The Wave in Arizona is one of the world’s oldest geological formations and one of the most photographed landscapes in the United States. Located in the heart of the Colorado Plateau near the Arizona-Utah border, a maximum of just sixty-four people a day are allowed to explore this fragile natural marvel, and only by entering a lottery months in advance.


Situated on the slopes of the Coyote Buttes, this sandstone rock formation dates back to the Jurassic Period, some 150 to 200 million years ago. It consists of U-shaped depressions that were sculpted by erosion and that resemble an ocean wave (hence the name). Incredibly, most people didn’t know about The Wave until the 1990s, when it began to appear on travel brochures. Today, photographers from all over the world try to gain access to it and capture its colourful, undulating beauty.


The Wave is part of the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area, managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Because of its fragility and the numbers of people wanting to visit it, the Bureau has set limits on public access to the site. If you want to visit The Wave, you have to enter a lottery for one of the day permits. According to the Bureau, 200,589 people applied for permits to The Wave in 2019. Of those, only 7,300 (around 3.5 per cent) of the applicants received one. The most popular seasons to visit The Wave are spring and autumn.


To preserve its natural integrity, there are no formal trails or signposts to The Wave. In the summer of 2013, three hikers died trying to cross the open desert to reach it. Since then, the site has been made safer for permit-holders, who are provided with a map and information. However, visitors must still find their own route to The Wave across the desert — so be prepared and follow all safety guidelines.