Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

In which there is a long car ride, and a lot of walking.

Written By: Tracy - Jun• 22•09

I’ve been promising a trip report on the great desert hike of 09.  This is taken mostly from my trip diary, with photos, so if it’s a bit rambly in spots, I do apologize.  But I do give you photos, so at least there are pretty pictures to look at.

Some Background for context:  My mother is in love with the Southwest.  My third year of college, my sister (Then a state officer with FFA) had the chance to travel with a fellow state officer out to Colorado.  She had so much fun, that the three of us decided to take a driving tour on a shoestring budget over the summer. 

Since then we’ve gone out west almost every year.  After seeing all the roadside attractions we could, we started tracking down things that took a little bit of hiking to get to.  By now (2009), we’re pretty seasoned hikers. 

Over the years, we’ve taken family and friends with us, but we try to keep the very strenuous trips to just the three of us, because miserable guests make for miserable trips.  After a jeeping trip through colorado a few years back, my best friend decided not to go on anymore trips.  After a mule ride into the Grand Canyon, my aunt decided not to go anymore either.   Our husbands think we’re a little crazy. 

When my sister’s kids (and eventually mine when I have some) get old enough, we’ll probably let them come along if they’re hardy enough to bear up under the strain of the trip.

A few years back, when my mother was researching Antelope canyon,

(that would be here)

She ran across the reference to a place calledThe Wave, at Coyote Buttes near Paria Canyon in southern Utah  near the Arizona border.  It’s a petrified sand dune from the jurassic period.  It looks like something that has been photoshopped.  Bright bands of colored sandstone undulate and dip like a wave. 

Because the formation is sandstone, the national parks service only allows 20 visitors a day, max.  10 are chosen about 9 months in advance by lottery, and 10 are chosen the day before.  We put in for passes in October, along with about 50 other parties from around the world, and managed to get them.  At that point, everything was set.  No backing out. 

You can see a You Tube video of the drawing for back country passes here

In truth, I was kind of worried about this trip.  My sister has gained weight after 2 kids, and injured her ankle.  I’ve always had a problem with overheating easily after being hospitalized with viral meningitis when I was six, and my mother told me that she hasn’t conditioned for the hike the way she should. 

A couple years back, on a trip down into the Havasu reservation in the upper Grand Canyon, my sister overheated and went down (I wasn’t on this trip). My mother cooled her off by helping her crawl into a creek, and they made it through the trip okay.  Prior to that, I almost overheated while riding a mule down into the Grand Canyon, and managed to cool myself off by finding a creek and drenching down.   Last year I almost overheated after an unplanned hike in Palo Duro Canyon.  I blame that on improper clothing and not enough water.

So going into the trip, I was nervous.  I thought we would be physically alright if we stayed hydrated enough, but I anticipated that the heat would prevent us from enjoying the trip.   As it turns out we had nothing to worry about.  My sister had lost some of her baby-weight while conditioning, her ankle behaved, the weather was unseasonably cool (if you can call 80 degree temperatures unseasonably cool) and even my mother was in trim shape. 

6/13/09  (Saturday)
We’re driving directly from Fort Smith Arkansas, with the back country passes for Monday.  The plan is to drive 12 hours today (Saturday) and then 6 hours Sunday.  That way we will have a little rest sunday, and be up at first light to hike in the cool part of the day  on Monday.

The only noteworthy thing to report about the trip is that it was incredibly windy. The wind was pushing our Yukon, as well as a number of semi trucks all over the road.  When I checked the national weather report that night, it was because we were driving through the Jet Stream.  Because the Jet Stream shifted strangely, Arizona and Utah were having unseasonably cool (80 degree) temperatures, while back home in Arkansas, they were having unseasonably warm (90 degree) temperatures.  Bad for the folks back home, but perfect for hiking through the desert. 

6/14/09 (Sunday)
After a short (6 hour) drive from Gallup New Mexico to just about 30 minutes north of Page Arizona, we arrived at our destination: The Paria Canyon Adventure Ranch.  The ranch caters mostly to European tour groups traveling on vacation, but they have one cabin, and they’re the only place to stay between Page and Kanab. 

They’re also extremely laid back, nice and friendly.   They offered to let us in on a couple of horseback tours that they were guiding the day we arrived, but since we have horses back home, we gave it a pass.   

Since there is more of a Hostel environment, there are no quiet hours, and they allow guests to smoke (not so great for me, but perfect for my mom).  I make it sound raucous, but it was actually very restful.  We met some very gracious visitors from Germany, France, England and Argentina who were excited to be seeing the American west. (I was a little bemused by the folks who got excited about buying a straw cowboy hat for a souvenir.  But then again, every summer my dad has one of his straw hats get blown into a hay bailer.  I guess it just doesn’t have the same cachet for me). 

Quite a few folks were charmed by our Arkie accents (my sister was happy to correct folks that we are Arkansawyers, not Arkansans).  The Ranch’s owners made sure that if the guests wanted to be noisy, they confined it to a party barn that they had on the property.  But the craziest thing we saw was a group of French college kids playing volleyball until 2 a.m.  Not exactly Daytona Beach-scale party. 

