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Arlo and David visit The Wave
April 2009

Last March Arlo and I finally get it together and plan a trip in his airplane. Arlo suggests that we visit the area around Page, Arizona, an excellent location for desert adventures, including the internationally famous Wave, some narrow slot canyons, and the mysterious hoodoos. We swap gear lists and settle on a date. On a Thursday afternoon in late April, Arlo flies from Mendocino to Santa Rosa and meets me after work.


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Arlo's GlaStar at Santa Rosa's Shultz Airport (STS). This plane is very cool, especially since Arlo built it himself! We quickly load my gear and take off for Tehachapi (TSP), our destination for this first leg of the flight.


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I snap this shot a few minutes into the flight, looking south to San Pablo Bay.

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The GlaStar's instrument panel. Indicated airspeed: 105 knots (ground speed of 133 kts, or 153 mph). Altitude: 5500 ft. Heading: 120 degrees (east by southeast). GlaStar's call numbers: 4224. I hear Arlo say "GlaStar 4224" over the radio a lot.


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Headsets and microphones make talking easy, and help keep the considerable engine noise to a minimum.


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Still over the Bay Area, we look down on the Carquinez Bridge and nearby oil refineries.

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After crossing through the last of the coastal ranges, we head down the San Joaquin Valley. Interstate 5 is the straight line running from the lower right to the upper left of the above picture. The body of water at top is the San Luis Reservoir. The rest of our flight to Tehachapi is scenic and uneventful. After touching down, we walk into town and have dinner at a local Mexican restaurant. Later we spend the night in the pilot's lounge at the airport, our sleeping bags spread out on the floor - no frills accommodation but the price is right (free).


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The second day dawns crisp and breezy. Arlo fuels up the GlaStar, carefully balancing the load between the left and right wing tanks. Avgas is about a $1.00 more per gallon than gasoline; with our tail wind on this leg, the GlaStar gets about 23 mpg. The big plus is that the plane flies a straight line and considerably faster than a car. Total flight time to Page is about 5 hours, versus up to 16 hours by road.


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Arlo working through the pre-flight checklist.


Early in the next leg we encounter strong tail winds and a mountain wave: raising air. We surf along and record the GlaStar's fastest ever ground speed - 194 knots, or about 223 mph. Not bad for a small plane. A spot of moderate turbulence sends David's stomach for a loop; luckily, an air sickness bag is not needed.

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The Overton Arm of Lake Mead.


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As we close in on Page, Arlo banks the GlaStar around The Wave, which is visible along the bottom edge of this shot, just right of center. The small circular opening in the upper left corner is a wind-carved bowl, complete with its own small sand dune. We are hopeful that we win the lottery and get to visit this protected area.


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We then pass over Buckskin Gulch, a narrow slot canyon we think looks enticing, especially from 8,000 ft.

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A view of Glen Canyon Dam  and the Grand Canyon beyond. Page is the green area in the upper left corner. Once we land at Page Airport (PGA) we decide to check out Upper Antelope Canyon.

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The entrance to Upper Antelope Canyon. This is our first visit to a narrow slot canyon and it doesn't disappoint. Crowded with tourists, this canyon sees a lot of visitors year round. We go with the required a Navajo guide.

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It's a different world inside a slot canyon. The sandy bottom makes this one feel downright comfortable. 


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Once inside, it's hard not to go wild with the camera as opportunities for artistic shots abound. (Photo: Arlo Reeves)



This excursion's Excursion. (Photo: Arlo Reeves)


Returning to Page, we stock up on groceries at the local Safeway, then take a quick side trip to Horseshoe Bend. This iconic location has is photographed and commented on by many. This doesn't stop us from doing the same.


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Horseshoe Bend. (Photo: Arlo Reeves).


We head west to White House campground and nearby Paria Ranger Station, site of the daily lottery for The Wave. 


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White House campground is scenic, complete with an expansive Arizona sky.


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Arlo prepares our first dinner. I help out by making empty beer bottles.


Our first evening is windy. Strong gusts throw sand across the table and we hunker down, hands over our food, eyes squinting tightly. However, nightfall brings calm and if it weren't for the large group of rowdy Phoenicians just down the hill, the evening would be perfect. We rise early the next morning and head over to the Paria Ranger Station, where we hope to win a permit to hike The Wave.


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Park Service volunteer Dick Rauscher hangs out at the ranger station, providing info to tourists and hikers. We chat him up and get the lowdown.

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Can I please have one?


The scene inside the Paria Ranger Station is crowded - there are about 40 people milling around, each hoping to be a lucky winner. Many have traveled from overseas, some just to photograph The Wave. The atmosphere is friendly yet competitive and slightly tense. The ranger and his helper take our names, give us a number, then grab everyone's attention for the lottery. One by one the numbered balls tumble from the spinning basket. Ours wasn't one of them.


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Two new acquaintances, Canadians Martin and Gail, are smiling because they just had their number pulled. We feel envy and vow to return tomorrow for another spin. After congratulating them, we head out to Buckskin Gulch.


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We bumped into this little guy, slithering across the trail in search of morning sun. (Photo: Arlo Reeves)



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Hiking down the Wire Pass drainage, a tributary canyon to Buckskin Gulch. (Photo: Arlo Reeves)

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Native American Petroglyphs. (Photo: Arlo Reeves).


We now enter Buckskin Gulch proper, the canyon deepening and collecting chocolaty, muddy water in its lowest spots. After the first wet crossing our steps are accompanied by squishy sounds. We meet few hikers this day and have Buckskin Gulch pretty much to ourselves.


