The Wave & other Short Stories

THE WAVE

Glen Canyon and Lake Powell leave people with lifetime memories so this past Memorial Day weekend I wanted to see what that experience would be like versus running a half marathon (which killed me) with kayaking, swimming or mountain biking.

I headed out from Vegas on Friday at 4:20am in hopes I could make “The Wave” lottery permit drawing which closes as 9am UTAH time.  200 miles to conquer with the wagon loaded.  Some people have tried for 20 years in hopes of receiving one of the 20 daily allotted permits to hike The Wave.

The drive on I-15 north is rote for folks like me that explore the southwest with frequency. Passing through St. George aka STG and jumping on Utah State highway 89 the universe opens up to vast landscapes supervised by large iron-rich buttes and rolling hills.  It seems whatever music playlist you have opted for always sounds better as Mother Nature seemed to unleashed buckets of cotton ball-like white clouds densely covering the sky above.

Back in November, when I was camping in Zion and got to the Ranger station on a Wednesday because during the off-season they gave out permits for the forthcoming Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  So, your chances increased dramatically (4x) but this particular Friday my application would only be good for Saturday, May 25th.  Not surprising, the room was full and it turns out there were a total of 48 applications and 148 people hoping to get to hike The Wave.

Kanab lottery room

Kanab BLM office lottery for The Wave permit

I had arrived to the BLM office with only two minutes to spare and I was given #47.  As the numbers were called out, one winner was Kathy from SoCal and she had put four people on her application but announced she really only needed two.  Permits 1-9 were quickly announced with one remaining LUCKY WINNER – ME!

Kathy was with her buddy Jon and we collectively hired a guide to do the hike the following day.  I was excited but equally excited to setup my camping spot @ Wawheap and get out adventuring around Lake Powell.

After making arrangements for our guide the following day, I hightailed it to Lake Powell and pulled into the small town of Big Water with the first gas station available as I was running on fumes.  Hauling a cargo box, kayak on top and a mountain bike reduced my MPG such that 350-400 miles on a tank is the norm – with all my gear was dry after 260 miles.  The good news was that gas was affordable here at around $3.05 gallon.

After setting up my base camp I checked out the Resort and gandered at Lake Powell and Lone Rock.  It is a massive piece of rock.  A local parks employee commented how due the overwhelming snowpack in Utah and Colorado, Lake Powell will be raising their water levels up 80′.   YES, EIGHTY FEET!  Good news for us in Lake Mead!

three people standing on trailhead

Hiking to the Wave by guide Lad.

With overnight temperatures in the mid-50’s, tent camping was perfect but I knew 4:30am was going to come quickly. I needed to rendezvous with J&K Enterprises (Jon & Kathy) and Lad, our guide for the day. A quick hustle into Denny’s for breakfast, coffee and a quality bathroom break before hitting the trail.

Alpha team was punctual and we headed out on House Rock Valley Road to the Wire Pass parking area. After two days of mixed weather and rain, quickly the mud had hardened up and the parking lot was pretty full by 9am. We, the proud permit holders for The Wave were in the minority but Wire Pass is a fav launching point for many exceptional hikes in the Coyote Butte area.

Signing the guest book at Wire Pass.

Many or most people that are lucky enough to win the permit lottery do not hire a guide service but with the recent weather, hiring a guide was the best course of action for many reasons:

  • Lad, our guide is a Kanab local…grew up here and knows the terrain
  • We were able to hike in other areas that un-guided hikers would probably miss
  • Lad was able to share quite a bit of history of the area making it more enjoyable. And, he brought lunch!

Before the hike, the BLM provides permit holders a 30-minute debriefing on what to expect, gear, water, etc.  They recommended good hiking shoes with ankle support and at least a single walking pole.  Both items comfortable parked at home in the garage.  I ended up doing the hike in my Pearl Azumi mountain bike shoes with metal clip-ins which made traction on some of the steeper slick rock difficult. A walking pole would have also made that easier as well.  Word to the wise – BRING and use the recommended gear…it will make your life much easier for this unassuming 10k hike roundtrip.