At any rate, if you do need a place to stay in that area, I recommend it.  We enjoyed our stay so much that the next time we’re sightseeing in that area, we’re going to plan the trip around staying there. 

6/15/09  (Monday)

The big day.  We were up at dawn and packed three camel back backpacks with three water bladders, two reserve bladders, and three plastic gallon milk jugs full of frozen water for the trip.  Additionally, we had granola bars, tortillas, string cheese and turkey for food.  Sunscreen and skin-so-soft for bugs, columbia gear in layers, and bandannas and ‘frog togs’ Chilly Pads to wet down to stay cool.

To give you an idea what the hike was like, here is a photo of some of the terrain.


The hike is about 3 miles down and 3 back.  A lot of people get there, look around and leave.  But we climbed over the wave and went exploring.  All told, we hiked about 7 miles that day.

There is a lot to see. Unusual rock formations, petrified raindrops, mountain pools that are filled with tadpoles and these things that look like a cross between trilobites and horseshoe crabs, arch formations, And a second wave formation, known as wave 2. 

Here my mother is looking at petrified raindrops in  the bottom of The wave.  I loved how her yellow hiking shirt just seemed to blend with the yellow bands of color behind her.  The pink tag on her backpack is our back country pass.  The rangers do patrol the area from time to time, looking for hikers trying to sneak in, and making sure that everyone makes it safely back off the trail.

I can easily see why they need to limit the number of people who go out there.  It’s pretty spectacular, but it is made of sandstone.  The edges of rock that we were scrambling over seemed like it was on the verge of crumbling off on our fingertips.  If they don’t control the number of people who go in, then we would probably all love it to death.

My mom hikes along Wave 2.

The hardest part for me was getting out.  We sailed through two of the last three miles with ease.  But half of the last mile is up a sandy hill.  There is no traction,  and in the afternoon the sand blasts heat up at you from below.  Once you’re through that,  you sign out (So that the rangers know you made it out safe and they don’t have to call out the search and rescue).  Once you’ve signed out, you may think you are near the end, but there is still a half mile of creek bed to walk through. 

I made it through okay, but getting through the sand took a lot of energy reserves.  When I got back to the cabin, I crawled straight into bed (my sleeping bag thrown over a futon in the cabin) and slept. from 5 p.m. through to 8 a.m.  My mom woke me up for an hour when dinner was ready, but after that I went right back to sleep.

The thing I couldn’t believe was that as we were leaving, a family of 6 was coming in.  This was 3 p.m., the hottest part of the day. Their back country pass was green colored, which meant that they won the lottery yesterday.  The leader seemed dressed for a desert hike, but the other adults were wearing jeans and no hats.  And bringing up the rear were two seventeen year old girls who looked like they were dressed for a trip to the mall.  Jeans, tight tops that had to be a polyester/spandex blend, no hats.  One of them had a small bottle of water.  They already looked miserable and if my camel back wasn’t completely empty by that point, I would have given it to them.  Sometimes I’m really astonished by how little thought goes into the elements when someone is hiking.  I assume that they managed to drag themselves out there and back, because I didn’t hear from the rangers that there was a search and rescue or ambulance. 

This is already a long post, and I’ve just covered the first big hike.  So I’m going to stop here.  Tomorrow, I’ll post about our second hike: out to Wire Pass and Buckskin Gulch

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  1. tapestry01 says:

    Nice pictures! I visited Antelope Canyon back in 2005.

    • Tracy says:

      I remember reading your trip diary for Burning Man. When we went to Antelope, I was still shooting film. (Velvia slide film, to be exact). This year I burned about 800 photos on the trip. This one hike I took about 450 pics. You can’t beat digital.

  2. trystan830 says:

    oooh that’s cool!

  3. I like the picture with the sunbeam. Twould make a cool fantasy picture with some critter forming in the shaft of light.

    • Tracy says:

      I’ve got a couple rolls of different sunbeams. That slot canyon is about 1/4 of a mile long. We spent about 8 hours in it just photographing the changing light patterns.

  4. ithildyn says:

    I hate hiking, so love the vicarious thrill of other people’s adventures [g] We recently moved to near Zion Natl’ Park in Utah, and Nin really wants to do the Subway hike, but I told her she’s on her own!

    Great photos!

  5. Great commentary, I really enjoyed it. I’ve only been out west once, a two week camping trip with my family when I was 16-ish. Driving from Florida, we hit Carlsbad Caverns, Painted Desert/Petrified Forest, Grand Canyon, Arches, Bryce Canyon, and Zion, along with a little corner of Rocky Mountain National Park. I’ve been wanting to take my son out there ever since to visit all of those places and more, but we’d do it in day trips; we’re definitely not up to real desert hiking like this. It’s awesome that you’ve been able to do this, and stay in condition for it.

    Havasu Falls is somewhere I have wanted to visit since I was a kid and saw pictures in a book, and will probably never get to.

    One interesting (to me) note: My son had viral meningitis as a baby and he also gets easily overheated. It never occurred to me that the two could be connected.

    • Tracy says:

      I don’t know why they are. My mom always made the connection. I thought I got a heat stroke when I was 12, and that prompted it, but I think they’re all related.

