Part of my dream life is experiencing incredible places created by nature. I know the world is so vast, diverse, and incredible, so I know there are things out there that would blow my mind and be so breathtaking if I could just discover them and visit. Therefore, certain natural phenomena are on my bucket list to visit within my life time.
The Wave, otherwise known as North Coyote Buttes, is possibly the most sought after, exclusive public natural destination in the USA. Located in Arizona, The Wave’s beauty speaks for itself. One look at some of the photos from there, and you’re sold.
And The Wave was definitely on the top of my bucket list ever since I found out about it in a Facebook group a couple years ago. After discovering how difficult and exclusive it was to win, I knew I needed to learn more and develop a game plan to make this dream life wish list item into a reality. And if I didn’t achieve it, at least I wanted to make sure I gave it a good try.
And after a lot of trial and failure, I won. On my birthday too. I want to share this incredible story and a lot of tips I picked up along the way.
Explaining the Difficulty of Winning a Wave Permit
Over 200,000 people apply for a permit every year, and they only issue a limited 64 permits to groups every day.
And the number of applicants is only going to increase every year as more people find out about it and apply. Almost every time I see someone post photos or videos about it online, there are comments that say something along the lines of “What is that? I want to go visit.” And influencers aren’t going to stop posting about it. In fact, they post it often because the views are like they come from another planet. You don’t see this stuff anywhere else. While the average person on your street may not know what it is, if you show them a photo, they may recognize it. and even if they don’t recognize it, now they want to go.
To give you some reference, I’ve heard about people who have been applying for ten to thirteen years in the advanced lottery before winning. And what makes it even more difficult to win is that even if you win a permit, if the weather is really bad on that day, which usually happens when it rains or floods a lot, the roads or area could just be so bad that they are forced to cancel that day’s trip. I’ve heard of others who ran into this issue.
My Journey to Visiting North Coyote Buttes (What The Hike Is Actually Like)
The story begins with me attempting to enter the advanced lottery once per month. If you don’t live near the area, anyone around the globe can still apply for an advanced lottery for a month a few years in the future. This gives the winners time to prepare their transportation and days off to make sure they arrive on time.
And I kept losing. to keep this part short, I would excitedly open every email announcement every month only to be met with disappointment. Pretty soon, I wasn’t surprised when I lost. It was competitive.
Pro tip: As I will elaborate on later in the tips section, one mistake I made was choosing preferred days on weekends. Those dates are more competitive. It’s all about decreasing your competition.
Eventually, I realized that my best shot was the daily lottery. The daily lottery happens once a day, but you can only enter within certain geofence areas near the Wave decided by the BLM a.k.a. the Bureau of Land Management. You can Google to find this geofence map.
If I travel to and apply to the daily lottery in this area, I will have more entries than only applying once per mont. Later, I realized that the competition is less since only those in the geofence could apply, which is really important. The daily competition is still fierce, with hundreds applying. Yet you’re still competing with less people than the thousands from many countries around the world applying to the advanced lottery. Yep, foreigners eagerly come here too; I met a few when I won.
I hit my first big obstacle on my way into the geofence area. My car, which had been working fine for many months, decided to stop getting faster as I pushed on the gas harder. In fact, it slowed down to a halt. I was on a two lane highway in the middle of nowhere in southern Utah, which had many areas with no cell service. I was broken down in a place without a way to phone for help. The nearest towns were at least 45 minutes drive away, and these towns often didn’t have a car mechanic.
Thankfully, the second car I waved down was very helpful. This kind older man helped me push my car to the side of the road. We brainstormed ideas. He agreed this was the worst place to break down. Eventually, he went out of his way to drive me to the nearest town with mechanics, which was 1.5 hours away in Richfield. I got to learn about his life. He grew up in this local area, traveling around the USA working for the government and wildlife. Then, he decided to return and retire here because he loved the nature here.
It was beautiful hearing about his love of the land and seeing the kindness of people. I ended up staying two and a half days in a hotel I wasn’t planning on staying to get the car repaired. They towed my car, which was another extremely hefty fee. but there was no alternative. Interestingly enough, this town’s mechanics seemed to get a lot of business from people like me who were traveling through based on their Google reviews.
That didn’t matter to me as much as the fact that I had lost a few nights that I could’ve entered the daily lottery. I had already paid for those nights in the town I was supposed to get to, Kanab, which was in the geofence. Richfield was not in the geofence.
While I was frustrated, I was just thankful that I was still alive and healthy and the car was successfully repaired. The fuel pump needed replacing.
I arrived there in the middle of the week and started applying to the daily lotteries.
And I kept losing.
Nonetheless, I was finally in the game. I had a rhythm going now.
My initial plan was to stay for one week trying to daily lottery, and then, see if I wanted to stay for just one more week. Given the frustrations of the first week, I figured I definitely should stay for a second week, so I did.
Plus, there is so much else to see nearby that was free, affordable, or much more accessible than North Coyote Buttes. I spent the second week exploring cool things like Moqui Sand Caves, the largest no-kill animal shelter in the country, and the Pink Coral Sand Dunes.
I kept applying to the Daily Lottery … and losing.
It became a daily routine.
And now, I was feeling fulfilled. I’d explored a lot of cool things nearby, like slot canyons that I’ve never experienced before in my life. There were still so many unique natural experiences here that you don’t see anywhere else in the world.
People talk about visiting other places here like South Coyote Buttes or White Pocket as a consolation prize to losing the Wave. But others say that this is not fair to these places because they’re just as beautiful in their own ways. I agree with that, and I told myself I would be happy and fine with it if I never won during my time here. I gave it a good swing, and I still walked away with so many amazing experiences.
It was the end of the second week. I was feeling amazing about my experience, yet I still hadn’t won. On a select couple days, I would still get a bit crazy and eager to win. And that would turn into me creating an additional account or two to apply more than once. I didn’t have an unlimited budget. there are definitely people richer than me. and yet, I wanted to stretch it to just give myself a little bit more of an edge while I was still here and could.
But I still didn’t win. Was this it?
After thinking it through, I decided to extend my stay for just one more week. This was it. This time, if I didn’t win, I would be gone.
Plus, my birthday was coming up. This coming week, my birthday will fall on the last day, saturday. wouldn’t it be so poetic if I won on my birthday?
The start of that week was a Sunday. That evening, I booked a guided tour of the beautiful Peekaboo Canyon because you needed four-wheel drive to visit the location. I told the guide how it would be so poetic if I won on my birthday. I also picked her brain to see if there were any tips or an edge I could get to win the lottery.
She told me unfortunately that no one had an edge. No one, including the tour companies, have some secret edge to winning the lottery. It’s very hard to win, and you just have to keep trying and hope for the best. The most recent person she took on a tour there revealed he had been trying for 13 years through the advanced lottery.
We parted ways after the tour ended. As I left, she and another customer taking the tour wished me the best of luck. She said she was rooting for me to win. I told them I’ll still be happy if I don’t win, but I’ll keep trying!
This final week had its ups and downs. I’d settled into a routine. Wake up. Apply for the lottery. Work, Cooking. Hit up the local and only gym in the town. Check my email for the lottery results. Don’t feel surprised at all when it says I lost.
One low point was I discovered I had left something of value, a whole box of contact lenses, in a previous stop on my drive here. Fortunately, I was able to locate it and coordinate a time when I can pick it up. Unfortunately, I felt it was best to do it during this time I had off from work, which meant I needed to drive seven to eight hours back the way I came to get it and then return. I think I lost two, maybe three, days where I couldn’t enter the lottery because I was on the road for 16 hours outside the geofence driving to pick it up. Stuff happens. :(
One highlight was I was within driving distance of the Grand Canyon North Rim, which I didn’t realize before my tour guide brought it up. Most people on the globe don’t recognize many US monuments, but almost everyone recognizes the Grand Canyon. I had never been, and this was surely another grand bucket list item to do before I die. I drove up there, and it was magnificent. It was incredible to see how the earth could create such deep canyons with so much texture and color over millions of years.
And yes, I kept losing the lottery, but that took my mind off of it.
