Serious outdoor lovers maintain lists of special places to explore over a lifetime on the trail, checking them off as visited. Should Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, on the Utah / Arizona border, be missing from your list, add it immediately.

Leading generally into Coyote Buttes North from Wire Pass Trailhead, The Wave would be the specific destination. Photographs of this amazingly sculpted and wildly colored sandstone formation annually grace calendars and outdoor magazines. Though gorgeous, these stunning photos pale in comparison to actually standing within these walls.

Tightly controlled permit distribution by the Bureau of Land Management, issuing just 20 daily, ensures this fragile environment remains pristine. The challenges of not only reaching the trailhead, 35 miles northwest of Page, Ariz., 10 miles down a rutted, washboard road, as well as the six-mile round trip hike, ensure that only the truly dedicated will visit.

Through a lottery system, permits are awarded months in advance to 10 online or mail applications ( Another 10 are selected in the 24 hours prior to hiking. A maximum of six people per permit are allowed. Dogs may also be included. A superbly written and illustrated guide is included, apparently an effort to reduce rescue efforts. Our group was able to help an individual headed off trail and close to a precarious off-trail situation get safely back onto the correct path.

Dropping into Wire Pass Wash across the dirt road, a leisurely half mile starts the journey. At this point a sign directs hikers to the right and up a steep old Jeep road. Reaching the top, the sandy trail crosses a plateau covered in wonderfully aromatic, blue / green sage. Massive sandstone walls, deep canyons, hoodoos, and buttes are viewed in all directions.

Passing through a wash at the bottom of a sandy slope and ascending another steep section, hikers reach a sandstone ridge leading to the south. Cautiously navigating the slickrock, finding the trail becomes more difficult. Though cairns are placed, they blend into the surroundings. At this point carrying the trail guide is justified.

While alternately crossing sandstone ridges and washes of deep sand, a dark shadowed crack in the distance acts as a key navigation point, leading hikers toward The Wave.

Beginning in Utah, hikers enter Arizona just before crossing a large wash and climbing a steep 200 feet through deep, shifting sand, a final challenge before entering The Wave. One returning hiker passed earlier had correctly commented, "It's well worth the effort."

Convoluted ridges and walls, multicolored bands of pink, yellow, red, and orange in various shades welcome hikers through a narrow, V-shaped notch and into an open bowl. Unmatched beauty lies in all directions.

Sharing the experience with only a few other fortunate permit holders, slopes, ridges, troughs, domes and cliffs are carefully explored. Realizing the fragility here, caution must be taken to limit the impact of a visit.

After waking to a morning of frigid, windy, cloudy and rainy conditions, mid-day finds us basking under blue skies, puffy white clouds and bright sunshine. Nature photographers couldn't ask for better conditions. Limitless beauty and wonder are shared and enjoyed, making the departure decision difficult. An early March sun is headed toward the horizon, and remembering the difficulty locating the trail in daylight, it's essential to reach the trailhead before dark. Overnight camping at The Wave is not allowed.

During our outward journey we wisely made mental notes of key spots to look for on the return. Once again crossing slickrock, the sage-covered sandy plateau and dropping down the Jeep trail, just the level wash is left to negotiate before arriving at the trailhead. Though numerous inclines and declines are encountered, the overall elevation gain is a mere 350 feet. A moderately difficult adventure that is easily completed, safely hiking at a comfortable pace.

Add the location to your list, be patient in being issued a permit, and prepare to experience a truly unique site.

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