I got all excited about a hike called The Wave after reading about it on Another Walk in the Park. It turns out that getting a permit for the famous, much-photographed Wave in Coyote Buttes North is about as likely as getting struck by lightning (even mid-week in November). Luckily there is a so-called consolation prize—South Coyote Buttes. Permits are much easier to obtain but there is nothing “consolation” about this amazing hike. Located in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, in remote northern Arizona, there was no way our Dodge Dart rental would’ve got us there. We hired Dreamland Safari Tours, out of Kanab Utah. Our day of exploring the stunning Navajo sandstone formations at South Coyote Buttes and White Pocket (next post) was the best of the best of our two weeks in Utah and Arizona.
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issues 20 permits per day for South Coyote Buttes—10 online using an availability calendar that covers 4 months out, and 10 walk-ins the day prior at the BLM Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah. To maximize your chances, I’d definitely recommend the online option. We were lucky and managed to get walk-in permits. Permitting is a rather a complex affair, so best to get all the details about permits for The Wave and South Coyote Buttes on the BLM website.
Unless you have a 4wd vehicle with high clearance, lots of experience driving in deep sand, and skills in backcountry navigation, don’t even think about getting yourself to South Coyote Buttes. It’s about a 2 1/2 hour drive from Kanab (similar from Page) with at least half of the time on rough, deeply rutted, and sandy roads with minimal signage.
Hiring a guide (there are many based in Kanab) is pricey, but wow, was it worth it. We had an awesome time with Marjorie from Dreamland Safari Tours. She’s a super competent driver and guide, and her love for this area came through in spades. A convenient service offered by Dreamland Safari is that they can attempt to secure a walk-in permit on a client’s behalf. I highly recommend Dreamland and Marjorie.
Enough talk about logistics. Check this place out!
There are two main access point to South Coyote Buttes: Paw Hole and Cottonwood Cove. We visited the latter. From the parking lot, it’s a short, easy walk along a sandy trail to the teepee-shaped formations. Once at the sandstone, there’s no designated trail, just endless hours of fun exploration. The terrain is uneven and there’s a bit of scrambling, but nothing difficult. Tread carefully, some of the formations are extremely fragile. I wasn’t keeping track but I suspect we didn’t do more than 4 miles of hiking. This place is all about the journey with no particular route or destination. You could visit a hundred times and still discover new things.
I couldn’t get enough of the beautiful split colour rock and pink lines on the “elephant-skin” hills. Scientifically speaking, the Jurassic Age Navajo sandstone has been painted over time by iron oxide.
Nature’s colour palette at South Coyote Buttes makes me very happy. The desert hues against that deep blue sky…I’m feeling the calm just looking at the photos.
The fantastically twisted formation above, known as the Dali (Salvador) rock, is an incredible show of wind sculpted erosion. I couldn’t help but notice how fragile these structures are. Some of the rock layers are almost paper thin.
Cinnamon Bun Basin—isn’t that a great name? I think our guide made it up. This part of the hike really shows off the wonderfully gnarled landscape, many parts curved and others sharp and pointy. I love the different swirling tones of red, yellow and orange.
The rock formations are out of this world, but South Coyote Buttes also has gorgeous sweeping views of the area. In the mid-distance, the distinctive teepee shapes rise from the earth like a small village. Beyond, the hills and cliffs are brilliantly coloured—that would be vermilion.
We may not have been successful getting permits for The Wave but I feel we won the lottery with our visit to South Coyote Buttes.
The map below shows the location of our hike (Cottonwood trailhead), very close to the Utah /Arizona border. My next post will be about White Pocket, only about 5 miles from Cottonwood Cove, but on an extremely sandy, slow-going road. The Wave is not labeled but is accessed from the Wire Pass trailhead.