Photographing the Wave in Winter Light
In the far reaches of northern Arizona is one of the most scenic and visually stunning landscapes in the world. It's a landscape of sandstone cliffs and sweeping lines with brilliant colors in a multitude of red, orange, and yellow hues. It is so striking that it could be mistaken for another planet's surface, perhaps even used to stand-in for the surface of Mars in a film directed by Ridley Scott.
Of course, I am speaking of Coyote Buttes North, better known as The Wave. Access to The Wave is controlled through a permit system administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The number of daily visitors to The Wave has been restricted to no more than 20 people until recently. Ten of the permits are available in advance by an online lottery conducted four months before the month for which the permit is sought. The remaining ten permits are made available by lottery the day before one's intended hike. My wife, Sally, applied for a permit online and won two of the spots for a trip in late January of 2021. It would be my third trip, but it was her first, and I was very excited to share this place with her.
It was a cold and windy day when we hiked to The Wave, and the forecast called for a chance of snow. I wasn't exactly thrilled about that, but the experience was more about introducing Sally to The Wave and the surrounding area. As we got to The Wave, the forecast held, and light snow began to fall, but every so often, a touch of sunlight would break through the storm. The light that fell upon the landscape was soft and very different from what you usually see in photographs of The Wave. It was beautiful, and it allowed me to focus my creative efforts on capturing subtle details in the rock.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has recently approved a proposal to expand visitor access to The Wave. Under the new decision, the number of hiking permits issued for the Wave has increased from 20 to 64 people and/or 16 groups per day, whichever comes first. The BLM could implement further increases or decreases in the future based on monitoring of resources and social conditions. The change went into effect on February 1st, 2021.
What perhaps made this trip so special for us is that we were some of the last people to hike The Wave before the allowed increase in visitor numbers. On the day of our hike, we only counted a total of 13 visitors, including ourselves. I don't know if we will make it back to The Wave, but I am concerned about what the future holds with so many people now allowed to visit it. The landscape of The Wave and Coyote Buttes is incredibly fragile and one that must be respected, protected and preserved for future generations.
I hope you enjoyed seeing the photographs from this trip to The Wave. As always, the photos shown here are available as fine art prints.
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