Later, I received some unfortunate family news. I tried to not let it bring me down. It was tough to process yet I told myself this was something completely out of my control, so don’t dwell on it too much or mess you up.
I may have faltered slightly, but I kept to my routine. I was often lifting weights or foam rolling when I would read the news of whether I won or lost the lottery.
It was towards the end of this final week when I decided to apply to the South Coyote Buttes lottery. It’s near the Wave, ergo the name North Coyote Buttes. And it’s much easier to win since there’s much less competition and sought after. It’s beautiful in its own way.
I checked my email that Thursday… to find a unique email subject line saying I had won South Coyote!
I was stoked to finally win something. I went to the permit pick-up and orientation early the next morning at the Kanab Tourism Center, and I was surprised to find that there weren’t that many people there for the Wave or South Coyote. I was the only one who showed for South Coyote and only three small parties showed for the Wave.
I had read online that not everyone who wins actually shows up to collect their permit. it’s rather strange yet it happens. People find out they can’t come. People miss the email in their inbox. I wouldn’t expect that to be the case for something so sought after, but it is what it is. Who knows?
I asked two groups how many times they tried before winning. One was a two-person couple. Another was a foreign family. They both said they got it on their first try. And the lack of exuberance or energy in their reaction was super flabbergasting to me.
I was trying so hard. I knew how tough it is to win. Yet they seemed almost indifferent, slightly happy about it. Perhaps, it’s because they won easily and didn’t know the significance. Or they were quiet introverts who kept their emotions to themselves. I wanted to look at them with complete shock, but I held it together and left.
The orientation instructor insisted that I take four-wheel drive to get here. He walked me through the drive to getting there if I so chose to go on my own. It was not a simple route and required many steps, as well as driving through terrain that was not easy on the car.
It rained a lot recently, which really affects the drivability of the dirt roads and if you can even visit Coyote Buttes at all even if you win a permit. Luckily, he said it’s definitely still possible just with the right four wheel drive car. I asked for and received a list of about a dozen local tour guide companies who I could book a tour with that would provide a four-wheel drive. My Camry was just a 2WD.
I called them all up until they would pick up to see if anyone would be available to take me on the tour. Some were not available, some were sold out already, and the remainder said they needed a minimum of two people to book the tour so it’s profitable. They suggested I hang around and see if anyone shows up for a South Coyote permit to ask them to join.
I waited … and no one ever did.
I left my contact info with the tour companies, and I told them to call me if someone else calls in looking to book a tour. I was hopeful. Maybe others picked up their permits through an advanced lottery or something else. Maybe I didn’t catch them there but they were there.
I checked in later that evening with some companies, and got no luck. It was time to throw in the towel. Unfortunately, I had won the permit, but I didn’t have the right equipment or amount of people to actually make this happen.
It would have been perfect if I could’ve gone. It requires the whole day to go through the tour, and I had the entire next day off. Stuff happens that we don’t want.
Tomorrow was the final full day I had. A Saturday. And my birthday. The day after, I was planning to check out and leave that morning. If I really needed to, I may have been able to stay that day too if I found out I won. But tomorrow was really my final big attempt. (I was also considering taking a break and then coming back for a week or so later this year for another swing. But either way, it was closing in on the end of the line where I would give it up for good.)
I applied with just one extra account for good luck. Then, I went to the gym and went for a walk through a local canyon valley area near the town that I found on All Trails. I wanted it to be a slow, simple end of the day. No big drives to visit something far away. Just something simple closeby. It may not be what the area is known for, but it’s beautiful and nice.
As I finished my walk, I got back to my car where the cell service picked up again. I checked my email inbox … and my mouth dropped open.
I was so used to seeing the Loser email for North Coyote Buttes, that I knew something was different when I saw the subject line. This was an email from BLM, but it was different.
I rapidly clicked into it, scanned the first paragraph in a millisecond. And saw that I had WON A PERMIT TO THE WAVE on my freaking BIRTHDAY!! After my car breaking down, trials and tribulations, losses, getting bad personal news, the stars aligned, and I won!!!
I yelled and screamed with the light. If someone else overheard, the yell was probably kind of meager given that I’m an introvert and don’t often talk loud. But I tried to be as enthusiastic as possible because this moment deserved it.
I couldn’t believe it! I was on cloud nine.
I drove home so happy, and immediately followed all the steps I knew were necessary. the South Coyote permit was a blessing in disguise because it walked me through all the steps I needed to not skip.
I learned that you need to accept your invitation from the time it’s announced, 7PM that evening, to before the 8:30AM orientation the day after. Else, your permit is void. I raced to do that on my phone. Then, you must show up to the orientation on time, or your permit is void. I was now already familiar with where to drive to pick up the permit since I’d already gone there the day before.
I went to sleep that night happy, with my alarm clock set really early because I planned to get there early just to make sure I didn’t miss collecting the permit or the orientation. While I had one, there were still a few contingencies like this that I had to not slip up on to make sure I got there.
I got there bright and early and sat in the waiting area on a sofa. An old man walked in and started going on and on about how hard it is to win the Wave to the front desk clerk who agreed with him. He said how he had applied a dozen or so times, $9 a pop, and how he would love to see it. He said some natural swirls in the surrounding area were amazing, so he could only imagine how the Wave looked. I partially wanted to chime in and agree with him, having done the same thing. But he was focused on the front desk clerk, and he never noticed me.
A middle aged man walked in, didn’t notice me at all, and asked the front desk clerk where to go. He got directed to the other end of the room where there is a guy sitting down who hands out the permits after verifying your ID.
I got directed there soon after to pick up my permit. And I found out that it was just going to be me and him. Once again, I was flabbergasted that so few people came to pick up their permits after their win. I was even more shocked to find out after asking that he won on his first try. He seemed slightly happy, not exuberant, possibly oblivious to how hard it is to win.
Right before the orientation was about to start, that old man came in asking the instructor if he could also get a Wave brochure. I pointed at the public ones on the stand, but he specifically wanted a winner’s brochure. He was eager to get one yet the instructor sternly said he wasn’t permitted to give these out to anyone but the winners. The old man slinked away in a disappointed way. Later on, I examined the winner’s brochure to discover it had exact pictures and captions for various natural monuments on the trail to the Wave that you can use as a guide to not get lost. I can see why this is proprietary, so they don’t want to share it.
As the orientation started, a family of four walked in casually 2 minutes in. I resisted the urge to playfully shout, “YOU’RE LATE! The permit is void. Just kidding.” The orientation instructor was nice and just welcomed them with no problem. They also had an air of indifference to the amazingness of winning this ticket. I saw that they held their permit, which was a different color than mine. This was likely an advanced lottery winner. (Later on, when I got to the Wave, I asked them about it. And they also won on their first try. That doesn’t mean it’s easy to win. It’s just these are the few first triers who won out of the many who tried.)
The orientation only took 20 minutes. but it was pretty important. Unlike the South Coyote one, the instructor went into specific details about:
- Seeing each natural monument on the hike to the Wave so you don’t get lost. I found a lot of the things rather nuanced and a bit difficult. The other attendees didn’t have many questions and were cool about it. I was a little concerned about actually noticing these things. How was I, for example, supposed to spot this one “saddle” in many curves of mountains? There were six points going there and six coming back.
- He emphasized the importance of bringing one to two gallons of water, electrolytes, nuts, etc. to not die out there. There have been fatalities.
- He went into safety tips. Put your phone on airplane mode to conserve power. Make sure it’s fully charged. There’s no service out there but you can dial 911 which will give a boosted signal. The helicopter safety lift is the fastest way, but it’ll take about twenty minutes.
- Don’t be stupid and wear the wrong shoes. He’s seen people trying to wear crocs, high heels, and flip flops.
- He gave us a sunrise (6:15 AM that day) and sunset time for the day and the forecasted weather. He advised not starting the walk until the sun rose because it’s near impossible to navigate in pitch black.
- One part of your permit must be visible inside your car at all times when there. Another should be on you at all times.
