August 2014 Trip Report: The Wave (Coyote Buttes North, Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness), Coyote Buttes South, South Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend

Event Overview

The cornerstone of this photography trip was a one day permit into the North Coyote Buttes are of the Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness to photograph "The Wave" formation.  Since we had the time (and were able to obtain permits), I also included a day in South Coyote Buttes Permit Area and a visit to South Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend.

I would highly recommend a visit to each of these places as they each provide a unique set of photographic opportunities.


North Coyote Buttes

This area is globally known and travelled and after being there, I can see why.  It is one of the most symmetrically unique and breathtaking formations I have ever seen.  The 3 mile walk in is not difficult and is very well travelled.  That being said it seems that there are some that get lost and need assistance, and we in fact did need to provide navigational assistance to other visitors that were there hiking. 

Coyote Buttes North - The Wave

Wave Reflections

Wave Reflections

A photo taken in The Wave formation from the southern entrance before the first light of the sun hit the top of the formation. NOTE: A two stop handheld soft GND filter and polarizer were used at the time of the shot.

It is quite difficult to obtain a permit to visit this area, and it is easy to get frustrated with this permitting process.  But after visiting the location I can see the necessity for these controls, and think the system that is in place is actually a pretty good and fair one.  It was the first place I went where I saw a park ranger, and frequently; so I would highly recommend against traveling in to the permit area without a permit.

It took about 1.5 hrs to make the 3 mile hike in, and this was going at a leisurely pace in the dark via headlamp.  The colors of the wave itself did change quite dramatically from dawn till mid-day.  The rock itself takes on a more red / pink hue in the early dawn hours, whereas during mid-day light the rock takes on a more orange / yellow tone.  While I normally take all of my photos in these twilight hours of low-light, I found the daylight (particularly the mid-day) very attractive.

After arriving at The Wave formation I scouted out the area in the dark and had some time to wait for dawn to come.  I would recommend photographing The Wave during the early golden hour, this worked out well and nobody else was in the formation.  After spending some time in The Wave during this time I walked down to "The Second Wave" which is just south of The Wave formation.  While I had seen a number of photographs of this formation at sunset, I had never seen any photographs of it at another time of day.  I particularly enjoyed photographing this formation in early morning light, and on my next trip plan to get there even earlier so I can spend some more time there in early morning light.

Coyote Buttes North - The Second Wave

Red Ribbon

Red Ribbon

A red ribbon of color emerges in the early morning reflective light at the second wave formation. NOTE: No major edits were made to this photograph in post.

After spending some time at The Second Wave I walked a bit further south to the Sand Cove and Fatali's Boneyard.  Both of these locations are pretty neat, but there is just something truly special and aesthetically please about The Wave formation.

My GPS Track for this portion of the trip can be found here:

Coyote Buttes North - Fatali's Boneyard



A photograph taken in Fatali's Boneyard area of Coyote Buttes North. If I didn't know better it could've been taken on Mars. NOTE: No major edits were made to this photo in post.

South Coyote Buttes

The colors and formations in the Coyote Buttes South permit area are absolutely brilliant and amazing.  I think the main reason it is not quite as popular as the Coyote Buttes North Area (The Wave) is because it is a bit more difficult to access.  As the GPS track shows, access to this area requires a quite long drive on sandy roads.  

We were lucky enough to make the trip shortly following a large rainfall, so were treated to some awesome water pockets in the sandstone.  We also thought this made the road a lot easier to navigate, although it was still a bit on the "fun" side.  I can definitely see why a high clearance 4WD vehicle is a requirement; and experience driving in sand a must.  We stayed the night and were able to see dusk / dawn colors along with mid-day light.  This is a must as the colors vary so much in the different types of light.  

I enjoyed the late afternoon light the most.  We suspected that the colors were even more vibrant than normal because the area had just received a large amount of rain on the day prior; thus providing a good cleaning of the sandstone.

One thing we didn't see was another person, which was fun.  

GPS Track:

Don't be confused by this track, it is us making it from the trailhead to the formation and then wondering around.  Trailhead is only about .5 miles from the formation, but it is easy to rack up the miles if you enjoy exploring sandstone!

If you have the time, I would put this on your list.  Having also been to White Pocket I would have to say that South Coyote Buttes is even more vibrant and neat than White Pocket; but both formations are definitely worth a visit.

South Coyote Buttes



Is the rock on the correct side of the borderline? NOTE: No major edits made in post.

South Antelope Canyon

There are two sides to Antelope Canyon: North Antelope Canyon and South Antelope Canyon.  Having been to North Antelope Canyon on a previous photography trip, I will provide come comparison while talking through this trip to South Antelope Canyon.

South Antelope Canyon is gorgeous.  There is no reservation required to visit, which is a difference from the North side as a photography permit for the North side has to be obtained months in advance (if you can obtain one even then).  

South Antelope Canyon is a bit smaller than the North Side.  There are no large entrance chambers, and space can be quite tight.  We arrived before they opened for the day and were the first people into the canyon; this helped a lot as we weren't fighting for space.  This gave me plenty of time to set up and take some of the shots I had in mind.  On the way out we saw throngs of visitors coming through and the canyon got rather congested.

As you can tell from my photographs I was particularly enthralled with the Lady in the Wind.  I spent a majority of my time photographing that formation and have no regrets about that decision.  Every angle presents a new "Lady" before you and each is just as gorgeous as the last.  

While the North Antelope Canyon has a larger variety of formation and great shafts of light, South Antelope Canyon has The Lady.  Because of this, both locations area  must in my mind.  Equally different and equally beautiful.

South Antelope Canyon

Horseshoe Bend

This is very easy to access from Page, just a couple minute drive away from the city.  I went there for sunset and the place was packed. The parking lot was full and so was the rim of the bend.  I didn't find this appealing for photography.  

I went back the next morning and arrived my customary 1.5 hrs before sunrise and voila, I was the only one there; a much better setting for me.  

I found it nearly impossible to get a wide enough shot of this formation.  I used a 14mm lens on my full frame sensor and was able to get some foreground in the scene, but a little wider would've been a bit more fun.

I also utilized some of my Hard GND filters and my polarizing filter.  Both of which came in handy and I would recommend bringing with you when you visit.

Horseshoe Bend