlight beams pick up the streaming little lane
reflectors like a trail of luminous bread crumbs leading the way to great
adventure. The promise of a new day will soon manifest in the rearview mirror, but
just now I find the darkness exciting and watching all the lights soothing. The
radio is churning out oldies. My heart soars. There are dreams to catch down this
road, and the journey has begun. You are all invited to come along...
I know that on this trip we will see many beautiful and
awe-inspiring sights as we travel through southern Utah and visit Zion, Bryce
Canyon, Grand Canyon (North Rim) and Canyonlands National Parks and Grand
Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and I am full of anticipation. But, my
thoughts keep returning to a special dream that I hope to realize along the way,
and it is that dream I want to share now.
A few years ago I learned of a place in the Paria
Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area that spans the border between Utah and
Arizona. The place is called Coyote Buttes. Coyote Buttes South is in Arizona,
while Coyote Buttes North is in Utah. Within Coyote Buttes North, there is a place
called "The Wave". From the time I learned of The Wave, I dreamed of one
day seeing it. But seeing it is not easy. Only twenty people a day are granted
permits to enter the wilderness area, and there are always more than twenty wanting
to go on any given day; a lot more. So, a lottery system is in place. One
representative from each group that shows up at the ranger station is assigned a
number, and all the numbers (which are on wooden cubes) are placed in a little
rotating cage (like one that might be used to draw numbers for a game of
Bingo). At 9:30 a.m. local time, the ranger spins the cage and starts drawing
numbers. When a number is drawn, then permits are issued to all the
people in that group (groups are limited to six people), and the number of slots is
reduced by the number of people in that group. The drawing continues until all
twenty slots are assigned. If you don't get a permit, then you can come back the
next day and try again. There is no assurance that you will get a permit in the
next drawing, but you are given two numbers then to go in the cage. And so it goes.
If you perservere for a number of days, you will probably get a permit eventually.
Our base of operations for our attempt to see The Wave
is Page, Arizona, which is 27 miles from the ranger station, which is in Utah.
Because Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time, Arizona time is one hour
behind Utah time (during the months of DST). I make sure to leave Page with plenty
of time to make it to the ranger station at the correct Utah time. We spend the
half-hour drive saying to each other over and over, "I sure hope we get lucky
(as in get a permit) today".
When we arrive at the ranger station (with 20 minutes
to spare), we are dismayed to see the size of the crowd already there. There must
be 60 people; all hoping to get lucky. We fill out the application and are assigned
our number. It is 15, which means that there have been 14 groups apply before us.
As it turns out, we are the last group to get our number in the cage today, and as
soon as it's in, it's 9:30 and the ranger starts spinning the cage. The first
number he pulls out is not ours, and six slots vanish before our eyes. The next
number is not ours. Nor the next. The drawing continues until there are only two
slots left. I feel like I'm at roulette table in Vegas. Come on 15!!!!! The ranger
pulls another little cube out, and with only a slight dramatic pause,
announces the number. There is a chorus of moans and one exclamation of
delight. The exclamation has sprung from OUR mouths. We are IN!!
We spend a few more minutes filling out paperwork that
mostly tells them where to send the bodies should we have the misfortune to die in
the desert. We are issued 4 permits (two for the boys, but they didn't count as
slots in the drawing), and we rush out to the jeep to deliver the good news to
Cheyenne & Cody. They share our enthusiasm.
The permits issued on a given morning are valid for the
next day, so we have the rest of today to do some sightseeing. We head for the
North Rim of the Grand Canyon. We drive through the desert below the Vermilion Cliffs
and watch the colors come alive in the morning sun. When we reach the little
junction of Jacob Lake, we head south on the sixty mile drive to the Rim. We have
gained a lot of altitude (over 8,000 ft), and the temperature is quite
pleasant as we motor through a forest of Ponderosa pines. We stop along the
way to play in meadows of broomgrass and to enjoy the cool, crisp, totally
clean air. The boys look like furry pinballs as they bounce around exploring
with noses to the ground. My heart and senses grow full.