- Rangers have hiding spots to scan and spot people sneaking in without a permit. If caught, the fines for each thing they get you on can go up to $10,000. They apparently caught one guy who was trying to camp there for three days. The fee was up to $100,000. Plus, he was facing up to a year in jail. You’re forced to see a public judge if caught. And it’s something that gets added to your permanent criminal record forever. Similarly, drones are prohibited, and you will also face similar consequences if caught.
- He told me that the weather tomorrow would be perfect for me. It’s the perfect day in the best month to visit this place. The weather will be not too hot and not too cold. This was incredible for me because not only was it my birthday, but the weather aligned as well. Had I won just two days earlier, the weather would have been terrible since it had been raining and flooding. Everything really just aligned perfectly for me.
I’ll spare you all the details. The point is he was pretty thorough and efficient with everything he said. Everything was relevant and worth saying. And he was happy to field questions afterwards.
The two other parties seem pretty chill about it. They didn’t seem to have questions. and then they were about to leave. I checked with them both to see if we could coordinate some meeting time if possible to grow as a group, which is safer. Both had families they were taking with them.
What ended up happening was we said we’d be there around 6:30 to 7. If we saw each other, we could go together. If not, we will assume they’re behind us or already departed.
I told the instructor it was my birthday, and emailed the tour guide company that did my Peekaboo Canyon tour to tell my tour guide that I had won on my birthday. I asked the instructor if anything like me winning two permits two days in a row had happened. He said it did, and he was surprised when he saw my name again when it came up this morning.
And that was it. I went home and made some preparations. I took a nap for the first time in forever to catch up on sleep. I’d initially planned to use more of this day to visit another nearby big attraction, like Zion National Park. But the anticipation for this trip and everything just turned most of the day into going to the gym, cooking, eating, and napping.
I still had some leftover time, so I did actually end up visiting Zion briefly for two hours. I made sure to keep it a short trip and I didn’t see most of Zion because I didn’t want some injury or exhaustion from this visit to ruin the big thing that was tomorrow.
I stopped by the grocery store to buy all the necessary things for tomorrow. And then I got to packing my backpack. I took out everything except the essentials: two liters of water, Gatorade, bananas, nuts, my phone, my permit, my mirrorless camera, my camera batteries, and some additional quick snacks. I made sure to remember to also bring my camera tripod. all this would be about 20 to 30 lb to carry, which makes it harder to hike. But these were essential things.
My camera is better than a phone camera but not by much. it plus the lens probably cost about $600 used. I wish I could afford something higher quality for such an experience. but you work with what you can in your budget. I actually did have a slightly better lens, but I dropped it a couple weeks before and cracked it.
I put product in my hair. I had to decide on an outfit. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I didn’t want to have terrible fashion or bad grooming because I forgot to account for it. I probably won’t have another chance. I’ve seen some people come out there with a beautiful flowing dress with strands that flow with the wind behind them. Clearly, they have it planned. I just don’t want to be the guy wearing wacky or mediocre clothes there. At least put some thought into it.
I wasn’t the best with my fashion sense, but I do decent. I ended up settling on Gray shorts, and a dark and white flowered polo shirt. Yhen, I had one accessory, which was a silver cuff bracelet. I’m sure I could have thought of something better, but I had limited time to decide. It wasn’t terrible. I was initially thinking of something that would contrast well with the red and white rock colors, yet I couldn’t put together a good blue and green outfit in time.
And then, I tried to get to sleep earlier than usual. but I just couldn’t get to sleep earlier than my usual sleep hours. I set a bunch of alarms from 5:00 a.m. to 6:00 a.m. My intention was to leave at 5:30-ish so that I could get to the start of the trail by 6:30ish. Kanab is an hour from the trailhead. If you type in Wirepass Trail Parking in Google Maps, that’s where it is.
I went to sleep and I woke up on my own accord without an alarm at about 5:00 a.m. This never happens, so it was definitely the anticipation for this outstanding, amazing trip. While it was a bit earlier than usual, I decided to set off. I made sure I had all my stuff and didn’t forget anything crucial. it’s probably better to get there early than late. If I’m the first one there, I can take photos without anyone in them. And I don’t have to wait my turn.
The one hour drive to the parking lot trail was cold, so I had to turn on the car’s heater. It was a weird time of the year in September where it was really cold in the morning before the sun came out and then it would get really hot by noon.
It was dark outside. You couldn’t see many stars, and I knew the road had these large plains that stretched for hundreds of yards on either side of me. But in the night, there could’ve been walls next to the road and I couldn’t tell the difference.
Luckily, I had visited this exact parking lot before to hike the Wire Pass Trail into Buckskin Gulch in week two. This hike is beautiful in its own right, with beautiful slot canyons, and it’s available to the public. It’s the same entrance point as North Coyote Buttes before splitting off. This gave me an added advantage because I knew where to drive to get to the Wave first.
The turn into the start of the dirt road that leads to it is a tiny road that is easily missable from the fast-paced main road. I almost missed it the first time and almost hit my car on a rock wall turning into it. A rock cliff/wall area covers the road, so you have to pay attention to the GPS when you get close.
When I turned in, I stopped my car just to look at the sky. I wondered if I could see stars. this time, I was more in the middle of nowhere, it was darker, and I saw a bunch of stars in the sky. This was also a wonder and majesty for me because it’s crazy to think that each of those stars represents its own star system in the universe. And one or more of them could have intelligent life as well. What a vast world this is.
Then, it’s a dirt road for about 10 miles that gets slowly muddier and rockier as you go deeper. This is why you need 4WD on some days. The road can be gnarly. Luckily, it wasn’t as bad as when I went the first time. The sun had dried it out, so it was mostly a flat but rocky road. It was still not easy and while I was cautious, there were a couple points where I was going a bit too fast and I hit a bump that made some unpleasant noises. This road can take 20 to 30 minutes on its own. You’re advised to drive slow by the orientation instructor. It’s a game of patience and diligence.
There were other cars spread across in the parking lot, not many but some. Did someone get here before I did? or was I the first? It was hard to tell. I would waste time walking to each to see if there was a Wave permit in there. Plus, it was cold out.
I then remembered I need to sign into the log book in this area. When I did so, I checked to see if anyone else had logged something for that day. No one had. It seems like I was the first, at least coming from Kanab. Hooray! The other cars were likely people who were staying and camping here for other reasons.
I put on a light jacket because it was still cold. And then I embarked.
Another thing that can trip people up is where the trailhead starts. There’s a few pass branching out from the parking lot. I had to ask the park ranger in my first time here which is the right way and it’s actually on the other side of the road bordering the parking lot. This gave me another little advantage because I didn’t lose time finding the start.
2 minutes in, I doubled back because I had forgotten something important in my car. I can’t remember what it was but it was likely a hat or sunscreen.
Then, I embarked again and the first 15 minutes of the hike was pretty smooth because I knew where to go. It’s literally the same pack you would take to start the Wire Pass trail. I was walking quickly to see if I could get there first. I considered staying and waiting for the others yet given their indifferent attitude, I wouldn’t be surprised if they underestimated this and showed up an hour or two late.
Soon, I hit the point where the trail for North Coyotes branched off from the wash I was in. Now, the adventure begins.
I started to hike up a long path going up a hill. There was a noticeable incline, and while I was getting tired, I was still pumped with energy and anticipation, so it was fine.
I kept following the same path and saw so many footprints. Despite this being fairly exclusive, I noted that it was “off the beaten path” but not by much. 20 to 50 people cross this path every day. That’s still like the traffic in a small town area.
Now, I’m not going to go through every little nook, thought, and cranny I had while hiking to The Wave. I’ll just bring up some highlights.
For the first half hour, I was amazed, excited, a bit nervous, and slightly confused. The path opened up to these great plains with incredible rock formations, green foliage, and natural beauty as far as the eye could see. I was in my own secret garden that stretches on forever.
I was a bit confused because the photos and notes in the brochure only tell you so much about each Monument you need to look out for to make sure you’re headed in the right direction. I kept reading it over and over as I walked to make sure I didn’t miss it. I want to see it for a while, and then I would see something and move in that direction.
