Friday, December 7, 2012

Waving from Kanab, UT

Our circle from Bluff in southeast Utah has brought us finally to Kanab near the southwest of Utah, and our final destinations in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM).  I am most excited to be here because this is the portal to The Wave.  This natural phenomenon is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful rock formations anywhere in the world, not to mention the only one of its kind.  It is so popular and so protected by the federal government that only 20 people per day are allowed to visit.  Those 20 people are chosen by a lottery; 10 online (the first 10 to complete an application four months prior to their visit), and 10 in person at the BLM Office in Kanab the day before you hike in a Bingo-like lottery draw.  Brad and I won the in-person lottery on our second day (actually, we won on our first attempt, but only one spot was available and we don't hike without each other, especially after learning that last year a lone hiker, returning after dark, blindly walked off a cliff and died!)

Brad & Marilyn standing in The Wave
The Wave may just be a new favourite place for us, rivaling Bryce Canyon (previous blog) in outstanding beauty, although the two are very different.  The Wave became popular in the 1990s, likely with the advent of the internet.  This was when the government imposed visitation restrictions.  This sandstone formation, striped orange, pink, purple, yellow and white, is shaped like deep bowls and a curvy, exotic dancer.  That nature can form something this unusual is beyond comprehension.  I suppose this is why so many people believe in a supreme being.  I'll let the photos speak for themselves rather than try to find adjectives worthy of its grandeur.  The 6-mile hike itself is very strenuous (for us) and remote.  A photo map from the BLM office and GPS coordinates help us find the way.  Whoever finds these points of interest in the middle of nowhere?  You don't want to just wander endlessly out here in this harsh desert with little to no water or food.  The path constantly climbs and falls like a roller coaster over uneven, angled slickrock or in very deep sand.  At the end is a 200-foot ascent up a deep sand hill and sloped slickrock as The Wave hangs on the side of Top Rock with fabulous valley views.  At the end of the day, we are exhausted and aching, but know that we have witnessed a truly unique natural wonder.
A back hallway in The Wave
While in the area, we also visit the Paria (pronounced Pah-ree'-ah) Movie Set, Lick Wash, Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch.

The old Movie Set was in front of these hoodoos
The Paria Movie Set was an actual movie set in the 1960s for almost 30 years and used in TV shows and movies such as Clint Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales.  A pioneer town was originally located across the Paria River but was vacated by about 1913 due to constant flooding, and nothing remains of this town today.  Even the movie set is all gone as it burned down in the 1990s after sustaining flood damage.  Locals and BLM staff rebuilt two buildings, but they too succumbed to flames from arsonists.  All that remains at the location today is two building foundations and the pioneer cemetery.  However, the area is incredibly scenic with rainbow-striped badlands (rock eroded into gravel piles); they are yellow/green, purple, blue, pink, orange, white and red, topped by the Vermilion Cliffs which are intensely red, some 2,000 feet high and extend for hundreds of miles.  Even if the old movie set is gone, it is still a great location for a picnic lunch and short hike along the muddy banks of the river.

Old Gunsmoke TV show set
Lick Wash is disappointing; it is considered a slot canyon although it doesn't get much more narrow than about 5 feet wide.  The walls are about 50 to 100 feet high, and the rock colour is mostly grey, although heavily grooved like cow patties on a 25% angle.  What is most interesting in this dry wash is the rocks which seem to have washed down from the Pink Cliffs to the north.  The rocks are pink, yellow, red, purple, brown - every colour in the rainbow.  Brad is as excited as a 5-year old on Christmas morning.  But, as this is part of the GSENM, no collecting is allowed.  On the way home through Johnson Canyon, we stop at what looks like a Ghost Town.  At the BLM Office, we learn that it was the old Gunsmoke set, now unfortunately falling down.

Marilyn under the alcove at the end of the Wire Pass
(slot canyon to the right - yes, that narrow crack!)

Wire Pass leads us through its beautiful orange slot canyon for over half a mile when it meets Buckskin Gulch, another canyon that narrows into slots both upstream and downstream from the confluence of these two canyons.  We walk upstream for about a mile, but the walls in the slot of Buckskin Gulch are unchanging - about 200 feet tall, orange with black varnish, curving in and out, and with no special features.  The path is often littered with rocks about one foot in diameter, but is mostly a hardened clay/sand trail above clay that has cracked as it dried.  The short hike through Wire Pass is, by far, the prettier of the two canyons.  Water is seeping over the top of the canyon walls and flowing down to wet the sand in the wash, creating a shimmer on the walls.  A huge alcove near the confluence with Buckskin Gulch dominates the red canyon wall and is a highlight of the day.

And so will end our tour of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, as well as Utah.  From here, we will head south into Arizona and seek warmer climes.


  1. The Wave is spectacular. Where will you guys be spending Christmas? No snow here yet. But no Wave either!

    1. We will be spending Christmas in California with my uncle who lives in Clarement, near LA. We will probably be there for about one week then start our slow trek eastward across southern CA, southern AZ, southern NM and mid TX, all places we've traveled through before, but hopefully we can find some new spots.

      Have a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!