Sunday, November 09, 2008

The Wave in Paria Canyon - Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness

One of the places that I've wanted to see and photograph, probably more than any other spot in the southwest, is the famous "Wave" in Paria Canyon. You need a permit to go there and there is a daily quota of 10 walk-in permits. There are more people that want to go than available permits, so you have to show up the day before and try for a spot by lottery. I tried a couple days ago but without luck. Yesterday I gave it a second shot and won one of the 10 coveted permits. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for today was terrible -- overcast with a chance of rain. I lowered my photo expectations and prepared for drab light conditions.

In anticipation of the hike, I woke up early this morning and inhaled copious amounts of porridge to keep me fueled through the day. During breakfast the clouds went fiery red for sunrise, but lasted but a few brief moments before succumbing to thick overcast. What a tease!

I hiked out with some great folks who I'd met the day before - Jack, Linda and Andrew. We made great time over the rough terrain (3 miles each way) and arrived at the Wave mid morning. Seeing the Wave for the first time left me awestruck. It is quite simply one of the most remarkable rock landscapes I've seen anytime, anywhere. I think the only words I could muster were 'holy shit'.

Photographing the wave was a challenge in the poor light. I tried various polarizers to try to add some punch to the subdued colors and used ND grads on the sky to add drama. This was my one chance in a long time to shoot this place and I was going to make the most of it.

Would you believe that around noon, just while contemplating leaving, the overcast skies broke to blue skies with puffy white clouds. I photographed like mad for the brief window of time... it only lasted about a half hour before the clouds choked back in again. It started spitting rain as we finished our hike out. Damn, I am lucky!

Photo 1: Trying to make images in the drab overcast light - a self-portrait amongst the Wave patterns. EOS 1Ds mIII; Singh-Ray Blue n Gold polarizer; 24-70mm; 1s @ f/22

Photo 2: Another drab light image of the awesome patterns.
EOS 1Ds mIII; Singh-Ray Blue n Gold polarizer; 24-70mm; 1s @ f/22

Photo 3: The skies start to clear and light up the Wave. EOS 1Ds mIII; Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer & 2 stop hard edge ND grad; 17-40mm; 1/8s @ f/22

Photo 4: Blue skies over the wave.... I am elated!
EOS 1Ds mIII; Singh-Ray LB warming polarizer; 17-40mm; 1/13s @ f/22

I'm off to Petrified Forest National Park tomorrow before heading into New Mexico to meet up with my friend Chris Dodds to photograph birds at the legendary Bosque del Apache refuge. Lots of more photos to come..........


  1. Anonymous8:31 AM

    I sit here looking out at the wind blowing zero degree wind many of us in Canada are doing right now.

    I was sent your blog by a friend and every week I look forward to your great pictures and your hilarious hiking experiences.

    They truly bring some warm sunshine to my day and I am sure many others. (even if you think the lighting is too "drab" in some of your photos)

    Thanks so much and I am looking forward to "travelling" with you for the next year.

  2. Anonymous1:02 PM

    THAT is an AMAZING place!!!!! And absolutely amazing shots also!

    Ethan - your blog is so inspiring - thanks!

  3. Anonymous4:25 PM

    Hi Ethan

    Well once again you've done it. I've seen hundreds of photos of the Wave but never with someone in them for perspective. I never realized it was so large. Awesome!

    Amazing photos as always.

    You're like a bad dose of athlete's foot. Giving everyone itchy feet!

  4. Ron, it was much larger than I expected and the photo with me in it is just one small side alley of the feature. I'll have to post some more shots later, which give a better sense of the overall size. There is one large central core area of the Wave, and a few offshoots with equally fantastic rock patterning. Not to mention the landscape surrounding the wave, which is also spectacular.
    Overall, the Wave far exceeded my expectations which were high to begin with.

  5. Anonymous8:00 PM

    Ethan!! Amazing!! Amazing!! Amazing!!

    That's all I can utter...


  6. Anonymous9:55 PM

    Ignorance must really be is it I had never even heard of this place? WOW, Ethan!

  7. Nice shots. I can't wait to get there myself. I'm a bit jealous that you're getting to Bosque. Because of my shorter itinerary, I had to pick between either Bosque or South Texas, and I picked the latter. I look forward to your Bosque updates.

  8. The Wave was a grueling hike when I went, but amazing. The lighting doesn't get good there until midday, so you lucked out ...