Luckily, I also got a free trial of all Trails Pro the night before on my phone, which does provide an offline Trail for The Wave that proved to be very useful. In conjunction with the brochure, I was able to easily tell when I veered off course to get back on course.
I was a bit nervous because I wondered how far back other people were. Occasionally, I would look behind me hoping not to see anyone else trailing me so that I could get to the way first and have a bit of time to take photos. I was reading articles the night before, and it seemed like getting there and seeing it was empty was a major goal for some people visiting The Wave.
I kept looking back, and seeing no one. As far as the eye can see, it was just me. I yelled triumphantly and excitedly that I got the opportunity to visit this place. It was a great place to do it because there didn’t seem to be a soul anywhere. Once again, I rarely yell or speak loudly, so the actual yell probably wasn’t that loud.
Slowly but surely I started to move closer and closer. The great grassy plains stopped and parted for a desert of rock floors and rock formations. The sun was out already which was a bummer because I still wasn’t that close yet. I realize I could have embarked at 4:00 a.m. if I really wanted to get there right at sunrise.
For a while, I was remarking on how I didn’t feel hot at all. It was the perfect temperature. but now that the sun was rising and it had some time to beat on me and reflect off the rock, I was starting to feel that heat. Nonetheless, I saw the beautiful amber orange glow it was creating on some of the rock, and I just felt amazing. Who knew God could create something so grand?
This part got a bit harder to navigate and find things because there’s just so many different rocks that look somewhat alike. you often have to scramble across uneven rock floors at the incline, so you could easily veer off the path by going downhill or uphill when you shouldn’t. The instructor said to take photos looking back at this point because it’s a point where people get lost on their way back.
So, I’ll spare you all the details of navigating the rocks and land markers. What I will say is that I thought I did a pretty good job overall. While I veered off course, I didn’t veer of for long and I got right back on it. It was tiring with the backpack, yet I made quick breaks for a drink of water.
I filmed a bit of me walking through these rock plains as well. I didn’t want to lose time filming here when I could be walking but it was so beautiful that I felt I had to.
The last quarter of the walk to the Wave was the most anticipatory. I knew I was close. Sometimes, I would lose course on the path. I could tell because I was in the area with no footprints. while the rock often didn’t have footprints, There would be splotches or paths of sand at times that would give it away.
I would just keep looking for the pass of sand covered in footprints to get back on track and then follow that until completion. I kept looking over my shoulder to see if there was anyone in fast pursuit but there was no one. Would I get there first or would there be a photographer already there to surprise me?
I followed some sand washes all the way to the base of what looked like a miniature mountain. Then, there was the ascent. the sandpath parted for rock steps. The steps didn’t always form an obvious path upwards, but I knew from the map that the final path was forward.
I scrambled up again and again. And it put me out of breath quickly. With all the weight I was carrying and my tripod, it wasn’t easy. Partially out of excitement and partially because I wanted it done and over with so I could finally enjoy, I only took quick breaks when I really needed it and just kept scrambling up.
All the way until I reached a sand path that was wet with water. This was the first time I saw any source of water. Was this a secret oasis? Was this a sign of paradise? Or just an area where water formed?
I passed the puddle of water in the sand and continued to what ended up being the last rock scramble. I couldn’t see the Wave yet but it may be after this final climb. I scrambled up and up … then, I saw it.
A wall on the left side of me with these distinct curves. From top to bottom, there were lines one inch apart coming out of the wall with distinct curves that followed the wall. I had made it to the Wave!
I eagerly ran forward to see if I was the first person there. And I smiled.
I took my time with it. Since I was the first, I slowly got some water, stretched, set up my tripod, and started taking pictures. I was surprised to find that even though the sun was up, this first chamber had two walls which were high enough that they cast these large shadows over the entire area. I didn’t feel the lighting was the best because it was dark.
Nonetheless, I pranced around, touched the walls, and observed the beauty of the Wave. It’s one of those things where it’s most beautiful when you see and feel it. Videos and photos are a close second. When you’re there, the Wave feels like nature’s Vincent van Gogh. I can only imagine how the first person to discover it felt. even on the way up to it, everything else seems a bit more playing in stark contrast to this which feels like something out of a painting.
I believe these curves formed through millions of years of compacted sand dunes and minerals. I started taking some photos and a little bit of video. But only 15 minutes in, I started hearing sounds of a young woman talking loudly to other people. The noises would go for a couple minutes and then stop for a couple minutes. I knew some other groups were close behind, and I had to move quickly to get my shots.
I started taking photos and videos more seriously, and sure enough. the first person showed up. She said she was part of one big group and there is another group behind. They were from Vegas, coming from Page Arizona, and they had won the lottery after the whole family applied on the 3rd day.
She seemed a bit cold and not really into talking to me that much, but I was just so happy to be there that I maintained a welcoming positive attitude. I wanted to share this with other people too, so I exuberantly welcomed her to the Wave and let her move forward with taking photos and videos, which is what she did. Soon after, her partner arrived who was a warmer, friendly guy. He apologized for taking my chance to take photos. I said don’t worry about it. I got a lot of shots already. I told them, I would head forward to the next chamber since there was more to see. That way, they could take shots here.
I took off my shoes and socks to wade through the large pool of water at the end of this first chamber with my camera. As I looked back, a group of eight or nine people showed up, who I waved to happily.
Behind this first chamber on your right, there’s this nice little slot canyon which gives off a beautiful orange glow because the Sun hits it just right during sunrise. I took some photos here since I had it to myself for now.
Then, I moved to the left area behind the first chamber, and this is really the money shot. if you look on instagram, most of the popular photos of the Wave are actually of this spot. You get the most area and curvature. This chamber actually faces the sun, so you get more sunlight in the way you want. Plus, the first chamber is much smaller, only about the size of a tennis court.
I should have taken more photos of this area right then, yet at the time, I didn’t realize what I just told you. I thought the first chamber was the money shot. So, I moved on past this point only to look around and take a quick video. The lighting wasn’t perfect yet either. There were still some cliffs that were casting weird shadows over this area too. you needed to wait till later in the day for the perfect shot where the whole thing is lit up.
I figured I would just move on ahead while I was still alone to explore further. I heard that there were a few other natural monuments ahead of the Wave. I would get to them first. After climbing uphill for a while, I came across an even larger pond of water. To get past this one, I would need to wade through water that came up to my mid-thighs. I carried all my electronics over my head and folded up my shorts. This pond was riskier because I couldn’t tell how deep it got. Plus, there were all these big tadpoles swimming in it. First sign of life I saw, but a little sketchy.
Since it was a long pond, I took longer to wait through it. Fortunately, the ground was pretty level so the pond didn’t get too much deeper. Later on, I found out that there was another way to get through this area without having to go through water. Depending on what time of year you go, these bodies of water may have disappeared. If it’s not raining much, I’m sure they will dry up.
From there, I just followed my All Trails path for another half hour forward to discover a few more interesting monuments. The one that really spoke to me was called The Second Wave. You have to scramble up and down some rocks to find it, yet it has this unique look that reminds me of a skeleton or seashells. you have these walls that curve and then a few lines coming out of those walls that also curve. Those lines almost feel like a spine to me. I took various photos here for a while. It’s probably best to take photos of this one at sunset for the best lighting because the formation faces the sun setting.
I thought it had a good head start here too yet in less than 10 minutes, the same woman from earlier popped her head into there which gave me a little startle. We had a little bit of small talk where she asked me where I’m from and I asked her about her attempts to apply for The Wave. But soon, she wanted to take her photos and do her own thing, so I let her be.
She quickly moved onto the next thing as a couple of her friends had arrived too. She was somewhat lost in finding the next monument, as was I, even though we both had All Trails. I asked her for help, telling her about how I was confused. She couldn’t give any solid answer and enthusiastically started walking her own way upwards to the left of the Second Wave.
Eventually, we all moved towards the same area, which was probably the steepest rock scramble yet. It was almost the side of a mountain. This one was not easy to navigate at all. you really needed the right hiking shoes because of the severe incline.
