I don't recall the first time I saw a photograph of the iconic Wave. I just know the intense desire to see it first hand, to run my fingers over it, and feel it beneath my feet had burned in my mind for at least a decade. It's considered a right of passage for photographers, but at the time all I wanted was the experience of being inside it.
I began trying to get access to this fantastic place years before I was even interested in photographing it. Prior to this, I liked chronicling my travels and hikes in the wilderness with my first digital camera, a little Sony Cybershot point and shoot my parents had bought me for graduation, but it didn't really go beyond that.
The Wave is within a magical place, known as Northern Coyote Buttes, on the border between Utah and Arizona. There are two ways to obtain a permit to access it: the first is by applying to a lottery online 3 months in advance with your personal details and a $5 fee. The second is to show up at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah, early in the morning to take part in a lottery for entrance the next day. Both the online and in-person lotteries only accept 10 hikers each per day, so you aren't guaranteed a spot.
I applied to that lottery for every month of the year for 4 years (except the few winter months when the weather wasn't particularly nice). In 2011, for the month of July, I was finally awarded a permit for my husband and I to hike out to the Wave. I remember jumping up and down and screaming with joy - after spending almost $200 on the lottery and waiting year after year, I'd finally gotten in.
I was lucky in that the nearest town to the Wave, Page AZ, was only a 6.5 hour drive from where I lived at the time. I quickly got my shifts covered at work for that time period and booked a room in a lovely little place called the Red Rock Motel. I was shocked to discover when searching for a place to stay that all the chain hotels in Page had drastically increased their rates and it was nearly impossible to get even a room at the lame Travelodge for less than $100 a night. At the time Red Rock Motel was $55 a night and that included a kitchen and a barbecue out back. The rates have gone up to $70 currently, but it's still way less expensive than the corporate chains and the service was much friendlier.
In the packet that came with our two bright pink permits was a map detailing the hike out to the Wave and instructions that warned us in all caps and huge red letters that it would be OVER 115° during the month we were visiting and if we didn't want to die, we should bring LOTS AND LOTS OF WATER!!!! Because of this, and the fact that I only had so much space in my backpack, I opted to carry in 2 gallons of water instead of the DSLR I'd inherited from my husband and went with a small Canon point and shoot.
Big mistake. 115° or more turned out to be about 55°. At one point it was so cold and rainy, my husband (the smart one with the tripod and DSLR) got out the silver emergency blanket and wrapped it around me while we huddled for warmth behind a rock. The hike out there was one of the most amazing and intense hikes I've ever been on. At one point we were crawling on our hands and knees up a sand dune to reach the entrance to the Wave. 3 miles felt like twice as many, but I would have easily walked that just to see this wonder.
Eventually the cold, rainy day turned into a partly sunny and less cold one. We stayed as long as we could, and then headed back the 3 miles to our rented SUV (you need 4 wheel drive for the road out to the Wave). We would have been completely lost without our GPS, so I highly recommend anyone taking this hike who doesn't have one to just pony up the $100 or so for a GPS.
I've been holding onto these images for awhile - partly since I was disappointed that I had taken them on a point and shoot, but mostly because I had no idea how to process them back in the day. A trip through my photographic archives yesterday made me stumble across them once again and use what I've learned over the past few years to process them. While I will definitely bring the best camera possible for an opportunity like this in the future, it is possible to get lovely images from non-professional cameras.