When we reach the Rim, we see familiar views of the
Canyon. We have passed this way a few times before, but we never grow tired of the
granduer. The Canyon seeps into your soul. At one overlook we look east and
see the Painted Desert some 75 miles distant. From another, we look directly across to
the far away South Rim where we know the tourists are thick, and in the
stillness of the North Rim we imagine we can hear all the oooh's and aaah's coming
from them. We send our own similar greetings to them. Should they decide to join
us, they will have to drive 245 miles, because the nearest bridge across the
Colorado is the Navajo Bridge far to the northeast of the South Rim. Both the
North Rim and the South Rim amaze and inspire all who visit.
We return to Page to eat supper a neat little
Italian restaurant called Strombolli's. Great lasagna! Afterward, we spend most of
the evening checking our gear and looking over maps for the next day's hike. I am
almost too excited to sleep, but we turn in early, for we plan to start very
early in the morning.
Morning arrives as soon as I close my eyes, and I have
to kick-start my excitement. It's 4 a.m. Arizona time, and the first light is
creeping into the sky. The air is cool. We throw our gear in the jeep and head for
the trailhead, which is 16 miles down a dirt road (and I use the term loosely) that
departs the paved road a few mile past the ranger station. We arrive at
the trailhead about 5:45 Utah time and we hope to make the round-trip hike (of 6
miles) before the day heats up. We put Cody's backpack on him and load it with six
pint bottles of water. I have 3 three-liter bottles in my pack, and Dianne has two
such bottles in her's. We have hats and boots for the boys. They will need both,
because the terrain is slickrock and there are no trees except for the first half
mile. I check my camera, film, compass and maps one more time, and we are off.
There are no trails, but we have been issued
directions with compass bearings and photographs of landmarks for the suggested
route. We hike down a dry wash (called Coyote Wash) for 1/2 of a
mile until we reach the sign in point just inside the wilderness boundary. I sign
the four of us in and we move off along a sandy path that goes up and over a hill
and drops into another wash where we start looking for our first landmark. So far
we haven't seen any of the other eighteen people that are supposed to be heading to
the same place we are, and Dianne asks me if I'm sure we are on the right trail. I
remind her that there are no trails, and that calms her right down. Then I remind
her that I was an Eagle Scout, and she asks me how much I really remember from
when I was 16. I suggest that we conserve our energy by not talking anymore. We
hike along the base of a sandstone ridge until I actually find the first landmark
and we go up and over the ridge.
The sight on the other side of the ridge is
beautiful and a little scary. There is an unending vista of sandstone ridges and
slickrock. There are no trees, save for an occasional gnarly pinyon pine that
is little more than head-high. It's hard to believe that any tree could live here,
for there is not one drop of water anywhere in this 17-million acre
wilderness. Most of the vegitation survives off snow melt and dew. Neither
of those are present today. Much more numerous than trees are scrubby juniper
bushes and patches of dry grass. I consult the map and take a bearing to the next
landmark (a pair of twin buttes) and we continue across a stretch of slickrock that
is slanted to a degree that makes our gait quite amusing. The boys don't seem to
notice the slant and want to move faster. They pull at their leashes.
At the twin buttes we stop in the shade of one of them
to take our first water break. We froze two bottles of water, so at this point we
have wonderful ice-cold water. We spend a few minutes enjoying the view and the
water. Then we move to the other side of the buttes and easily spot our next
landmark. We move down a gully and cross a relatively flat section of
slickrock until we reach a deep sandy wash.
