I was excited to be returning to The Wave after having seen it half in snow in January a couple years ago. For those of you who don't know what The Wave is, you can google it, or just check out a few of the awesome pictures here. Wikipedia describes it this way: "The Wave is a sandstone rock formation located in the United States of America near the Arizona and Utah border on the slopes of the Coyote Buttes, in the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness, on the Colorado Plateau. It is famous among hikers and photographers for its colorful, undulating forms, and the rugged, trackless hike required to reach it." It is also very permit-required area and very difficult to obtain permits for because of its fame and amazing beauty. Literally hundreds, thousands, of people apply for permits, especially during the months of April and May, and only 10 are awarded four months in advance per day. I happen to have gone through the lottery process a few times, and have developed my own method to obtaining said permits. In January, I managed to secure 6 coveted permits for Sunday, April 7. That is some luck!
Unfortunately, my Boyscout bailed on me for personal, and understandable, reasons, my sister was too busy with school, and several of my friends opted out despite the tremendous opportunity this presented. So I ended up going with a co-worker/friend, Greg, his co-worker/friend whom I hadn't met, Trent, and two of Trent's friends, Dan and Lisa - five of us in total. I had one extra permit, but I was fine with that; I just didn't want four or all six to go to waste. My thought was that we'd drive up Friday night, get a hotel room in Page, do some hiking on Saturday, back to the hotel, and then The Wave on Sunday before heading back home. Well, Trent and his crew had different ideas, namely, camping on the beach of Lake Powell.
Now, I should mention that I have a very strong aversion to sand; to the point of it being an anxiety of mine and having often caused me to lose my appetite or worse. When planning trips to San Diego or Mexico, I generally have to psyche myself up for the sand, and be very careful not to plan meals near the sand. So I'm sure you can imagine, if nothing else then based on the title of the blog, that this quickly became a very difficult trip for me. I didn't mind the idea of camping, and wasn't opposed to it, but did we have to do it both nights, and on the beach? Yeeeeshh....
My Dad had loaned me his Acura MDX with four wheel drive for the trip, per my request, because I knew there was a very treacherous dirt road to get to the trailhead and it could be very dangerous when wet. I could hardly think on Friday, because I was so anxious and excited. I got the MDX packed up with everything imaginable (except for my pillow, ref earlier blog), and headed over to Greg's place. He added his stuff, and then we drove to his Trent's place. They had a truck they were loading up there, and within no time we were on the road headed north. There was literally an accident on every freeway in the city, of course, so it took us a little bit longer than expected to get out of the Phoenix area, but no real harm done. We also knew we had a big detour to take, because there had been a geological event that dropped a major section of the road out from underneath it, just a couple months prior.
We arrived at the campsite in pitch black darkness around midnight. I had let Greg drive the majority of the way, and he was driving when we arrived on the beach. I felt the tires slip on the deeper parts of the sand, and the whole truck slid in various directions as we made our way across the beach. Already unnerved, I talked myself into walking on the awful sand, and did what I could to help set up camp. Once we had tents and sleeping bags and the like, I was the first to grab a beer and plop down on one of the chairs, anxious to calm my nerves. Greg and Trent both joined me, while the other two called it a night. We saw several shooting stars and had some great conversation. Eventually, we too called it a night.
Not two minutes after I got comfortable in my sleeping bag did I first notice the deafening sound of the waves crashing on the beach. It seems as though while we were awake and chatty, this noise was virtually muted, but now in the darkness and silence of bedtime, it was the most apparent thing ever. And it made me have to pee so bad. I finally gave up and got myself back out of the warm sleeping bag and into the dark night, armed only with a small headlamp and a few pieces of toilet paper. None of us really knew how much was around us, so I took a guess and squatted. The rest of my night was spent shivering, listening to my co-worker snore, and wondering if I'll ever get to sleep. I must have, because Greg later told me I was snoring, but it couldn't have been more than an hour or two.
Even so, I was up bright and early the next morning, and took in the terrific view we had blindly landed. We were right by the Lone Rock jutting out of the lake, the namesake of the beach we were on. In the other direction, flat sandy terrain stretched about as far as one would be willing to walk in such an environment, and then hills and dunes of, you know, sand. Tiny little buildings dotted the horizon. Trent was up, too, and walking back from something. He informed me that those buildings were indeed bathrooms, but that they were closed for the "winter". Uh huh. Bummer - I was all pent up with my morning pee, and nowhere to go. I decided to hold it in hopes of the situation coming to a resolution naturally (no pun intended). A ranger of sorts drove by and Trent practically ran him down, and asked about the bathroom situation. He directed us to what was called The Vault, which was about a mile away and had similar small bathroom buildings, each separated by a pretty large distance.
