At The Wave, competition for hiking permits is fierce

Ranger Ron Kay glanced at an anxious crowd crammed into a U.S. Bureau of Land Management office in Kanab, Utah.

“All these hopeful faces,” he murmured as the minutes counted down to a drawing for permits to hike to The Wave, an iconic basin of striated orange sandstone just south of the Utah-Arizona state line.

More than 80 applications were stacked in front of Kay on this Thursday morning in late December, with up to six names on each request. Only 10 people would get permits. Losers could try again, but the next day, nearly 400 applications poured in.

The Wave has rapidly gained renown as one of the most spectacular destinations in the American Southwest — and its biggest appeal may be that it remains crowd-free. Divided between a monthly online lottery and the daily walk-in drawings, only 20 people each day are allowed.

The BLM began requiring permits in the late 1980s, to comply with the Wilderness Act, which requires protected areas have “outstanding opportunities for solitude.” That was incompatible with growing interest in The Wave.

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