21 February 2012

Against all odds

Downtown Denver at Night

Dark, peaceful silence was ruptured by the 3 a.m. alarm. We'd packed Sunday night, so all we had to do was peel our eyes open, put everything in the car and go.

We couldn't preload the car because we had items we didn't want to freeze in the single-digit overnight low. Such as my camera. And cheese sticks.

Our goal was to make Kanab before the BLM field office closed for the day on Monday. We wanted to find out exactly what we would need to do Wednesday in order to attempt to gain a lottery permit for The Wave. Although we'd planned four days for four chances, we didn't want to miss a potential day of success by being late and missing the drawing.

first light on Mount Garfield

Snowy and icy conditions throughout the mountains of Colorado and Utah slowed forward progress and cut stops and breaks to five minutes or less, yet we pulled into the BLM parking lot 645 miles later with 15 minutes to spare.

The office had moved – into TWO different locations. One specifically to handle the daily lottery for The Wave. Off we went to find the new lottery location. We drove all the way across Kanab during rush hour, but the journey was nothing like trying to get across the street in downtown Denver at 5 p.m. We made it in time.

We'd have to report back at 8:30 a.m. sharp the next morning for our shot at two of ten lottery permits to hike to The Wave. We asked the odds. They'd had three happy hikers that morning, but 68 the previous Friday. 58 people had been turned away. It doesn't matter how far you drove. Or flew. Only 10 next-day lottery permits are awarded each day, regardless of how many potential hikers plan a vacation around this destination.

Not terribly enthusiastic or hopeful and yet not entirely discouraged, we checked into our hotel room, then walked across the street to the grocery store for dinner. We like to make our own food while on vacation. Back at the hotel room while dinner was cooking, we watched three back-to-back half-hour television documentaries on gravity, Titan and Europa, quite the treat as we don't have television at home (by choice). Minutes later, we were out cold.

Sleep. Comfortable, peaceful, warm sleep.

In five years, we'd never been successful in the six-months-in-advance Wave lottery, also ten permits per day. We'd regularly researched the application calendar to determine which days might provide the best chance, and we'd tried several times for Valentines' Day. After five years, we decided to take a chance for the walk-in, next-day lottery. After all, there were plenty of other things in the area to see if we were still unsuccessful.

Christmas, Valentines' Day and Super Bowl Sunday receive the fewest advance lottery applications. We couldn't do Super Bowl Sunday because we didn't want to miss the 2012 Ride the Rockies route announcement, which just happens to be the same day.

We've experienced some fairly dismal lottery success with Ride the Rockies, too. I expected our next-day Wave attempts to meet similar success ratios, which is, not favorable. We scheduled time off to take four chances at the next-day lottery. Then what do we get but snowstorm after snowstorm!

With my luck, we'd be successful in this lottery attempt and see nothing but white. Good thing I like snowflakes!

During the long trip to Kanab, I did needlework and slept while The Lizard did ALL the driving. I also picked out several great rock formations I wanted to shoot on the way back home, since we couldn't afford any time hog photography stops in our quest to arrive in Kanab before the end of the workday.

chilly white

On Valentines' morning, we awoke to three new inches of snow and a forecast for 100% of more of the same. We knew we wouldn't get the glowing orange coral Wave everyone else gets, and we knew chances of making it across the slick muddy road were next to impossible. Or impassable, as the many signs along the route so blaringly warned. We decided to try our permit luck anyway. We were first and second in lottery line but were informed permits were available for that very day. Rather than take a chance on the next-day lottery and 50% chance of snow, we opted for a leftover same-day permit, which no one else wanted due to the current forecast. We received our coveted green tags! We would get a chance to hike The Wave on a snowy Valentines' Day! The very day we'd failed at advance lottery attempts!


In case you're wondering, yes, hiking in the snowy desert in the middle of a cold February is indeed a romantic date for us!

The blizzard nearly caused us to turn back while driving to the trailhead because the highway was so awful and visibility non-existent. The Lizard decided to keep going, ever so slowly, at least to the turnoff, just to check dirt road conditions. Good thing, too. About five miles later, the clouds suddenly broke, and the sun slowly crept out of hiding. God opened a window for us!

The storm breaks.

The dirt road was passable, the three-mile mostly sandy trail was in good shape, the cold wind was tolerable with proper clothing, and the sun even lit up the sandstone toward the end of our two-hour stay inside and above The Wave. The sandstone was dry; snow lingered only beneath shaded north-facing sage and juniper along the trail. Many hikers report never finding The Wave as no trail proper is maintained, and the general advice is to NOT follow footsteps in the sand because they might go the wrong way. We found route-finding to be a joyous adventure, and many features along the way were equally as photogenic as The Wave itself.

We had The Wave to ourselves for about 30 minutes, and only eight others (two of whom we suspect may have been unmarked BLM spies making sure all hikers were legal) came and went during our two hours there. Everyone was courteous of each other's photos. The Wave has been described as only about an acre in size, and it truly is small enough that more than 20 people at any given time would ruin any photographic opportunities. More than 10 people at one time would have severely limited photo creativity, in my opinion. There is wisdom in the lottery system, as crazy as it seems.

Our hike still feels like a dream to me, and The Lizard still can't believe we did it! I wonder if I appreciate this hike more because it took so long to achieve the dream. Many high-fives were exchanged as we entered The Wave and then again as we departed and again when we returned to the car. 14 February 2012 was my best valentine date ever, worth every day of the five years it took to get inside The Wave.

Perhaps this will be a harbinger for the 2012 Ride the Rockies lottery (which we breathlessly entered during the exceedingly wee hours of Super Bowl Sunday while football fans across the US slept!), when results are announced March 2…

hiking to The Wave

We made it!

The Glorious Wave


worth everything it took to get here

my valentine


  1. I live in a small bedroom in canada you took me to a place i will never go, and showed me such beauty i didn't know existed - thank you for the journey - just doesn't cover it.

  2. Simply breathtaking! I understand now why it is called 'the Wave'! I hope some day I can be half the photographer you are!

  3. Oh. My. Word.

    That IS a great Valentine's date. So glad you made it. :)

  4. P.S. Here's a link that immediately made me think of you. (You've probably seen it, but if not, enjoy.)

    P.P.S. Thanks for not making us type illegible words for the privilege of leaving a comment! :)

  5. Congratulations! and thanks for sharing your adventures with us!
    -Cindy in PA

  6. Somehow, you and I are living parallel lives... We were both in Moab at almost the same time. The Runner and I have been trying and trying and trying to get into the Wave via the lottery system. We keep failing. You did it!!!!!!!! I am so excited for you. These photos are fabulous, amazing, and art.

    We can't resort to your "drive there and try to get in" approach because my back so severely limits how far I can travel in a day. We need to know that we'll be in before I endure a few days of driving!


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