Photo Destinations: The Wave and Coyote Buttes
You've seen those beautiful photos of the sensuously sculpted frozen sandhills. The most photographed of these formations is "The Wave." But where are they and how to you get to them? Well, it isn't that easy. Because of the fragile nature of the area, these sandhill buttes are restricted.
Coyote Buttes is actually located in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness area, straddling and south of the Utah-Arizona border. The wilderness area is about 10 miles west of Page, Arizona. It is under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Land Management. Access is strictly controlled and you can only enter the area with advanced reservation and by permit. The number of people allowed into the area is strictly limited. Details on how to apply for the permit are given below.
You have to be a hiker to reach this area. There is no road access except at the southern tip of Coyote Buttes South and this access requires a four-wheel-drive vehicle. The best formations, however, are in Coyote Buttes North. This section is reached via entry points from House Rock Road and Wire Pass.
It is most difficult to describe the way to The Wave. A recommend hiking guide is listed below. There are no formal trails. The Wave is located at the northwestern edge of the dominant white sandstone formation known as Top Rock. This formation continues south to dividing line between the north and south units. The Wave is along the eastern edge of Sand Cove about 0.4 miles south of the Arizona-Utah state line. It is about a 3-mile hike from Wire Pass (the preferred route). The Wave is quite small. It is best to discuss the route with the Bureau of Land Management personnel when you pick up your permit. The map shows the approximate location to aid you in located it for planning purposes.
The enterprising photographer should seek out other new formations in this beautiful area of sculpted rocks, as well as The Wave. Coyote Buttes is a beautiful area of sandstone domes, fins, and canyons carved in colorful swirling patterns. The patterns and colors of the formation change throughout the day and the season and weather can provide many unique photo opportunities.
The best time to visit is in the fall and spring when temperatures are pleasant. The ideal time is in October when there is some rain, from late summer thunderstorms, in the pools. The ideal thing to do is to combine a visit to Coyote Buttes with an extended stay so you can also photograph the very excellent slot canyons of Buckskin Gulch and Paria Narrows (See Photo Traveler's Guide to Southwest Utah).
Obtaining a Permit
The north and south units of Coyote Buttes are treated separately and a permit for one does not allow access to the other. There is a limit of 10 people per day in each unit. For best photo opportunities, you will want to gain access to the north unit. Also access to the south unit is very difficult. You should be an experienced driver since you must drive four-wheel-drive roads through deep sand where there is a good possibility of getting stuck. However, there are many lovely rock formations of photographic potential here. It is just hard to get to and the formations are not as well documented.
There is no overnight camping in either unit. Days are booked quickly for the fall and spring slots, but you may have better luck getting a winter reservation. Summers are much too hot.
The first thing you will have to do is to find what days are open for additional hikers. You can do this by calling the Arizona Strip Interpretive Association at 435-688-3230. Once you have obtained a date, you will have to make a reservation and pay a fee (presently $5 per person). The application and fee should be mailed to Paria Permits, NAU, Box 15018, Flagstaff, AZ 86011. Or FAX with a credit card payment to 520-523-0585. You may also reserve a permit in person up to seven days prior to the available date at the Paria Ranger Station on Route 89, just west of Page, Arizona. Check links below to see if online reservation system is operational yet.
Groups size is limited to six people. If you are leading such a group, you will have to obtain a special permit. Contact the Kanab Resource Area, 318 North 100 East, Kanab, UT 84741; 435-644-2672. You will have to fill out a special application (90 days prior to trip date), obtain insurance, and pay a fee based on 3% of the fee charge your clients or a minimum of $75.00. Rules may change in the future so check with the Kanab office for more details.
The north unit is reached via Route 89 west of Page, Arizona. Take the Rock House Valley Road west of the Paria Ranger Station south from Route 89. It is about eight miles to Wire Pass.
To reach the south unit, take Route 89 south from Page and then Route 89A west toward Jacob Lake. Then take the unpaved House Rock/Coyote Valley Road (BLM Road 1065) north.
Bureau of Land Management, Arizona Strip Field Office, 345 East Riverside Drive, ST. George, UT 84790; 435-688-3230.
Topographical Maps (7 ½") - Coyote Buttes, Arizona; Poverty Flat, Arizona; West Clark Bench, Utah; Pine Hollow Canyon, Utah.
Coyote Buttes Hiking Guide
There isn't a lot of documentation on this area. In his revised hiking guide, Hiking and Exploring the Paria River, 3rd Edition, Michael Kelsey has remedied that problem. Kelsey covers the four different approaches to the area and gives specific instructions on how to get to the focal point of every visit, The Wave. He recommends being there mid-day. He also covers other good photo subjects in the Coyote Buttes area including North and South Teepees, Sand Cove and Pawhole. The Teepees are outside the restricted area and can be visited anytime.
Kelsey guides provide a great deal of information on many hikes in this region. Each destination has a detailed map and black & white photos. (A color photo of The Wave is featured on the cover of this new edition.) You might want to add a little more to his hiking time estimates. Kelsey seems to be a very strong hiker and photographers do take things a bit slower.