Once you clear the trails “saddle” the macro and landscapes views are breathtaking.  As Lad continued to remind us, we are hiking in an area that has experienced huge metamorphic changes over the last 300+million years.

In fact, the trail that Lad brought us through had fossilized dinosaur foot print. We all imagined what it would have been if Lad met a dinosaur on the trail.  LOL

The rock layer enclosing the fossils is a sandstone and conglomerate bed of alluvial or river bed origin known as the Morrison Formation from the Jurassic Period some 150 million years old. The dinosaurs and other ancient animals were carried by the river system which eventually entombed their remains in Utah.

Lad petting dinosaur

Lad was such a great guide we met a dinosaur along the way.

The pile of sediments were later buried and lithified into solid rock. The layers of rock were later uplifted and tilted to their present angle by the mountain building forces that formed the Uintas during the Laramide orogeny. The relentless forces of erosion exposed the layers at the surface to be found by paleontologists. The dinosaur fossil beds (bone beds) were discovered in 1909 by Earl Douglass, a paleontologist working and collecting for the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. He and his crews excavated thousands of fossils and shipped them back to the museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for study and display. President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed the dinosaur beds as Dinosaur National Monument in 1915. The monument boundaries were expanded in 1938 from the original 80-acre (320,000 m2) tract surrounding the dinosaur quarry in Utah, to its present extent of over 200,000 acres (800 km²) in Utah and Colorado, encompassing the spectacular river canyons of the Green and Yampa.

The Coyote Buttes area is an exposure of cross-bedded aeolian Jurassic Navajo Sandstone. The variable coloration of the sandstones is a result of various iron oxide pigments within the layers. A dinosaur trackway or trample surface is found in the area and provides evidence of a variety of dinosaurs. Geologists have discovered prehistoric animal tracks along the Arizona-Utah state line that are so close together they are calling the area a “dinosaur dance floor.”

The closer we got to The Wave, we were being teased with so many other great visuals there was no hurry. After seeing the “Boneyard” and Jon’s naming for the Cowpie-Five, we were finally in the middle of The Wave and it did not  disappoint.

HORSESHOE BEND

Horseshoe Bend sign

Again, on my last visit to Page while camping in Zion, I tried to park and hike the Horseshoe Bend overlook but, the traffic was too bad and parking was maxed out.  Horseshoe Bend parking lot safety concerns have forced Page City Council to pass an emergency ordinance. Before the ordinance, Page Police were limited in helping with traffic problems.

Effective immediately, violators of the new code face up to a $300 fine. Part of the legal process includes giving the entrance to the parking lot an official street name: Horseshoe Bend Drive.The ordinance states that parking, loading and unloading passengers in or along the entry road to Horseshoe Bend, also known as Horseshoe Bend Drive, except in city designated, areas is prohibited. Loading and unloading passengers in or along U.S. Route 89 within 1,500 feet of the intersection of Horseshoe Bend Drive and U.S. 89 is also prohibited. Read more here…

The hike is only about a 1.5 miles each way with some grade but well worth it. I suspect as more idiots ignore the warning signs, people falling off of cliff edges and dying will force viewpoints like this to implement wire fencing which is photography -repulsive.  It is a 1000′ dropoff.  The rock walls of Horseshoe Bend contain humatite, platinum, garnet and other minerals.

For the average shooter, just know I brought only one lens – a 12mm ultra-wide angle with zero distortion.  I am guessing sunset is a better shot but this was taken at 6am and there were already two hundred people on the trail.

Now I am $10 lighter in my wallet but a whole day ahead of me to get out on Lake Powell and really explore!

LAKE POWELL

Even though my legs and feet were sore from Saturday’s hike to The Wave, after snapping a coupla pics at Horseshoe Bend I was ready to explore the Big Water of Lake Powell.  Anyone driving to Glen Canyon and Lake Powell via Highway 89 will pass the small community of Big Water and then drop into Wahweap.