They all had some trouble getting up but it was clear that the next remaining monuments, like Melody Arch, were up there. I tried a few times myself but it was really sketchy if I fell. I would hurt myself. Plus, I left my shoes, and I found that barefoot was harder on this slippery sand stone.
I didn’t feel too bad because three other people in the groups that started showing up also decided to call it quits here rather than attempt it. I stayed for a while to attempt it, but with my tripod and camera to carry, it was too much. I felt that if I really wanted to, I could risk it and get up there, but it wasn’t worth it. Some people gave me tips. I asked if there was an easier path. One suggested a way of wrapping my tripod around my camera strap. But I ended up throwing in the towel eventually.
I told a couple people to show me some photos later so I could live vicariously through them. Frankly, I felt like the best one was still The Wave by far, so I didn’t feel I would regret not seeing these that much. I was still fulfilled already.
I slowly started heading back to the Wave because I figured now would be a good time to take some photos now that everyone else had ventured ahead. The Wave was probably empty.
I met up with one of the women who decided to also head back instead. She was feeling a little lost and thankful that I could guide her. The route back was pretty simple to navigate for me. and that’s where I found another path back that didn’t involve crossing that long pond.
Along this way, I passed a couple groups just sitting in the shade and eating snacks or a lunch they brought. One of them was the four people who I had met at orientation who won the Advanced lottery. This time, they seemed a bit more cheerful and happy to talk. They asked me a lot of questions about where I’m from in my life. I learned a bit about what they do for work, how they came out, and how they feel.
It was a mom, her friend, and her two adult daughters. They were from California and Seattle, and they one day decided it would be great to apply for this thing via the advanced lottery. They all applied. And it didn’t take them long. It was their first or second attempt before they won. The mom one and didn’t realize it until they sent a reminder email. Luckily for that reminder email, she realized it and accepted the permit. I discovered they didn’t fully know how difficult it was to win until I explained it.
We had a good long chat about travel and The Wave. I discovered that they all had to fly in for this trip, and they were starting and ending their trip with a couple days in Vegas. Fun! Towards the end of the conversation, I kept itching to get away to take photos of this second chamber of The Wave. No one else was there and the lighting was perfect.
Eventually, I set off when there was an opportune conclusion to the conversation. I got a really good set of photos during this time since I had it for the next twenty minutes or so. Then, the family came in to take their own photos. And then, to my surprise, they started their return trip. It was only barely 11AM. They didn’t venture further than the Wave area to see the other monuments though they knew they were there.
This is totally fine though. Everyone has different preferences, and they just came for the Wave. This is likely a mainstream approach for many visitors.
Right after, more and more people started popping up at the second and first chamber of the Wave. Some of these were people coming back from farther ahead. Others were new people who had just arrived here.
For the next 45 minutes or so, This place had a good amount of different groups, which made it tough to get a photo. everyone would wait their turn. yet you had to be quick with your photos. and then, people were saying their goodbyes and leaving. as they walked through, others would have to wait until they were completely gone before taking a photo.
I was shocked to see how many people were already deciding to leave. given how coveted this opportunity was, I was initially planning to stay the whole day until sunset to get some really dope sunset photos. But almost everyone seemed to have their fill already and it wasn’t even noon.
I told a few people that it was my birthday. They wished me a happy birthday and said it was quite the birthday gift I’m getting. When a couple families asked me how long I would be staying, and I told them, they were surprised and a bit concerned. They insisted on leaving me a couple ice waters just in case. Fair enough. I am in the middle of nowhere in the hot sun. Though I did still have 1.5 liters of my own water, which I told them about. But they still insisted.
I bumped into the guy who was at the orientation with me and his family. He seemed more upbeat and talkative today. I asked him if he could show me some photos of monuments I couldn’t see, and he said he could get my email and he would gladly send them to me. While he said to me that he would have regretted it if he didn’t go there, I felt like I was fine without seeing them. it wasn’t worth the risk of injuring myself and getting airlifted for that. plus, the major draw for me was definitely the Wave. I waved goodbye to him as he departed.
From here, I just enjoyed the company of the people still there. The last of which was a big Canadian Chinese family who had recently arrived and were enthusiastically taking a lot of photos. I spoke some Chinese so I listened in and spoke back to them on occasion. They were upbeat and funny.
They were also respectful of me, and they gave me opportunities to take photos. They were also very happy to take photos and videos of me. I also took photos of them.
The sun was beating down on me from here because it was now high in the sky and lighting up the whole area. well I could have sought shade elsewhere, I just felt like this was the time to be shooting the Wave, so I stayed. I ended up mostly observing them take photos, which was still fine.
Eventually, the family retired to the shade further up the hill to eat a quick lunch they had brought. I decided to stay there and get my shots and video footage. After about 10 to 20 minutes, I overheard them feeling sorry for me being there alone without food. I think they were overthinking it because I did have food but they started asking me if I wanted to join them and get something to drink and eat. I told them I’m fine and then I had food, but they insisted.
I said yes and they offered me a few snack bars, a hard-boiled egg, and ice water. Then, they offered me chips, which I declined. I really wasn’t hungry but thank you, I told them. I really didn’t want to impose or eat much, but it didn’t feel right to completely decline them. I’m not the most well-versed in Chinese culture. I feel like it’s polite to decline. I also didn’t want to be the isolated curmudgeon that just said no.
With that, I ended up sitting in the shade for 20 to 30 minutes with them, just conversing about my life and travel. The topics weren’t that much different from the earlier family I talked to. We asked around what people did for work and what not. One girl worked in Canada but didn’t want to move to the USA when asked because she felt the USA had more “bad people.” That’s debatable, but I held my tongue.
This whole time, I did feel just exhilaration and joy to be here in this amazing place. As I looked at the ridiculously amazing curves of the area, I did feel like I was in a unique place like nowhere else, which the others remarked on as well. Now that it was a bright day, it was lit up in a different way.
This nice family was from Ottawa, Canada. They had applied through the advanced lottery, with multiple people applying at once, to win fairly quickly.
Eventually, I told them that there’s more to see up ahead, so most of them decided that they would venture further ahead but just a little bit. They also didn’t want to go far. I stayed behind and conversed with the one older lady who decided to stay back. She was dealing with irritation in her eyes, which we thought may be because of allergies to something in this area. A good portion of these conversations were in Chinese, which I rarely have a chance to brush up on and practice so that was nice.
After talking with her for 15 minutes, she let me take more photos. I did my thing for a bit before heading back to the first chamber to see if the sun was high enough to light this place up finally rather than have it in the shade. Almost. There was still a thin, noticeable section of shade on the left side. Noon would be best.
As I took occasional photos and waited for the sun, I ran into two volunteer rangers. They seemed fairly friendly and chill. I had a small conversation with them, and they volunteer by patrolling the area to make sure everyone has a permit. They usually find and clear out most people trying to sneak in during the start of the hike. One of them seemed pretty familiar with the area, Immediately taking a path to the right of the entrance to the wave to get to a clearing that allowed you to bypass the pond of water.
The job seems pretty chill. While they did check people for permits, they also just relaxed and sat in the shade watching others and the way for 30 minutes. Then, they came back down and took some of their own photos before heading off. It seemed like a great way to see the Wave every day and get very familiar with the neighboring area. I did hear one remark how she was tired and doesn’t want to go further so she can have energy to go back. It’s probably a lot of work hiking so much in the heat.
At this point, the sunlight was almost in position to take some good photos. but then, a new face showed up. a man and his son speaking Spanish. Then, part of the Chinese family came back. They all started taking photos in this general area. That’s right. Some people will not wake up early and embark late to visit the Wave.
I was in no rush, so I let them take their photos. On occasion, I would wait for them to get out of the frame of my shot and take a few photos. I would also look for inventive angles to take photos. The entrance to the Wave has a long wall, as mentioned when I first encountered it, that no one pays attention to. I took many shots here because it was a very strong, prominent curvature with its lines as well.
Slowly but surely, the whole Chinese family made its way back to this first chamber. We all took our turns getting our final shots. They helped take some photos for me so I didn’t have to rely on my tripod.
