In this episode, Hal Johnson talks with Duane Baird, visitor center host at the Kanab Office of Tourism, and Paul Gagner, co-owner of Dreamland Safari Tours as they share tips and tricks on how to get a permit to visit the Wave. Located just east of the center of town, the Wave is a bucket list destination for many adventurous travelers. Seasoned national parks and adventure expert Phil Telfeyan also joins the show to talk about his experience winning the lottery and hiking the wave.
The Magic of Kanab is a part of the Destination Marketing Podcast Network. It is hosted by Hal Johnson and produced by the team at Relic.
Hal Johnson: [00:00:01] You are listening to The Magic of Kanab Podcast, part of the Destination Marketing Podcast Network. Hello and welcome to The Magic of Kanab. I’m your host, Hal. I was raised here in Kanab, Utah. Graduated from high school, then went to college, met my wife and we raised five kids predominantly in Utah County, which is northern Utah, but we’ve always come back. We’ve always had ties to this area, family, we had attended family events, come down to play on the family ranch, and ride horses and brand calves. So it’s always been our little slice of heaven, a little slice of magic I guess you’d say.
So about a year ago, my wife and I decided to move back down, I guess it’s been a year and a half ago now, and we’re thrilled. My wife is a southern California girl, but she loves southern Utah. She loves all things small town and of course, we’ve got the best small town, I wanted to stay in the state, I think, period.
Duane Baird: [00:00:57] I agree.
Hal Johnson: [00:00:58] I love it. Okay, so I’m joined by Duane Baird who was a visitor center host at the Office of Tourism, and Paul Grager.
Paul Gagner: [00:01:06] Gagner.
Hal Johnson: [00:01:07] Gagner, it was close with Dreamland Safari Tours. So today we’ll be talking about the Wave of course in the lottery process. So the Wave is quite popular, quite well known, but for those of you that don’t know, it is a unique geological feature in Kane County close to Kanab, and it is quite spectacular. If you can, you should probably Google that and look at some of the amazing pictures. It is very unique and it’s not just a small area, that entire area. If you’re there, you’re immersed in my view in the most beautifully tortured geological area that you can imagine. It’s like the rocks and the layers were twisted and wound in just the most chaotic and beautiful way.
So it’s a big tour, a big draw and a lot of people know of it and want to attend it. And so we’re going to find out about how.. we’re going to talk to these gentlemen about how you do that. So we’ll start with Paul. Paul, can you give us an insight into how the lottery for the wave used to work?
Paul Gagner: [00:02:06] Yeah, so the lottery has been around or it’s required a permit for quite some time. North Coyote Buttes, which is where the wave is located, was designated as wilderness in 1984. Early on in the late ‘80s, it was recognized that the area is really fragile. There’s a lot of rock edges, really thin edges and such that easily break, and a lot of other formations that just, in general, can’t handle a ton of visitor activity out there.
So the late ‘80s, the BLM started issuing permits. They were free– first come first serve, and it wasn’t until 1997 that the BLM started charging for permits, but those were in the 10-20 people per day range. And that kind of changed over the years. In 2021, March 2021, so last year, the BLM based on the environmental impact statement that they had generated increased the number of permits issued from 20 per day to either 16 groups or 64 people or visitors, whichever came first. So that’s how it has been for the last year. There are two ways to get those permits, one is four months in advance and that’s via an online lottery run at recreation.gov. And then the other way had been via a walk-in lottery the day before a visitor wanted to go.
So 12 groups or 48 people, whichever came first were issued permits via that four month in advance online lottery, and then four groups or 16 visitors, whichever came first were issued via the walk-in lottery the day before.
Hal Johnson: [00:04:08] Gotcha. So we currently have advanced and the walk-in and Duane where you deal with that on a daily basis.
Duane Baird: [00:04:15] Yes, I do.
Hal Johnson: [00:04:17] Would you flesh that out a little bit more how that process works as far as the daily?
Duane Baird: [00:04:20] Absolutely. The daily permits, what we do is, it transferred over to this new process, we were still in person up until March 15 of this year. On March 15, that went away where we had the actual walk-in lottery and we went to this new system where are you going to have a rec.gov account where you would go in and you would apply for the Coyote Buttes North daily draw, and that one you would apply for it on, for example, today we would apply for it between 6 o’clock in the morning and 6 p.m. this evening. And then at 7:15, an email would be sent out to everyone informing them either of winning or not gaining the permit. If you win the permit, then you would have from that time you get the permit till 8 a.m. the next morning to accept the permit and continue filling out the information required on that which would be your group member names, emergency contact information that we need to have out there and then complete the payment process which would be the $7 per person.