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(Photo: Arlo Reeves)



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This scalloped pocket invites.

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We spy a beehive high up on the wall and notice this honeycomb in the sand beneath. (Photo: Arlo Reeves)



It is impossible for me to hike here and not think about water, lots of water, rushing hard and fast, sculpting rock and sand alike, and sweeping up foolish hikers foolish caught in its way. Overcast skies and occasional sprinkles heighten this feeling. I find myself plotting quick exits - is that side canyon climbable? - and looking over my shoulder, imagining an angry wall of muddy water coming our way.


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See the mud splatters on the wall to my left? Blurp ... blurp ... blurp. (Photo: Arlo Reeves)

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Wading through chocolate milk. Glurp ... glurp ... glurp.

After several hours, we return to the rented Corolla, tired and hungry, and head back to camp for pasta and pesto and a good night's sleep. The same group of noisy Phoenicians fill the evening with their orgy of food, drink, and rowdy conversation. However, this time it is easier to drop off to sleep, images of Buckskin Canyon floating in my sleepy mind.

We rise the next day and after breakfast head back to the ranger station, where we enter the lottery for the Wave one more time. And guess what? WE WIN!


We are elated and for the rest of the trip make up our own lyrics to Queen's "We Are the Champions".


We won the lottery, my friend. And we'll keep on hiking until the end.

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Our permit to visit The Wave.


We finally tire of singing and being silly and decide to visit some hoodoos. Volunteer Dick points us in the right direction and off we go. 
 
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Hoodoos are formed when an erosion resistant cap rock protects weaker sediments beneath, making a pedestal for the cap rook. These formations are geologic instants in time; the cap rock is precariously situated and will easily fall - given enough time. We don't hang out beneath for too long.

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(Photo: Arlo Reeves) 



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(Photo: Arlo Reeves)



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We reluctantly leave the intriguing hoodoos, finally piloting the Corolla to a new campsite for the night. We find a nice spot near The Wave's trailhead, and far from the Phoenician hordes.



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Mmmmmmm, dinner. Broccoli and canned soup.


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Arlo can cook anywhere.


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David can eat anywhere. (Photo: Arlo Reeves)


Our last day dawns with us eager to hit the trail and finally experience The Wave. We pack a lunch, grab maps and cameras, and start hoofing it up the trail. The day is clear and warm; and perfect for a hike.


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Trail sign-in box.



Right away we fall in with two older couples - two polite Japanese and two obnoxious Americans. The Americans have been to The Wave many times and are determined to guide us every step of the way. We quickly dub the this stifling duo "The Insufferables" and ditch them with a spurt of quick stepping. Being entirely too polite, the Japanese are dogged by them for the entire three miles to The Wave.



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Beetle tracks?


After the first mile, the trail heads out over slick rock, which is just bare red rock with very little dirt to hold the impression of a trail. It's a good thing the Park Service map includes photos with clearly indicated landmarks, or the route-finding would be more difficult. The hike is beautiful and full of pleasant anticipation. And with one last steep, sandy climb, we are here.


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(Photo: Arlo Reeves)



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The rock texture up close.



Composed of Jurassic sandstone, The Wave began forming about 190 million years ago in an environment of large sand dunes, then solidified into rock over the subsequent eons. Each layer is a chapter in a long story of windblown deposition, erosion, and re-deposition. More recently, wind and infrequent rain have carved the rock into the formation we see today. Our eyes drink it in. Our camera shutters snap frequently, feebly attempting to capture the sense of this place.


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A swirl of lines and color.


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David in the center of it all. (Photo: Arlo Reeves)


The area is so fragile that the Park Service has long used the lottery to limit the number of daily visitors. We enjoy the quiet and solitude.



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Rock cake layer - dig in!



After soaking up The Wave for an hour or so, we hike to high point on the ridge above. It's a fun side trip, complete with cliff edges, steep slopes, and awesome views. We're trying to find that "wind bowl" we saw during our flyby on the trip out.


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This small arch is directly over The Wave.


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The Teepees.


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And here's that bowl we saw from the air, complete with a sand dune inside. (Photo: Arlo Reeves)



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Arlo is up on the lip.



After exploring the ridge top for a couple hours, we pass back through The Wave for a few more photos.


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(Photo: Arlo Reeves)



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(Photo: Arlo Reeves)



After shooting perhaps the 500th picture of the day, we head back down the trail, exhausted from many hours hiking out under the hot sun. Upon reaching Page, we decide to grab a motel room and a restaurant dinner before our flight back to CA. The local Pizza Hut is interesting and ultimately adequate to our needs. The night indoors in a bed feels strange after sleeping out under the stars. We rise early, pack up our stuff, and head to the airport.


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Loading the GlaStar for an early wheels up.


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More avgas, glug ... glug ... glug.


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We circle around The Wave one last time. Our wind bowl is in the lower left, The Wave in the upper right. After refueling in Tonopah, we head west again, this time ascending to 14,500 ft. for our leg across the Sierra. This leg produces the GlaStar's slowest ground speed ever: 28 knots. Arlo: "We were unable to maintain altitude at full throttle in descending mountain wave, so we flew down a little and through it."


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At 14,500 feet we use the oxygen. Hey look - bunny cheeks! (Photo: Arlo Reeves)


Arlo and I agree that this was an excellent trip. We had three totally, completely, excellent days in Page. And we won the lottery. We are the champions. What more can we say?


Thanks to Arlo for sharing his photos and reminding me of the geography. And for keeping my flight commentary clear and accurate.


To see Arlo's selection of pics from this trip, click here.

 

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