They started to want to head back, and at this point, I decided to go with him. since this was my first time visiting the Wave, I figured it’s better to be safe than sorry. I don’t want to be alone here waiting for another six or seven hours for sunset in the middle of nowhere with no cell service in the heat. with all the things that the orientation instructor said about safety, it’s best if I return with them. As we started to walk away and down the path, we saw the man and son with another woman. They were following us out. That’s it. The very last of the people for today at the Wave, leaving by noon.
Another part of my decision came down to the fact that I realized that the lighting would not get much better in the evening. Since the second chamber faced the sunrise, there would be some weird shadows on it later that day. And the first chamber is best seen probably at noon when the whole thing is lit up without shadows or near mid-sunrise when the back wall is lit up.
The hike back was more tiring though triumphant. The sun was beating down on us so we didn’t have the luxury of the cool sunrise temperatures. And climbing down the mountain that led to the Wave Is more difficult than climbing up it. You have to take it slow and find your moments in areas to walk down because it is steep and slippery with the sand.
And then moving with a group requires more stopping because some members are slower and older than others. So we took frequent breaks. This caused a bit of funny fighting amongst the Chinese family because some people wanted to just move quickly and move on and others then. They would also bicker a bit about which path was accurate.
One person was very confident with every direction she made. She claimed she was never wrong and she had a strong sense of direction. but checking my All Trails, we did veer off and take a couple unnecessarily challenging paths at times. I tried to direct them when we went way off. Sometimes, you have to go with the group. Other times, they’ll follow you.
Long story short, we finished a longer, tiresome, fun, and triumphant return hike back to the parking lot. it definitely felt a lot longer and hotter on the way back. At the same time, it’s a bit more fun going with a group since you get laughs and companions. You also don’t have to rely on your own navigation as much because there’s going to be at least one other person doing it for you.
We eventually made it back onto the main sand pathway that we knew would take us back home. Then, it was just a very long walk with the sun beating down on us to the parking lot.
I made sure to remind them to sign out of the logbook so no one thinks they didn’t make it back. They thanked me for this. We were all in high spirits having seen what we wanted and returned safely.
I got some final photos with the Chinese family and added the dad on WeChat. I waved goodbye to them. They felt like my “Wave” family. I learned they were off to a few more days of adventure in Page AZ before flying back to Canada.
I set off on my drive back along the dirt road. Now, everything was lit up. I could see the mountains and canyons in the distance rather than just black and my headlights. A couple miles in, I stopped to duct tape up the bottom front cover of my car since it had fallen off and was scraping the ground. One of those bumps on my way in today probably caused it to fall.
The Chinese family’s car stopped behind me and some of them got out to help even though I insisted I was fine. I was told that they had two moms on board that were concerned about me. They tried to help me with the tape. But they told me that the tape would never hold. it’s best to get some push pins to reapply the cover. we decided what to do, and I eventually decided that it’s not a big deal for now and I will drive with the cover dragging around. until I can get to civilization and get it fixed. They were fine with that and I let them move ahead of me while I drove slowly. They waved goodbye and that was the last I saw of them. A happy, triumphant end to the day. And a loving family who were kind people.
I drove the hour back to where I was staying. The drive went fine. I got something to eat, took a shower, turned on the air conditioning, relaxed, watched TV, recharged my body, copied over my precious photos from my memory card to a back-up hard drive, and slept. I still had to run some errands like get some groceries, which I didn’t want to do at all. I was tired. But certain things had to be done that day, so I did it.
Thinking back, it was a magical birthday. nothing really went wrong. the stars aligned. Was it a coincidence that I won on my birthday after so many losses? Who knows. Maybe it was meant to be. I sometimes don’t believe in destiny or something like that happening because how do you explain all the terrible suffering or fates of people dying from illness, malnutrition, starvation, concentration camps, war, and so forth? Yet who knows? Maybe. A couple people did mention to me that maybe it was meant to be that I didn’t get it until my birthday because some other force said “not yet.”
Given the bad family news earlier this week, I was still processing that and feeling a little sad. I think this was one of the best ways to stay present and get that off my mind. That was something out of my control, and no need to dwell on it too much. Had I not won the Wave, I probably would have still had a decent birthday. I may have gone on a tour to a different place nearby instead. But if I had a choice on what to do nearby, the Wave would definitely have been my first pick.
The night wasn’t over just yet because I had a zoom call with my parents and siblings. We had a good 45 minutes to an hour chat where they wished me a happy birthday. I really appreciated them calling in to talk to me. It’s the thought that counts.
After going through general pleasantries, I recounted my day to them and my experience and story trying to win a ticket to the Wave, something I hadn’t brought up to them at all until now. I wasn’t hiding it. I am just an adult doing my own thing, and they all have their own lives too.
I enthusiastically told a more condensed version of the story you just heard to them. one of them remarked that it was meant to be and that God was saying not yet until my birthday to win. I also showed them various photos and videos since they had no idea what it was. I don’t think they understood how cool it looked until they saw something visually.
They said it was amazing, and it’s incredible that I got to view something that they may not be able to view in their lifetime. I told them you never know. If you try and you set your mind to it, you can get there too. The conversation veered off to other general topics, and that about wraps up my birthday.
It was one of the best birthdays I ever had. As an adult, my birthdays are often ordinary days with some celebration with my family and gifts from my direct family. I often just spend it doing normal things or doing something local that is a bit of a treat. As a kid, I would get a cake and some gifts with the family, nothing big since we were on a budget but that was still special to me. So this birthday was pretty darn unique. While the actual permit to the wave costs a meager $9, this was arguably a luxury experience. The exclusivity of winning a lottery means that I am one of a small fraction of the world population who has the interest and permission to visit one of the most beautiful places on earth. Plus, all the costs with applying for the lottery and transportation/lodging add up. What a treat! Grateful.
That concludes my story. and in the future, it would be nice to come back here one day with another win to the Wave. I would love to be able to share this experience with friends, loved ones, or family. Now that I have gone through the whole track, I’m pretty familiar with the territory and could easily help others navigate to and fro. Plus, sharing a fantastic experience is often just as good, if not better, than experiencing it yourself.
Who knows if that will ever happen since I am satisfied for now. I won’t be applying again in the foreseeable future. And winning a permit will only get harder every year as more people find out about this place and fight for those limited permit spots. As you can tell from my story, you never know though, so keep trying. The most persistent are bound to win eventually.
I was shocked to find how nonchalant a few of my fellow lottery winners were about going there. While interacting with some of them, they seemed happy but not overly excited by any means about going there. And then, I found out a good portion of them had one on their first try. I was surprised that they won so quickly given how difficult it is to win, and I was surprised about how neutral certain people were about the win and experience. They visited later in the morning, took some photos, ate a quick lunch, and then quickly headed back. They enjoyed it, but they weren’t close to bouncing off the walls in elation.
In fact, when quizzed further, some didn’t realize how difficult it was to win the Wave’s lottery. So, what likely is happening is that by chance, I ran into some people who got really lucky. Just because many one on their first try doesn’t mean that the lottery is easy to win. There are plenty more people who did not win on their first, second, or third try – like me. They may have just simply not known the weight of winning. Still, I would have expected the winners to be more of the persistent breed who tried a lot more often until they won to maximize their chances since these folks are more likely to win.
Tips for Increasing Your Odds of Winning a Permit
I quizzed a bunch of people, including my fellow winners, winners of other nearby permits, and local Kanab tour guides, to see if there’s any tips they had to gain an edge. there didn’t seem to be one at first. While going on a tour of Peekaboo Canyon, a tour guide told me The tour companies get no extra advantage at all. Everyone has an equal chance of winning the lottery. By nature, it’s really hard to win, though she was rooting for me.
But I eventually noticed some ways to improve your chances of winning a North Coyotes Buttes permit. I studied a lot of articles online and tips on social media. I heard some interesting things from fellow winners.
Another surprise for some is the fact that the hike to the Wave is gruesome. Many people just see something pretty on social media and assume there’s a way to conveniently be delivered right there easily. But this one is a six and a half mile round trip in these desert Plains with very few markers to tell you if you’re on track or not. I ended up clocking over 8 miles because I veered off the path accidentally sometimes.