The application when you do it initially on the 6 to 6 time, you would also have a $9 fee that is sent in with that application to recreation.gov. Then at 8 o’clock in the morning, you have until 8 a.m. in the next morning to accept that permit and pay for it to have it done. And then between 8 and 8:30 you would come to either the Kanab Center here in Kanab, Utah or you would go to Page Utah Page Arizona to the hub out there which is the second location to pick up. We would then go through.. issue the permit, physically give it to you, and then at 8:30 we would go through and do the safety orientation for each member of the group’s going out.
Hal Johnson: [00:06:19] Very good detail. Thank you. Yes, Paul.
Paul Gagner: [00:06:21] Yes. So one other detail about that is that what was changed and is really important to know is you have to be within a geo-fence area to apply for the permit. Okay? So there’s a number of different geo-fences, one that goes around Kanab, one that goes around Page, one that goes all the way down to Jacob Lake, one that goes to the western edge of the Paiute Reservation and then all the way up to Glendale, north of Kanab. So you have to be within the geofence to apply for the permit.
Now you don’t have to be in the geo-fence later in the evening as Duane said at 7:15 to receive the email on whether you won it or didn’t, but you do have to be within that geofence to apply and we have heard about some visitors having issues with the geo fence. And the main issue that we have seen is that they haven’t had their location turned on on their mobile device. So you can’t apply via a laptop or a desktop, you have to apply via a mobile phone or a tablet and you have to make sure that you have that location enabled on your mobile device.
Hal Johnson: [00:07:42] Great. That makes perfect sense and what’s the best place to find this information in writing? I’m sure there’s more than one. But if you were to find the geo-fence outlines that you described.
Duane Baird: [00:07:52] You can locate them on blm.gov. They have a link on there also. Recreation.gov also gives the information there. Then you do have are county tourism website which is visitsouthernutah.com and you can go there and we have links to all of those pages and we can get you the information you need to make sure you have your options for that.
Hal Johnson: [00:08:21] Wonderful. Yes, Paul.
Paul Gagner: [00:08:22] And then the one other thing that I think we’ve seen that’s been an issue is folks not realizing that they have to apply two days in advance now. So the big change is from the day before to two days in advance. So on a Wednesday, you would be applying for Friday. You need to pick the permit up as Duane said at 8:30 a.m. in either Page or Kanab the day before. So it’s kind of almost a three-day process that you think of it that way, a day to apply, the day that you need to accept and pick up the permit and then the next day, the third day being the day that you get the opportunity as one of very few folks to go out to this amazing and beautiful area.
Hal Johnson: [00:09:12] That is very helpful information. Thank you, gentlemen. I hope our listeners have learned more about the wave and amazing area, surrounding hikes, areas to explore, and all the above. With that, we’ll sign off.
Camille Taylor: [00:09:23] Hi everyone. It’s Camille Johnson Taylor with the tourism office in Kanab. I hope you’re enjoying the show so far. We are so excited to put The Magic of Kanab Podcast on for you. We’re really hoping that this will engage visitors in the space to learn more about our locals, the activities that we have to do and inspire you to do something that maybe you wouldn’t have known about otherwise. Next up we have a segment of an actual Wave lottery winner. His name is Phil Telfeyan and he’s going to tell you all about it.
Phil Telfeyan: [00:09:53] Hi, my name is Phil Telfeyan. I’m a civil rights lawyer in Washington, D. C. and I’m also a lover of nature. An avid enthusiast of the national parks, I’ve visited every national park and have recently become a devotee of national monuments. So I discovered Kanab and Vermillion Cliffs and Grand Staircase Escalante and a lot of the beautiful scenery and decided that I wanted to visit the Wave and after many years of trying, I finally succeeded.
So I should say that my application process is years in the making. I started applying for the Wave in 2014, 8 years ago, and originally I was just doing the advanced lottery so you can go online four months in advance of when you plan to travel and select dates that you want to go to. And I did that for years trying this advanced lottery from Washington D. C. where I live and I never got it. And actually two of my friends, the three of us, we were all doing it every month for years and years. and none of us ever got it because the Wave is a really highly sought-after place to visit because they limit the visitation of the Wave to 16 groups a day, just 64 total people now.
And so, eventually I started trying to do the in-person lottery and that probably started two or three years ago and was going in person trying to get a permit to visit the Wave. Even through coronavirus, there was a little bit of a break, but then they kept the in-person part going and never got a permit during the in-person phase. And this is sort of phase 3 for me in the Wave because now the in-person daily lottery has been replaced with sort of an online daily lottery as well. And so I did the online lottery and finally got it. And I would estimate that I probably tried 50 times to get a permit to go to the Wave. I mean, I wasn’t keeping — and to pay every time, every time I think it’s a $9 fee to the BLM, which goes to a good cause of course. But when I think about how much this permit actually cost me, it was a little more than the $9 application fee. Just given how many times I did it.
