We actually quite enjoyed the whole scene. My wife in particular got a kick out of no one detecting her being German. The only downside of it was you had to be there at 8:30 AM every day. It would have been a great time to be hiking or just enjoying the campground. We felt it would be much better to make it say right after lunch when in the desert it is best to seek shelter indoors. But rules are rules and we followed them like good soldiers awaiting a furlough. We filled our days with the Staircase's other equally enthralling hikes: Wire Pass, Buckskin Gulch, and the Toad Stools. Even if we failed to hike The Wave we felt coming to the area was well worth the effort.
Walking through the door on our third visit to White House ranger station, hearing German now seemed entirely appropriate and not strange in the least. In fact, we wondered why it was the rangers were speaking in this foreign tongue: English. Numbers were dispersed in rudimentary fashion. By now, we were old pros. We settled into the back of the room and gazed at guidebooks and maps, hopeful that three balls would be the charm.
A Swiss couple we had become friendly with on their arrival just the day prior were elated to be called on their first day and we forced a smile, not wanting to seem overly concerned about possibly being passed over in their favor. Thankfully, even with them getting two, there were three permits left. A solo hiker could take one and we'd still have a shot. But fate toyed with us no longer and we contained ourselves in a happy embrace on hearing our number called. Not wanting to act smug or overly jubilant as many on previous days had, we were just relieved and content to be going. Of course, inside we were ready to explode, “We had the balls to do The Wave!”
Once through the door, it was as if we had somehow walked not only from the heat of the desert but from the English speaking world of Utah. The average American would have probably only heard the din of an unfamiliar language but having married a German I knew the sound if not language well. For my wife, it was perhaps even more unsettling as if a whoosh of odd familiarity swirled about, toying with her already beleaguered brain. Swiss, Austrians, and Germans mingled amongst each other, speaking in both hushed tones and excited chatter, depending on how many times they had been there. It didn't take a foreign interpreter to know of what they spoke; it could only be The Wave.
The Wave is a geologic phenomenon where sandstone has been eroded by the forces of nature to produce a fragile and beautiful formation that resembles with little imagination needed a wave. How this came to be such a Germanic phenomenon is the power of advertising. The Wave has featured prominently on the cover of a popular travel guide on the American Southwest for several years. It appears to have made quite an impression as between it and word of German mouth, it has become one of the true must do's of every German-speaking tourist traveling in the area. I had been in the area twice previously and had never heard of it but when in the planning stages of the trip, my wife who normally lets me do all the logistics was adamant about doing this one thing. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
We had stopped by the small backcountry ranger station called White House the day before where a helpful if a bit disgruntled ranger explained “the rules” to us. It seemed he had done this a few too many times and was surprised at how little we knew about it. Basically, 20 people per day get permits to hike to The Wave. The 10 that plan ahead get them via the Internet but you have to know when you'll be there as well as have some luck. The walk-ins of whom we were about to join comprised the second 10.
This all sounded kind of typical to us but then it was explained that due to such demand, you had to be there first thing in the morning when they opened up. Each group leader filled out an application and was given a number. This number would correspond to one on a Ping Pong ball. These balls would be placed in a spinning bingo type device and the winning numbers would be drawn while the eager looked on. Man, talk about the drama.
To make things even more interesting, if you did not win a permit you could come back the next day at opening once again and you would be given two numbers, thus increasing your chances. Two numbers, two balls. This process could be repeated as long as you liked. Once you missed a morning, you lost your extra balls. On our first visit, one guy had seven balls and sadly still did not get the luck of the draw. Shamed, he returned not the next day. If you are so lucky, you pay $5 per person for the hiking permit which is good for the following day, all day. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
Grand Staircase National Monument is unique in that there are no official entrances and no park rangers to welcome you inside with a friednly smile and an outstretched hand seeking your money or your (NPS) passport.
The northern portion of the monument is accessed by highway 12- the scenic route leading from Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef and the monument's southern half is accessed by hwy 89 stretching from Kanab, Utah to Page, Arizona. There are secondary roads that go farther into the territory of the monument, but these are largely unpaved and required 4wd.
Favorite thing: I have camped many times in this area and on occasion spend many days in the wilderness. When I am done it is nice to take a shower. If you don't want to get a hotel room, your best option is to drive about 30 minutes to Kodechrome State Park which has a public shower for about $2. It is a blessing in the desert.
Favorite thing: There is a trailer park located just down the road from the national monument visitor center, on the same side of the road toward the town of Escalante. The showers are clean but beware the hot water does not last long. I found on my last visit they like to boast their four large water heaters but they fail to tell you they are on vacation mode, at least every time I was there. Last time I just went and turned the dial up as high as it can go on all four. That really did the trick for our group of 12! Shower cost $5.
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