If you win at the peak of summer, you have some really harsh heat beating down on you. I saw one statistic online saying that 4 to 5 people have died in the last 5 years on this hike. and that’s why they’re so insistent in the orientation about bringing at least a gallon of water, sunscreen, a hat, electrolytes, food, and how to call for help in a place with no service.
The hike is doable, and I was able to accomplish it without too much problem, given that I was going towards the end of summer when it was a bit cooler (but still hot). And I may have only drunk one liter of water despite me forcing it down whenever I could to be safe. It was still tiring though, so be prepared.
What Are The Best Times to Photograph the Wave?
I assumed and heard online that the best time to photograph is right at sunrise. That’s why I eagerly woke up very early and got there first. However, I found that the first chamber was completely shrouded in the shadow from the left wall when the sun rose. The second chamber area also had some strange lighting, with shadows playing across most of it as the sun rose.
I discovered I didn’t need to get there early. In fact, probably 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. local time was the best time for the second chamber to be fully lit up with the sun facing it properly.
For the first chamber, I believe noon is a good time because then you don’t have shadows from either wall covering it. but it really depends on the image you’re trying to capture. I took some at noon but I also took some earlier in the morning, and the latter Time created some really stunning bright orange glow on the far wall facing the camera.
Then, there is night time photography. I’ve seen photos of this in other articles online. they’re stunning, and they require you to come a few hours before Sunrise during the summer so that the stars are positioned in the right way. If you do all that, you can capture this beautiful view of the Wave at night with the entire Milky Way in the sky.
Perhaps, I’ll try this one day if I win again. I’m just not so much of a night time photographer. I do my shots typically in the day with me as the subject in them. And in the dark of night, it’s hard to make out your face or body in the photo unless you hold an artificial light nearby. Plus, the orientation instructor advised against hiking to the way for the first time in the pitch dark of night. He said it’s next to impossible to find where to go. I can see his point. I’ve also read articles of people who do this and bring along a bunch of lighting equipment. Let’s leave that to the professionals. I’m glad I hiked it in the light because I needed that visual guide.
Finally, there’s a bunch of other monuments near the Wave if you keep hiking forward and proceeding forward. many of these, like the “Second Wave”, face the sunset so they will glow and look better if you wait till sunset to take these photos. I got some decent photos in the morning and went back before sunset because most people left the area by noon. While I initially wanted to wait there the whole day, I realized I would be the only one. Given it was my first time here and it’s out in the middle of nowhere with no cell service, I figured it was safest to head back with the last group to leave.
When Do People Arrive and Leave the Wave?
I read online that some people will show up in the pitch black of night long before sunrise for starlight photography and then they will leave after sunset to get the sunset lighting for photos. While I’m sure there are people who actually do this, I had a different experience observing other winners when going myself. I think my experience is more indicative of the average person who visits.
I was the first to arrive there at around 7:30ish. It was about an hour after sunrise. Only about 20 minutes later, two large groups arrived. Then, people kept coming. Most of the groups cleared out and left by 11:00 a.m to noon. The first chamber of the wave is the size of a tennis court. The second chamber is maybe two tennis courts. So, it doesn’t take long to explore and get your fill of pictures. They may spend another hour or two exploring the other monuments further ahead around the area. Then, they’re satisfied.
I was one of the only ones who wanted to stay longer, which surprised many. A couple groups were a bit concerned for me and so they left extra ice water and snacks with me. I was expecting more people to stay given how sought after the permits are, but it is pretty hot and isolated out there.
Do You Need Four Wheel Drive To Visit the Wave?
It depends on when it last rained, how much it rained, and how much the recent weather affected the 10 miles of dirt roads that you need to drive before you can start the trailhead. I was able to go during a day with perfect weather. The roads were dry enough that they were crossable, though a little difficult, with my normal two-wheel drive car.
Had I won just two days earlier when there was a lot of rain and some flooding, the roads could’ve been impassable with my car. I have seen the roads when it’s wet, and it goes from being this fairly flat solid substance to all this mucky mud?/clay? substance that leaves deep tread marks where the tires pass through.
I talked to another person in a Facebook group who won a permit but then was told he can’t go because the weather was very bad, so it is possible for lots of water to cancel your trip even if you win and have 4WD. It probably doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.
However, in the cases where it’s passable with 4WD, just because you don’t have 4WD doesn’t mean you have to give up. I read one story in a blog about a couple who just gave up after winning a permit because they were told they needed four wheel drive for that day, and they didn’t have it. Don’t do this!
There’s about a dozen tour guide companies who have 4WD and permission to give you a tour of the Wave. They are eager to take you because they likely want to see the Wave too. You get an experienced tour guide to “do it all for you” including navigating the unmarked, long hike to the Wave and drive you there in a 4WD. It may cost $200 to $300, but it could be worth it.
Do You Need a Tour Guide to Visit the Wave?
No, you do not need one. It’s an optional convenience. The exception would be when terrible weather has made the roads impassable without 4WD and you need a tour company’s 4WD since you don’t have one or you really would prefer the convenience and extra help.
A lot of the influencers I follow on Instagram made it seem that a guide is very helpful or even necessary and showed that they hired a tour guide from a company. A dozen companies have been given clearance to help you tour the Wave. I assumed a guide is often used or needed.
So, I was surprised to discover that not a single person in the 30 to 40 people that visited the Wave with me hired a guide. They all went on their own. These people ranged from a Spanish family of three to a few American families to a Canadian Chinese family to a couple.
While the 6.5 mile round-trip hike without many trail markers seems daunting and somewhat tough, these people made it clear that it’s achievable on your own. Many of these other parties seemed like average people or tourists without the best navigation sense or fitness. Yet they all managed to figure it out and get here. Some took their time, and got here mid- or late- morning. You have the whole day. Some semi-fit large families got there fast and early without a guide; it seems like when you’re with a group, there’s bound to be multiple people navigating for you, which helps.
In fact, I was very interested in hiring a guide up until checking a couple times with the orientation instructor. He insisted that it was totally doable without a guide, especially since I was going during perfect weather where the roads were fine. It was his confidence that changed my mind. I knew he wouldn’t say this unless he was sure because the day before when I was picking up a different permit, he was insisting I needed 4WD for visiting South Coyotes Buttes. This was evidence that he would speak up if he felt otherwise.
Without a guide, I can choose to start my hike whenever I wanted, so I chose to start it before sunrise, which helped me stay cool and get there first.
I would say the times you should consider a guide is:
- if you are can easily afford the cost, and just want the added convenience and efficiency of getting there without getting kist. These companies were charging about $200 to $300 per person, with a minimum of two people booked necessary. I have a pretty good navigational sense, especially with my AllTrails Pro Offline map, but I veered off course at times. I may have gotten there and returned 15% faster with a guide who is familiar with the area. The walk through the plains to the Wave are mostly unmarked.
- if you are traveling on your own with poor navigational sense or have health issues or you’re very old or you’re disabled in some way that you would benefit from the extra precaution. The guide is another person you can count on to call for help or help you if you’re getting dehydrated, tired, or ill.
- if you don’t have a 4WD car and the rain from the day before messed up the dirt roads so bad that the orientation instructor says you need 4WD to get through the roads that day. These tour companies own 4WD.
In conclusion, a guide is a helpful, optional extra layer of efficiency and confidence if you want to save time or have some extreme health issues or need that extra precaution. As I observed, most people get there just fine without a guide. These were generally average folk who are in decent shape. Plus, it can get pricey.
Of course, this advice assumes that you have a decent head on your shoulders. The orientation instructor mentioned some people who were just not following standard protocol and being ridiculous, like hiking in Crocs or flip flops or high heels. Those folks I imagine are more easily lost or hurt and may need more help.
Can You Fly Drones in the Wave?
No. The safety orientation instructor made that crystal clear. He mentioned some hefty fees if caught. I believe the exact number was five figures. The fees can be up to $10,000+. You’ll also have to appear in court with a public judge.
What Happens If You Try to Sneak into the Wave Without a Permit?