So, we took our first of many bathroom runs in the MDX. The procedure followed as such: someone would announce we're going to the bathroom, those who needed to go piled in, the driver would drop one person off at each bathroom, ending with himself, and then circle around to pick each person up on the other side. As we approached The Vault, we saw a man walking towards the first bathroom, which was labeled number 6, so I suggested maybe we skip that one so that he doesn't have to walk even further, although we all agreed it would be pretty funny to beat him to it and make him walk to the next one. I jumped out eagerly at bathroom number 5, the door to which didn't close all the way, so I continued to make a bunch of noise in hopes of deterring any oncoming unwanted visitors. When I was through, I walked outside and waited for my ride to come get me.
Trent and Dan treated us to an amazing sausage and egg burrito breakfast (I had mine sans egg since I'm not a big fan), prepared on an exquisite three-burner camping grill/stove. It was all pretty spectacular. Lisa made sandwiches for later, and I wrote our names on the bags in permanent marker.
We then piled into the MDX and headed out to our first stop of the day: Horseshoe Bend. It was a little tougher than a leisurely walk, but not much in the way of a thorough, complete exercise. It was an overlook and not much else, so after taking some mediocre pictures, we headed back down to the MDX.
Our next stop was Lower Antelope Canyon, which is run by the Native Americans who own the land. A $26 fee per person is required to get in, and I guess the standard deal was for a guided tour and a limited amount of time; but if you had fancy shmancy photography equipment, you could get the photo pass instead, which gave you the freedom to roam about on your own and a much longer time in the canyon. It was all very strange, but we paid up and headed down. Lisa and Dan being the most professional-like photographers set up their tripods pretty early in the canyon and started shooting artistic shots. I was content with taking a few point-and-shoot pictures and moving on. I was more concerned about getting cool pictures with me and my group than about the artistry, although I did take some close-up macro shots which turned out nicely, as well as some larger landscape pictures which were okay.
On our way over, Lisa had told Greg that his job would be to throw sand. I guess because I didn't understand the context of this comment, I assumed it meant nothing, but she was serious. She and Dan asked Greg to throw sand up in the air while they poised for the perfect picture, because once the sand fell, the lingering dust in the air brought out the rays of sunlight pouring into the cavern. There was definitely an artistic quality to the throwing sand technique. They also had him throw sand down neat curves in the walls so as to capture a waterfall-like effect with the sand. Trent and I took advantage of the free photography advice and Greg's sand throwing, and we also snapped a few artistic shots to the best of our abilities.
Then, to make sure I captured my kind of photos, I had Greg throw sand so I could take a picture of him, the sand man, and forever capture that funny memory.
As it became apparent that Lisa and Dan would linger a bit more than we cared to wait, Greg and Trent and I decided to move on without them. The canyon was really quite beautiful, and the worst part was how hard it was to capture in photographs; the glare from the sun was so bright that it made the contrast really tough to manage in spots. Still, I don't think anyone can walk through that slot canyon without feeling awe and admiration for the beauty of nature.
Being inside the canyon, with little exposure to the sun, it was comfortably cool, and pushing the limit of cold. In fact, by the time we reached the end, Trent was legitimately cold and couldn't wait to get up into the sunshine again. I followed him while Greg went back towards the beginning to gage where Lisa and Dan were. We eventually all collected back at the beginning and loaded up the MDX. Using Dan's pass, we got free access to a beachfront section of Lake Powell that costs money normally, and ate our sandwiches, chips, cheese and crackers at covered picnic table. This was when the wind decided to pick up and it became overcast and quite chilly. We were concerned about rain, although it never hit us.
It was still early in the day when we got back to the campsite, but everyone felt better about the ability to cover things up should it start raining. We sat around drinking beer; most of us bundled up against the cold wind, while Greg took frequent trips into the water in his bathing suit and barely seemed to feel anything at all. We had huge top sirloin steaks for dinner that night, and as we wrapped up our meal, it was just about time to look for the International Space Station. We turned off our lamps and within moments I spotted it on one edge of the sky and we watched, amazed, and it whirred across the entire sky in minutes. Everyone agreed it was pretty spectacular, and I was proud of myself for having known of its visibility and getting everyone to see it.
