North Coyote Buttes – The Wave – AZ (9.25.16)

Gateway to The Wave

We woke as the sun glared down on the side of the tent. I was excited to start the day but was a little sluggish starting out as I slowly pulled myself from the tent and gathered my gear together for the day’s trek. I had put in for permits to The Wave and was finally lucky enough (after several months of trying) to pull 4 of them. Nestled away in the North Coyote Buttes area of northern Arizona, some people wait upwards of 10 years to get pulled from the online lottery system and come from every corner of the world to see this one place. I waited until after our trip to the Buckskin Gulch the day before springing the news to the crew (I was keeping the permits a secret as it was icing on the cake for the weekend). Unfortunately there were about 12 of us, and I’m not one to choose one friend over another, so we drew for it using paper out of a hat.  Fair is fair!

Gaining the top of the first hill on the hike into the North Coyote Buttes
Water impacts this place so much, such a powerful force!

It ended up being Craig, Eva, Mikhaila, and I that piled into Craig’s 4Runner and dashed off towards the Wire Pass trailhead. Mikhaila told me she had been trying for years to get there and looked more like a kid on Christmas morning than I did! She was smiling from ear to ear ready to see this special place. We drove down the dirt road, crossing a running wash just above Buckskin Gulch trailhead, until we reached our destination. As soon as we stepped out of the car a Ranger called out “Michael?!” Talk about being on their game…the guy had my name, number, permit number, and group number hand written on a clipboard. After giving us the rundown and chatting with us for 20 minutes, filling us in on the best places to check out and where to take good pictures, he moved onto the next group of people pulling up. We took our opportunity and jetted for the trail… I was anxious to get going!

Lets push on, colors are really starting to pop!

The trail for The Wave diverged from Wire Pass trail just a half mile in, climbing up a good incline and turning south. Once among the sandstone formations of the hike, there is no trail. I could easily see how people could get lost, run out of water, and not make it back in the summer months. The permits came with a pictorial step-by-step map to get us there which proved to be immensely helpful. We trekked on with virtually no cairns and few markers across the open desert, giant formations popping up around us, hoping we were on the right track. The ground gripped the soles of our boots like sandpaper, helping to drive a good pace. The colors of the formations were absolutely incredible…it looked like an artist had created the scenery with a carving knife and paintbrush, a palette of orange, reds, and yellows coming through, to make their masterpiece. I guess you could also say it looked like a kid sitting on porch steps in summer, cream sickle dripping down his shirt onto his converse kicks.  You know, whatever analogy grabs ya!

20160925_103727Across the open desert

Sandstone flakes of goodness
Getting closer!
Charging the last hill before The Wave

We pushed forward through the formations until entering the final ascent into the section that gives the trail its namesake. We had been in such awe the entire hike it was hard to see how it could get any better, but when we finally reached what we had come so far to see we weren’t disappointed. It was kind of like walking on Mars. It’s difficult to comprehend how rocks and hills and mountains could be shaped in such a way, or imagine even then they were continuing to erode away as the wind whipped through the canyon.

Hmm . . . whats over here . . .
  • Side entrance to The Wave 1
Anyone bring their swim trunks?!

Like kids in a candy store we snapped pictures left and right. There was water at the base of The Wave where a small group of frogs had made their temporary home. We hiked on up, south of the formation in search of Melody Arch, a naturally formed widow that the Ranger mentioned. The climb to the slopes above was steep, but our shoes stuck like lizards to the rough surface. A chilly wind whipped across the North Coyote Buttes something fierce, but the sun beamed down and provided some warmth. We pulled our hoods up and pushed further up the rock face around the bend until finally spotting the arch from above. “There it is!” called Craig, who then proceeded to climb down and find the best path towards the base. Even though the rock itself was rough, the face of the formation was smooth with few good handholds to grab onto. This made any traversing tedious, but with care we found ourselves staring through Melody Arch and the window beyond. We paused for pictures and a breather to take it all in.

Found the Arch and the window!
Just for fun!
View from the window

There was so much to see here but so little time. We were all due back in Phoenix the next day for those pesky things called jobs and still had a long drive to go, so after exploring what we could, we turned back and retraced our steps to the parking lot. We left the cream sickle colored paradise behind us, taking only the great memories and few pictures of that beautiful place, but it was well worth it. Until next time!

Time to go back
Headed back towards the trailhead
  • Entrance hike
  • Side wave entrance



  • Weather: Hi 70s, Low 50s, Sunny
  • Water: 2.0 liters
  • Food: Mediterranean chips, 1 Cliff Builders Bar, 1 Cliff Bar, 1 apple, 1 powerbar
  • Time: 4 hours
  • Distance: 6 miles Round Trip
  • Accumulated Gain: 400 feet


  • Mule Camelback backpack (3 liter bladder)
  • SPOT Tracker


  • Cotton Handkerchief
  • Smart Wool Long sleeve shirt 195
  • Nike Running Shorts
  • Merrell Mid Moab Hiking Boots
  • Darn Tough Medium Wool Sox