The orientation instructor made it clear what happens if you try to do this. The fines can rack up to five or six figures. Their main charge can nail you up to $10,000 a day. and then there are potential additional charges that they can file against you. You’ll also have to appear in court with a public judge. And depending on the severity, you can face up to a year in jail.
Plus, this is a national offense that you can’t wipe from your criminal record. The instructor concluded by saying that they caught a man who tried to Camp there for 3 days without a permit. and he’s facing all of this, with charges up to $100,000.
Was he fear mongering? I don’t know for sure. He did say it kind of matter of factly, so I don’t think based on his tone, he was exaggerating much.
How to Increase Your Odds of Winning the Wave Permit
First, the more entries you have, the better your chances. So, apply with multiple accounts. Some of the families that won told me that they had everyone in their family create an account and enter the lottery. When you do this a few days in a row, like one family from Vegas did, your chances of winning go up because you have more entries in every lottery draw. This family ended up winning in three days with this method. Remember, you only need one account to win. You can specify how large your group size is for that one account.
The trade-off to this approach is that you’re paying $9 per entry. That will rack up over time. For some, it’s worth it and affordable. I say if it means enough for you, start saving money or start a side hustle to set aside money to apply for the Wave. Also, you have to be within the geofence area which is only a portion of Utah and Arizona to be able to apply for the daily entry. Part of the reason for this is so that you will be able to show up for the mandatory orientation in the morning the next day.
Some families were visiting the area so it made sense for them to apply for the wave while they were there everyday. There are plenty of RV campgrounds and hotels, so if you’re willing to dedicate time towards this, and you can afford it, you can definitely visit there to stay in the geofence.
You may be wondering if you can use a VPN to change your direction. Possibly. I am not sure. I did not try this approach. Check the laws regarding this and remember, The lottery is announced at 7PM mountain time, and you still have to get there the next morning for the orientation.
Daily Lottery over Advanced Lottery When You Can
As I’ve been hinting, there are many reasons why you should do the daily lottery rather than the advanced if you can. The biggest one is that you just get more tries. it’s no wonder that some guy had to try for 13 years with the advance lottery. you only get one try per month.
You could easily hit that amount of entries much quicker with the daily lottery, especially if you have multiple accounts trying per day.
Another reason, as confirmed by the front desk guy at the Kanab tourist center who sees all the winners every day, is that there’s less competition with the daily lottery. With the advanced lottery, you’re competing with people from all over the world who can easily apply online. There are thousands of people from different countries that you’re competing against. Believe me, I tried my hand at the advanced lottery for several months without winning. but when you think about it, it makes sense.
With the daily lottery, the geofence reduces your competition. only people nearby can apply. and you just never know when they may forget to apply one day because they’re busy with work or something else distracts them.
Apply During Off Seasons
The winter is known as the best time to apply to increase your odds. less people are willing to go in the sheer coldness of winter or the sweltering heat of summer. Therefore, you’re going to have less competition in the lottery for these seasons.
The trade-off is that the photos you get may look a bit different. The Wave will be partially covered in snow. I don’t personally mind, and I don’t think you should either. It gives a unique look to it, and you’re still at this really awesome place. I understand that some people are deadset on the non-snow look though.
I also heard that in certain weeks in winter, they consolidate by making the Friday daily lottery apply for Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. What this means is that you get a three times boost in chances of winning by applying for Friday lotteries.
Apply on Weekdays (including for the Advanced Lottery)
Some people already know to apply for the weekdays for the daily lottery because less people can make the weekdays because they have work. it’s all about reducing your competition.
What people don’t know is that I think this probably matters for the advanced lottery too. In the advanced lottery, you can specify three preferred days if you win. I have a theory that most people specify weekends, and therefore, they are competing against more people who are bidding on weekends.
The BLM has a quota of advanced lottery permits they have to issue for every day of the year, so they have to fill those weekdays too. If you pick an odd weekday that less people are likely too, your odds shoot up.
I’ve yet to hear anyone else talk about this theory. Try it out for yourself, and let me know if it works.
Become a Volunteer Ranger
During my visit, I was surprised to meet and talk to two volunteer rangers. They volunteer their time to patrol the area and scan around, checking people for their permits and busting people without permits. One of them mentioned that they catch most people near the start of the hike, well before one gets close to the Wave.
This could be a great way of getting around having to win the lottery. You have to volunteer your time as a worker and you probably have to be local. But you get to see the Wave multiple times. Plus, it seems like the job is fairly relaxed. They seemed pretty chill, and they were able to hang around the Wave for at least thirty minutes, enjoying it, sitting there, and even taking photos for themselves.
It did seem like volunteer rangers had to give precedence to any winners there and let them enjoy the experience and take photos first. However, there’s plenty of time and people get over taking photos eventually, so there are opportunities to pop in.
Another benefit is you get a well-versed knowledge of the whole area. There’s more to see than just the Wave there. One of the rangers knew their way around. She instantly knew about a hidden path that wraps around the right of the Wave that lets you get behind the large pool of water.
Keep in mind that the hike is no joke, especially when the sun is beating down on you. It’s a 6.5 miles round trip, assuming you don’t get lost. And I meandered off the path at times since not much is marked. It can be grueling to do that and more to patrol the area every day. I overheard one ranger say she was tired and would rather turn back than go further.
How A Rich Person Would Do It
So, to put it all together, let’s apply what we’ve learned in an example. Even if you’re not rich, this may educate you on some of the principles. Let’s use an example of a wealthy man we will call Mr. Beast who really wants to visit the Wave with his family of six and money is not an issue.
The best way if money isn’t a problem, is to visit the area to get in the geofence. Then, create a lot of accounts (one per family member or more), as many as needed, to apply to the daily lottery, until you win. That way, you don’t have to stay there for long either since you have so many entries per day. As you can imagine, the costs multiply per entry, so it’s reserved for the wealthy.
If time isn’t an issue, say Mr. Beast’s family lives the van life, you could take your time without creating multiple accounts and just apply once per day. Within two weeks, you’ve already entered more times than a standard advanced lottery winner can.
If money isn’t an issue but you cannot fly to get into the geofence, which may be the case for many foreign tourists with jobs or businesses they have to attend to, your best bet is to apply to the advanced lottery with multiple accounts and set your preferred dates on less-chosen weekdays.
Remember: These accounts need to have a name of one of the family members and set to a group size that will accommodate Mr. Beast’s entire family count. That way, your permit reads the right amount of people. In this case, that is a group size of six.
The daily lottery’s announcement will come at 7PM local time zone. So, Mr. Beast must make sure show up for the safety orientation with the person who won the next morning (usually around 8AM). And have his family close enough that he could bring them there in time the next day to hike the Wave. Advanced lottery winners have months to prepare before showing up.
If he’s set on visiting during the perfect temperature, lighting, and season, he probably wants to apply around the months before, during, and after September. He would have to acknowledge that the competition is tougher around these times, so he’s less likely to win.
If he doesn’t mind when he wants to visit and just wants to maximize his odds as much as possible, he would be applying for the advanced and daily lotteries during the winter months when there’s less competition and when you can apply on Fridays to get the 3x boost.
To wrap it up, the worst way is to apply once a month and set your preferred days to popular days with one account in the Advanced Lottery. It’s still possible to win this way, which happened with many in my group, so it may not be as difficult as it appears. That said, if you don’t want to risk waiting 13 years like one person I heard about, use these tips to maximize your chances by applying more frequently and during days or months with less competition.
This place was absolutely beautiful, and it would be very nice if I could come back one day in the future with friends, family, or loved ones. It really is something so beautiful and such a gift to share with someone. Now that I’ve gone once and experienced all the trials and tribulations, I’m pretty familiar with the area navigation, and I could help others get there.
Unfortunately, I am pretty sure This place is only going to get more and more popular through social media. the amount of permits issued will not keep pace with the popularity, which means it’s just going to get harder to win a permit.
Fortunately, there are a few tricks to increase your odds, which I’ve revealed.
I’m just so grateful to see it once and check that off my bucket list. It really is a dream item. and I wish you the best of luck if you ever want to go there.