Considered one of the most photographed landscapes in the United States, The Wave is a sandstone rock formation in the Coyote Buttes near the Arizona-Utah border. Each year, hikers scramble to get one of the few permits granted to hike in to see this formation. Only 20 hikers a day are allowed, and tens of thousands of people apply every year to be one of those lucky hikers. But how is this strange, surreal beauty even possible?

the wave in arizona

Photo: puttsk/Shutterstock


There are two major troughs: the first is 62 feet wide and 118 feet long, and the second is 7 feet wide and 52 feet long. The troughs were first formed by water erosion, as run-off carved deeper and deeper into stone from the Jurassic age. But as the drainage basin that fed water to the troughs shrank, water flow ceased, and the fascinating formation -- with steps and risers cut high into the steep sandstone walls -- has been continued entirely through erosion by wind as it funnels through the troughs.

The result of this slow and steady alteration of ancient sandstone by the elements is one of the most spectacular sights of the southwest. If you ever are one of the few people who score a permit to hike out and see the formation, the best times to photograph it are during mid-day to mid-afternoon, when there are few shadows. If you're extra lucky, you might get there after some rain, when puddles have formed that are filled with tadpoles and fairy shrimp, and reflect The Wave like a flawless mirror. 

the wave in arizona

Photo:kojihirano /Shutterstock

the wave in arizona

Photo: Nikkos Daskalakis /Shutterstock

the wave in arizona

Photo: Malgorzata Litkowska /Shutterstock

the wave in arizona

Photo: Francesco R. Iacomino /Shutterstock

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