Multicolored, eroded rock formations dominate most of southeast Utah, though particularly outstanding is the desert either side of the Paria River, beneath the Vermilion Cliffs - seen for example along the Cottonwood Canyon Road or at the Paria Rimrocks. The kaleidoscopic scenery extends a little way south into Arizona, before the land becomes more sandy and barren, and all can be visited free of charge and with no access restrictions apart from the Paria canyon system and one small area spanning the UT/AZ border (mostly in Arizona); this is Coyote Buttes, which was unknown before the mid 1990s but is now quite popular because of just one formation, 'The Wave', a small ravine between eroded sandstone domes formed of amazingly beautiful rocks containing thin, swirling strata. The location was first publicized in Germany, in magazine articles and a movie ('Faszination Natur' by Gogol Lobmayr, 1995), and then was visited only by a small number of Europeans, becoming widely known just in the last few years. Because the BLM considers the formations to be particularly delicate, Coyote Buttes has recently been subject to fees and entry limitations, with only 20 people per day allowed to visit.
Location: Coyote Buttes are the far southern portion of the Coxcomb Ridge, a 40 mile escarpment that parallels much of the Cottonwood Canyon Road and provides an impressive barrier to US 89 between Kanab and Page. The buttes are reached by the House Rock Valley Road that links US 89 with ALT-US 89, south of the Vermilion Cliffs in Arizona, and all are contained within both the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness and the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. The southern part of this track may have soft sand or mud at some times of the year and a rather longer drive (21 miles vs. 8.5 miles) is required to reach the main Coyote Buttes trailhead, so the northern route is preferred; this rather bumpy road is also used to reach the Buckskin Gulch slot canyon, and the trailhead for the Wave is the same as for the Wire Pass entrance of the gulch. The BLM divides the buttes into North and South, though the north contains all the famous sites, extending from Wire Pass about 4 miles south (2 in UT and 2 in AZ), with the southern half stretching a further 4 miles beyond that. Apart from the Wire Pass trailhead, the only other easily reached starting point is The Notch, 2 miles from Wire Pass, where a trail crosses a pass in the cliffs and leads to the south end of the north section. South Coyote Buttes is generally harder to reach though lesser quality dirt tracks provide some access from the east, while the very southern end (Paw Hole) can be reached by a 2 mile 4WD track starting from the House Rock Valley Road.
Permits: Entry to North or South Coyote Buttes costs $7 or $5 per person respectively, with a limit of 20 people for each region and no more than 6 in a single group. Half these are bookable up to 4 months in advance, by writing to the BLM in Kanab or applying via their website (https://www.blm.gov/az/paria/index.cfm, sometimes inaccessible), while the other half are available by applying in person to the BLM office at the Paria River, before 9 am on the day prior to the intended visit (the office opens at 8.30 am). At 9 am, if more than ten people are waiting, a lottery system is used to select the chosen few. All successful applicants receive a copy of the access regulations and, for North Coyote Buttes, a topographic map to help identify the route to the Wave, which is not well marked on the ground. There is high demand for the advance permits and all may be taken many months before the date of travel. A permit is also required for dogs - another $5. No overnight camping is permitted anywhere in the area.
Trail to The Wave: From the Wire Pass parking area, a path crosses the wash, runs alongside for a while then turns to the right, up the side of the hill on the outside of the first big bend. At the top of the rim is the Coyote Buttes trail register, then the path follows a disused, sandy road over a plateau and down to another dry wash. Beyond here the land is generally rocky and the trail is not well defined; the route is across the wash and up the far side to the top of a small ridge, veering left a little to keep the higher ground on the right. Over the ridge, the land opens out to reveal a big expanse of sand and slickrock, with a long, high ridge to the right (the north part of Coyote Buttes), a vast open area of sand and scattered rock domes in the middle distance and larger, more concentrated red rocks to the left, rising up to a mesa which forms the edge of Buckskin Gulch. Directly ahead, just left of the main ridge and about 2 miles distant, the land rises to a higher summit with a small but distinct dark notch about half way up, which is directly above the Wave and so provides a point to aim for. The hike is along the rocky slopes of the eastern side of the main ridge, descending near the end into another sandy wash (Sand Cove) then up to the Wave itself, though there are plenty of choices as to the exact route. The time taken is between one and two hours, and the hike is relatively easy, without much elevation change.
Sites in North and South Coyote Buttes, including the Wave, Wave 2, the North and South Teepees, and the 'Dinosaur Dance Floor'.