Dan got a fire going for us, and we sat around the fire talking and drinking. Several bathroom trips were made in the MDX, and I noted that I really liked riding with Dan as the driver because he was a little more gutsy and fun. Around 10 pm Arizona time, a truck pulled up as if it was looking for its own camp site, drove here or there, turned around, flashed its lights, blinded everyone, turned again, backed up, etc. We all watched like it was a train wreck. We thought it finally settled on a spot, but then the truck turned on again, turned around, turned off and back on, turned again, moved, nearly ran some other people over, turned again, then pulled up next to where a tent was being set up. A girl in short shorts popped out of the drivers seat, which of course lead to all sorts of woman driving jokes. Then her and her man started walking our way. They were looking for gas to start a fire, which we had none of apparently. Dan is apparently a very nice guy, because after turning the pathetic couple away, he reached into the fire, grabbed a log that wasn't totally engulfed in flames, and walked it across the beach to their pile of wood to help get their fire going.
Everyone called it a night shortly after, and I stayed up with Dan until the fire could be put out. I tried to make conversation with him but I didn't know much about him and struggled to find the words. Greg was snoring by the time I laid down in the tent, and I was positive I'd sleep easily, but it didn't come that quickly. Still, I was up the next morning early, because it was time for the main attraction!
It was late in the morning when Greg and I were giggling and talking in our tent, and nobody else was up yet. We resorted to making a bathroom run in the MDX before doing anything else, and then started moving about getting things packed up and the tent taken down. The others started milling about, but there was no urgency. We had bagels for breakfast and Lisa again made sandwiches, but this time we had to pack them with us and there was concern about how long they'd be good. It took forever to get us all packed up and on the road. Finally, we crossed into Utah and headed down the 8 mile dirt road towards the trailhead. There, we met a girl named Katie from New York who was by herself. She asked if she could tag along and we welcomed her.
The group moved fast; faster than I was willing or able to move. I took my inhaler not too long after we started, and continued to drag behind the whole way there. Still, we made good time, having gone the correct way I suppose helps, since my Boyscout and I had gone the wrong way, way back when. There was definitely much more sand than I was comfortable with, and my shoes were already getting heavy. The wind, too, was vicious and pelting us with sand. But when we got to The Wave, it was breathtaking, and all the trials and tribulations were worth it.
We got busy taking pictures, and getting out of the way for others to take pictures. Satisfied for the time, I climbed up the back part of The Wave and joined the others sitting and taking in the view. We took turns taking pictures of one another with The Wave in the background. The wind was beating us, even more than while we were hiking, and sand was getting everywhere. We debated eating our sandwiches, but the wind was blowing too hard and sand was everywhere, and there was no way I would be eating anything in those conditions. The others, maybe less emphatically, were in agreement. Greg wandered around while Dan and Trent sought out The Second Wave, which was so underwhelming they weren't even sure they found it when they were looking at it.
The girls and I relocated to a spot on the side of The Wave which blocked the wind significantly, and was actually a very comfy sitting spot with a great view. We took more pictures there, and talked to some of the few other hikers in the area. One photography enthusiast urged us to veer right on our way out, and I knew exactly what he was talking about. We took his advice and headed that way for some additional great shots before steering back towards the trailhead.
Getting back was supposed to be easier, but there were still a lot of up's to climb and going down was often in sand, so I would practically be skiing, while gathering tons of sand in my shoes. At this point, I didn't care so much, because it was in our hair and every other crevice imaginable. This trip may very well have broken me of my strong aversion to sand. Back at the trucks, I dumped a small beach out of each shoe, and did my best to get it out of my socks and off my feet.
We regrouped at McDonald's for some food, filled up on gas, said our goodbyes and took off. Our intention was to make it back to Phoenix without stopping again. On the way home, we opted to bypass the detour by taking a shortcut over 40 miles of rumbly dirt roads. We didn't know what to expect going in, but it turned out to be a significant time saver and quite an adventure. The only downside to it was that it shook us so hard, we all pretty much had to use the restroom, so we stopped again in Flagstaff for a bathroom break. I slept most of the way home after that. Luckily Greg was driving. When we neared his house, I woke myself up and prepared for the balance of the drive back to my place. It took me a shower and a bath to get (I think) all the sand out of my hair, and I was sore because I forgot to stretch until we were at the gas station in Page. Still, totally worth it.