The first guard shack you can enter to Lake Powell with the National Park Service is the Lone Rock entrance and it doesn’t take a rock scientist (get the pun?) to figure out how they named this geological feature.  It is massive.  The shoreline at the Lone Rock entrance is maxed out these days but the sand is soft.  Not a good place to launch motorized watercraft but a great place to hang out.

Lone Rock Beach

Lone Rock Beach

Lake Powell was created by the flooding of Glen Canyon by the Glen Canyon Dam, which also led to the creation of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, a popular summer destination. The reservoir is named for explorer John Wesley Powell, a one-armed American Civil War veteran who explored the river via three wooden boats in 1869. In 1972, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area was established. It is public land managed by the National Park Service, and available to the public for recreational purposes. It lies in parts of Garfield, Kane, and San Juan counties in southern Utah, and Coconino County in northern Arizona. The northern limits of the lake extend at least as far as the Hite Crossing Bridge.

Lone Rock

Lone Rock

Glen Canyon was carved by differential erosion from the Colorado River over an estimated 5 million years. The Colorado Plateau, through which the canyon cuts, arose some 11 million years ago. Within that plateau lie layers of rock from over 300 million years ago to the relatively recent volcanic activity. Pennsylvanian and Permian formations can be seen in Cataract Canyon and San Juan Canyon. The Moenkopi Formation, which dates from 230 million years ago (Triassic Period), and the Chinle Formation are found at Lees Ferry and the Rincon. Both formations are the result of the ancient inland sea that covered the area. Once the sea drained, windblown sand invaded the area, creating what is known as Wingate Sandstone.

The more recent (Jurassic Period) formations include Kayenta Sandstone, which produces the trademark blue-black “desert varnish” that streaks down many walls of the canyons. Above this is Navajo Sandstone. Many of the arches, including Rainbow Bridge, lie at this transition point. This period also includes light yellow Entrada Sandstone, and the dark brown, almost purple Carmel Formation. These latter two can be seen on the tops of mesas around Wahweap, and the crown of Castle Rock and Tower Butte. Above these layers lie the sandstone, conglomerate and shale of the Straight Cliffs Formation that underlies the Kaiparowits Plateau and San Rafael Swell to the north of the lake.

The confluences of the Escalante, Dirty Devil and San Juan rivers with the Colorado lie within Lake Powell. The slower flow of the San Juan river has produced goosenecks where 5 miles (8.0 km) of river are contained within 1-mile (1.6 km) on a straight line.

Antelope Canyon

Antelope Canyon

Like most areas in the desert southwest, we are experiencing cool weather.  Despite the ambient temps in the 70’s and the water in the mid-60’s I was excited to get out on the water.  After making the obligatory visit to Lone Rock, I headed southeast past the Glen Canyon Dam and over to the super-popular Antelope Canyon creek area.  It seemed like 5 o’clock traffic with all the kayakers and paddlers but everyone got along just fine. Really amazing vertical cliffs.

Next I ventured what would be considered northeast past the Antelope Point Marina and over to Navajo Canyon.  Bigger walls and still some big water and I decided to head back.  Word on the street was that another storm was going to push through that afternoon or early evening and I had already decided to pack up and head home Sunday night.  It ended up being a good decision as I was breaking down my campsite, the winds were gusting up to 40mph and that would have been a tough night of camping.  On the drive home there were high winds, rain and spectacular skies.

Visiting this part of the country a person can only begin to appreciate the ancient Puebloans that traveled and established settlements in the geologically magnificent region. At the turn of the last century, anthropologists proved what the local Indians had known all long — that those who had built the ancient ruins of the Four Corners were the ancestors of the modern Pueblo peoples who live today at Hopi, Zuni, Acoma, and many other Rio Grande Pueblo towns of New Mexico.

My trips through Glen Canyon and the river that ran through it changed my life—gave me an understanding of myself, my talent and its limitations; taught me about intimacy and the value of observation. Together they resurrected my spirit and melted my heart with their beauty; showed me time was not my enemy, and with their power to entertain, mystify, and nearly kill me, diluted my ego to its proper consistency. For all my wandering the Glen gave me roots as tenacious as the willows along its banks. – Katie Lee

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