On the other side of the wash we can see our final
landmark. It is a deep cleft in a sandstone butte that towers above
what the directions refer to as a sand dune. When we cross the last dry wash and
stand at the foot of that sand dune, I make a mental note to tell the ranger to
revise the description. I would call it a sand mountain. The entrance to The
Wave is some 400 ft straight up that sand
mountain. If you have ever attempted to walk in deep sand (as fine as sugar) up a
60% grade, you will have an idea of this obstacle. It takes us half an hour to make
it to the top.
At the top we take a nice long break in the shade of a
cliff at the entrance to The Wave. We survey the land we have just crossed. It is
pretty spectacular from up here. The sky is bluer than blue and there is not a
cloud in it. The air is warming up, but it's very comfortable here in the shade. We
sit here and soak up the view. I am enjoying the anticipation of walking the next
100 ft for my first sight of The Wave. I feel just like a kid on Christmas morning.
We get up and start walking. It's time to open the "big" present.
By now most of you know that I'm a "wordy"
person, but when I enter The Wave I know that I'll have a hard time conveying the
experience. I think it's like walking into a magnificent cathedral for the first
time. It works on all your senses at once. I feel awe and reverence. It's still and
quiet and timeless. There are a thousand textures and an impossible pallete of
colors. The Wave is kind of an elongated bowl with steep sides. It looks as if
liquified sand has been swirled with some galactic spoon and then flash-frozen.
Ripples of solid stone climb the walls and curve into narrow side canyons. Sun
and shadow bring the rock to life and draw the eye to spectacular details. Up
close, some parts look like finely crafted wood. This place is eternal and changing
before my eyes. I want to see faster. I make my eyes move slower. We stand in the
middle of The Wave and slowly turn 360 degrees. I have opened my present and I love
After gazing for a while longer, I move to the edge of
the bowl and touch the walls. The stone is warm and mostly rough to the touch. I
take a lot of pictures and explore two small side canyons. Then I climb to the top
of the far end. From up here I can see the whole Wave at once. It is beautiful.
The four of us return to the entrance and settle in the
shade once more. Other hikers start to show up. It's fun to watch them do what we
just did. It's almost like there is a script. Each set takes their turn actually in
The Wave and then moves to the entrance out of sight so that all can photograph
their solitary experience. There's not much talking going on, and what talking
there is is in hushed voices. No one wants to spoil the mood and the setting.
Ultimately, we must head back. We have already stayed
longer than I had planned, and the day is really starting to warm up. In fact, it's
getting way too hot, and I am concerned that the trek back might be too much for
Cheyenne. Reluctantly, we head down the sand mountain to begin the return hike.
On almost any hike a return trip seems to me to be
mostly work. This one is ALL work. The sand seems deeper, the slickrock is
like an oven (the temperature is 104 degrees), and the landmarks have mysteriously
vanished from this perspective. I thought I had looked back enough times on the
trip out to pick out the route back. I am wrong, and I have to leave Dianne and the
boys several times to scout out the way to go. It's getting so hot that I
decide to take a short cut over the last ridge. It will cut about a mile and a half
off our journey, but it means going up almost vertically for about 300 ft and then
down almost vertically the same distance on the other side. I leave Dianne and the
boys again and climb to the top. I can see the sandy "trail" that leads
out across a wash at the bottom of cliff we must descend. I return and tell
Dianne what we need to do. She says we can do it. And so we do. I am proud of
Dianne and of my boys. They have guts. I wish that we would see some other hikers
so I could tell them, "My wife and my boys just came down that cliff over
there and never gave up".
The last mile out is pure hell. No complaints from
anyone. We are a team, and we made it. I sign us out.
When we get to the wash that leads to the car,
there is a large juniper tree, and I leave Dianne and the boys one last time. I
hike to the car to get cold water for everyone. When I return, we all
celebrate with long, long drinks of ice cold water. After a good rest, we hike
the last 1/2 mile and collapse in the jeep with the air on full blast. We are
exhausted, but our spirits are high. We will never forget this experience. For me,
my dreamcatcher has worked. It caught a big one. Thanks for sharing it with me.
Love to all,