      Poor kid. I wouldn’t wish Viral Meningitis on anyone. I was so dehydrated they hospitalized me.

      You packed a lot into one trip. That’s amazing.

      • Yeah, my parents were pretty hardcore about fitting as much into a vacation as possible. They would take turns driving all night in order to get from campground to campground and save time – and this was tent camping with three daughters, no travel trailers! Nowadays they’re more into cruising and nice hotels to make day trips from, but I think they’ve more than earned it. 🙂

        My son was only a month old when he came down with a high fever and was lethargic. They did a spinal tap to confirm the meningitis, then was hospitalized for four days. I’ll never forget how upsetting the whole thing was for a new mother still with crazy hormones and baby crying from a spinal tap!

        Forgot to say earlier, love the pics. It’s amazing how no matter how gorgeous the pics are, you have no concept of the immenseness of the landmarks out West until you’ve actually seen them in person.

        • Tracy says:

          I’ve been a pro photographer, so I’m always up for capturing the pictures. If there aren’t things to shoot, I’m not willing to hike. But give me dramatic, unusual scenery and I’ll put up with anything.

          I don’t remember getting a spinal tap, but I remember them drawing lots and lots of blood. And they would tell me that they were about 30 mintues before they did. So I would sit there and worry about it.

          My mom used to be that way. On our mule trip, I jumped out of the car and hurt my back. I rode in the back for 26 hours straight, hunched up and drugged up on pain pills until we got to the Grand Canyon. Then I was able to stretch out on a picnic table and my back pain went away.

  6. sophiedb says:

    Fantastic! Looks like a fabulous hike.. and I’m gobsmacked about hose nutters in jeans etc too. I suppose they were probably ok and learned nothing, but one day it’ll bite them in the backside on another trip *head!desk*

  7. muses_circle says:

    Sometimes I’m really astonished by how little thought goes into the elements when someone is hiking.

    I am, too. Though I am not a seasoned hiker, I always make the effort to prepare and have necessities before I go hiking, no matter how short it might be.

    That said, the Wave is gorgeous. Nothing like I have ever seen before!

  8. shadowhelm says:

    Sometimes I’m really astonished by how little thought goes into the elements when someone is hiking. I assume that they managed to drag themselves out there and back, because I didn’t hear from the rangers that there was a search and rescue or ambulance.

    Honestly, it’s amazing what people do. I’m constantly amazed at how many people come to Montana ill-dressed and unprepared. Same was true in Colorado. But there you go.

    Looks like a lovely hike. I couldn’t handle the heat. Maybe I’d do this in winter.

    • Tracy says:

      I’m told that in october it’s very plesant. In december, the highs are around 40, so not as pleasant. But you’re more likely to get passes.

      I remember when we went to the Grand Canyon, the rangers went out of their way to give you the cautionary tales of people who went below the rim just so that you would respect the place. That’s part of why we rode mules in instead of hiking.

  9. twasadark says:

    Great pics! I’m from Arizona and I had never heard of this place. Gorgeous!

    • Tracy says:

      It’s amazing that more people from Germany and France seemed to know about this place than the Americans did. A lot of them looked astonished when they met us. “Arkansas? How did you find out about this place?”

  10. dotar_sojat says:

    It looks awesome. Sounds like a great trip. I need to get back to the desert.

    • Tracy says:

      It was really a lot of fun. But I am glad to be home. After 4 days of hiking, and 4 more driving, I’m about tripped out.

  11. Nice pictures, must have been a great trip!

  12. joyblue says:

    7 MILES???

    Wow, it looked spectacular though. It’s also good to hear that they’re limiting the number of people who can access the area, instead of turning into a money machine. Your family are so lucky to be able to experience this!

    I’m still trying to get over the 7 mile walk. WOW!

    • Tracy says:

      The national parks service puts emphasis on conservation. One good example: We also visited Chaco canyon, which has some of the same types of ruins as Mesa Verde. In Chaco you can still go through the ruins, not so Mesa Verde. The difference being that there is a paved road out to Mesa Verde, so there are so many more people who go out there that they had to close the ruins to all but guided tours, and they are saying that they may close those eventually.

  13. alfreda89 says:

    Very cool stuff!

    I love Bryce Canyon and all that jazz, but heat and I are no longer friends. I’ll survive on your tales, instead.

    Is your text in white, or another color? Right now it was very hard to read, partly because sun is trying to creep in through the blinds.

    • Tracy says:

      Re: Very cool stuff!

      Text is in default, which on my screen is white-on black. They were having unseasonably cool temperatures this year, so the hike was pleasant.

  14. cailet_06 says:

    As someone who grew up and hiked around El Pl Paso, Tx I can sympathize with the battle of the elements. Although I must admit the people who came in after you, must have had some screws lose.

    • Tracy says:

      My mother thought that one of them was a guide, because he was the only one dressed for the trip (a guide dosen’t have to have a pass if he’s been hired by someone with a pass). But you would think that he would have warned them about the elements, and leaving early.

      If I hadn’t been nearly out of water, I would have been tempted to give them my camelback.