So winning the Wave lottery felt probably like how people feel when they win like the real lottery, the mega millions or whatever. For me because again, I tried dozens of times and it’s an email, right? They tell you, they shoot you an email. And I was doing the daily lottery. So the next, that evening I got an email saying “Congratulations, You’ve got a permit.” And I just remember the feeling, I called several of my closest friends and say I won the Wave lottery and they were all overjoyed for me. I did it alone. Previous times I’ve gone with friends, but this time I was at Kanab by myself. So I was doing it alone and so people were celebrating that I won the lottery. I just felt this amazing — it was almost a life accomplishment just to win the Wave lottery. It was such a funny feeling and it was so remarkable.
So it felt great after winning the lottery. Then you go the next day to get an orientation and then it’s actually the day after that. So two days after the lottery, when you get to hike the Wave and that was really a dream come true for me. The Wave hike is intense and I’ve done a lot of hiking and visited every national park. I’ve done a lot of hiking in national monuments. It’s a very intense hike in a lot of ways. First and foremost, it’s hot. The sun, you get no relief from the sun, there’s no shade, I was there in the summertime and the rocks feel like they’re absorbing the heat. So I actually prepared for the Wave hike the day before and made sure I drank a full gallon of water.
The hike itself is about 3.5 miles, one direction. Really important for me. You have to save enough water for the walk back when it’s going to be even hotter. I was walking back right around midday was I think close to noon when I got back to the car. So water was really the main thing I had to keep in mind. The hike is difficult. There’s no trail. It’s not like a typical hike in a national park or national monument where you can see the path and there’s very few people on it. It’s not like they’re big crowds, it’s very easy to get lost.
So the BLM produces a picture-by-picture guide for the hike, things that you’re kind of aiming for as you’re hiking. So you have to be very comfortable in wilderness. You have to be very comfortable route finding, sort of looking at a photograph and being able to aim toward it. And then it’s really key for a lot of reasons to start that hike early. So sunrise on the day I was doing the hike was around 5:10 in the morning. I started hiking at 4:45 a.m., 4:45 about half an hour before sunrise. And so there’s two reasons for that. One is the heat, it limits your exposure to sun, limits your time out in the heat. But the other is the photographs. The Wave is the prettiest in the morning, so it’s a great hike to start early and to get there at the trailhead, right really before the sunrise.
And I guess the other thing I should add to this is camera batteries. It’s such a beautiful area, not just the Wave itself. Of course, you’re going because you want to see the Wave, which is remarkable, one of a kind in the world, but the landscape itself is gorgeous. So the end of the 3.5-mile hike, I finally reached the Wave, which is as advertised and even more. It’s a beautiful feature. You’ve all seen the photos. If you haven’t, look them up. There’s nothing like the Wave. It’s so many colors. There’s purple, there’s yellow, there’s orange, there’s red. I was out there on a perfect clear blue sky day. You had almost every color of the rainbow represented right there in one space.
For a while, all to myself. Again, there’s very few permits being given. So even if someone went 10 minutes before you in the next 10 minutes behind you, you’ve got 10 minutes or so where there’s nobody there. And that is such an amazing gift to enjoy this remarkable experience on your own. And the other thing I would say is if you do get the permit, be respectful of the other hikers. I wanted to stay all day, right? But of course, other people want to experience it, other people want to take pictures. You don’t want to spend too long hogging the limelight.
And one thing I’ll say about the hike also is the day can get away from you. So it’s really important for me is I knew the goal. I wanted to get to the Wave first and then on the way back I started to do a little more exploring of different features that looked interesting. And I would recommend that if someone’s hiking out to the Wave to make sure you know where you are, that you know the route. And then maybe on the way back to a little more exploring.
Boy, I think the end of my feeling about the wave is gratitude and I don’t even know who it’s for. You might say the Creator, right? That we have this amazing sort of natural wonder. But there’s so many other things involved. There’s the Bureau of Land Management that manages Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. There’s Kanab, there’s the Kanab Tourist Office that does the orientation for the Wave and helps run the lottery, recreation.gov. I mean there’s so many pieces that have to come together plus luck, plus trying to get that permit dozens of times and finally getting a permit. I mean there’s so many things and so many moments you hope to get an amazing hike and the Wave really captured it all. It’s a great feeling. I encourage anyone who’s in the Kanab area to at least try to get the permit and more so I would encourage people who aren’t in the Kanab area to go to the Kanab area and try to get the permit because it’s such a remarkable hike.
I will say having been to Kanab now many times for this lottery and unsuccessful attempts, there’s a lot of great hikes in the area even if you don’t get a Wave permit. I’ve planned so many trips to go to the area hoping to get a Wave permit, not getting it and discovering slot canyons and other majestic sights and views. There’s so many things to do. The Wave is one of many, many beautiful features in the area, but it was a real highlight for me.
Camille Taylor: [00:17:47] Thanks for listening everyone. We hope you enjoyed the show. Make sure and like and share the podcast, and we’ll catch you next time.