Coyote Butte North

Trip Start Mar 02, 2011
Trip End Oct 14, 2011

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Flag of United States  , Arizona
Sunday, April 24, 2011

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It was raining when I woke up. I got ready to spend the day at Coyote Butte North and headed out. I know that the road north of the trailhead is impassible when it gets wet so I took the longer route that approaches the trailhead from the south. It turned out to be unnecessary. It didn't appear to have rained much in the vicinity of the trailhead.

The trail to the Wave, the most famous feature in Coyote Butte North, is three miles. The first half a mile or so runs through a sandy wash. The trail to the butte then splits off while the main trail continues on. The trail climbs up a hill and continues through a lot of sand for a while. Eventually you get to the northern end of the butte. The trail goes up and over the slickrock. It then heads south along the eastern side of the butte.

The scenery gets strange as soon as you get up onto the slickrock. Overall, I don't think it's as unusual as Coyote Butte South but it's definitely not a normal landscape. The trail continues over the slickrock and past wildly cross-bedded hills. Eventually, you can see a large split in what's called Top Rock. The Wave is just below the split. You leave the slickrock for a while and walk through more sand and then head back up the slickrock toward the crack until you find yourself in the Wave.

I had the Wave to myself when I first arrived. The lighting was OK at times but it continued to threaten to rain. Then some other people showed up. 

They only give out 20 permits a day. The weather seemed to scare off some of the people because I only saw 12 other people while I was there and three of them were heading back to their cars early to catch flights home. You'd think with only 10 of us out there it should be easy to keep out of each others way and it should be easy if people made any attempt at all to be considerate but most don't. Of the nine other people, eight of them spent a considerable amount of time in someone's way. And I'm not talking about getting into the Wave to have their picture taken for a couple minutes. No, I mean doing things like sitting in the middle to have their lunch. Or leaving their backpack in the middle while they wander off. Or leaving the wife and kids sitting there waiting while the husband wanders off the explore the rest of the butte. It's hard to understand how eight out of nine people can find this behavior acceptable.  Part of the talk they give people after the permits have been awarded is to remind them to be considerate but it falls on deaf ears.

Another part of the talk they give people is to tell them to be careful you don't damage the stone - especially if you have a tripod.  They stress that every day: be very careful if you're using a tripod.  Now my camera and tripod, which I didn't take to the butte, plus the lens I normally use together weigh about 10 pounds.  That works out to under four pounds a leg, each of which is covered with a large rubber foot.  Now that doesn't seem particularly dangerous to me.  But when you go out to the butte about half of the people are using hiking poles.  Hiking poles with tiny carbine tips that people put a large portion of their weight on generating tremendous pressures on that tiny tip.  Hiking poles that leave little marks on the rocks that you can easily see when you walk behind someone using them.  But yet they never mention to be careful with hiking poles.  Strange.

I left to go photograph some of the other features on the butte. Unfortunately, it started to rain heavily with a little hail thrown in for several minutes. I went back to the Wave to see how it looked wet. I, again, got tired of waiting for inconsiderate people to get out of the picture (and there were only four of us out there at this point) and I decided to head for Sand Cove, which is down the slickrock and around the corner from the Wave.

I got to Sand Cove and then the rain and hail started again but with lightning this time. I couldn't take any pictures and decided it was time to start heading back. Then I realized that it would be tough to hike up the slickrock I had come down now that it was soaked. The usual way out of Sand Cove is through a small, narrow canyon and then up the less steep slickrock just below the Wave. Hiking into a narrow canyon while it was raining heavily didn't seem like a good idea. I waited a while and the rain stopped. I waited a while longer to make sure the water level in the canyon wasn't going to get dangerously high and then hiked down. I went back to the Wave to see whether the rain had created puddles that might add some interesting reflections. Unfortunately, the puddles were muddy water and the winds were high enough that they weren't still enough to get reflections.

I thought I'd go to an area of the butte that's closer to the trailhead and look for some interesting formations I've seen pictures of. I have a book that has directions but I wasn't able to follow them the last time I was here. I thought I'd give it another try. I got to the bottom of a slope that I thought might be the right one although the directions say it's an easily climbed slope and it didn't seem that easy to me. Without binoculars I couldn't see whether the formations I was looking for were at the top. I climbed up and found I was in the right place. Unfortunately,the lighting is terrible in the afternoon so I couldn't get decent pictures but I know where to go next time.

By the time I got back down the slope it was getting late so I headed for the car. It started raining again with about a mile and a half to go. As I got closer to the car the sand changed to mud, which started caking on my shoes, reminding me about the problems I might have driving out. It was about an hour before sunset when I got in the car.

The road near the trailhead seemed OK. I thought I'd try heading north to see if it was possible to make it the eight miles to the main road that way. I quickly hit some extremely slippery mud. My SUV does fine over rough terrain and sand but it was no match for the bentonite clay. I turned around and headed south. I was under the impression that the bentonite clay was all north of the trailhead. Unfortunately, that's not entirely true. I hit some areas of clay as I headed south, Someone had gone before me so I could see the problem areas before I hit them but I still had to go slowly on the good areas to be able to slow down enough when the slippery spots appeared and my speed on the problem areas was extremely limited. It's about 21 miles to a paved road heading south. It took me nearly three hours to reach it plus another hour to get to Page.
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