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To visit The Wave in Arizona, win the lottery

  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows a hiker taking a photo on a rock formation known as The Wave  in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits the number of permits for hikers to 20 a day in order to preserve the backcountry wilderness experience and protect the sandstone formation. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

    This May 28, 2013 photo shows a hiker taking a photo on a rock formation known as The Wave in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits the number of permits for hikers to 20 a day in order to preserve the backcountry wilderness experience and protect the sandstone formation. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows a on a rock formation known as The Wave  in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The area’s photogenic qualities have made it a popular hike. But permits are only issued by lottery for 20 hikers a day. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

    This May 28, 2013 photo shows a on a rock formation known as The Wave in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The area’s photogenic qualities have made it a popular hike. But permits are only issued by lottery for 20 hikers a day. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows a section of a rock formation known as The Wave, part of the land that comprises the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. Access is limited to the site located in the Utah-Arizona desert backcountry, with just 20 hikers allowed in per day. Permits are given by lottery.  (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

    This May 28, 2013 photo shows a section of a rock formation known as The Wave, part of the land that comprises the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. Access is limited to the site located in the Utah-Arizona desert backcountry, with just 20 hikers allowed in per day. Permits are given by lottery. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows a swirling colorful rock formation known as The Wave  in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits the number of permits for hikers to 20 a day in order to preserve the backcountry wilderness experience and protect the sandstone formation. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

    This May 28, 2013 photo shows a swirling colorful rock formation known as The Wave in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits the number of permits for hikers to 20 a day in order to preserve the backcountry wilderness experience and protect the sandstone formation. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

  • This May 27, 2013 photo shows a bingo basket at the Grand Staircase-Escalante visitor’s center in Kanab, Utah, that is used to determine who gets 10 permits for the next day’s hike to a rock formation known as The Wave in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Another 10 spots are decided daily by an online lottery four months in advance. Access to the site in the Arizona-Utah desert backcountry is limited to preserve the area and to maintain the wilderness experience.  (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

    This May 27, 2013 photo shows a bingo basket at the Grand Staircase-Escalante visitor’s center in Kanab, Utah, that is used to determine who gets 10 permits for the next day’s hike to a rock formation known as The Wave in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Another 10 spots are decided daily by an online lottery four months in advance. Access to the site in the Arizona-Utah desert backcountry is limited to preserve the area and to maintain the wilderness experience. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows a hiker taking a photo on a rock formation known as The Wave  in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits the number of permits for hikers to 20 a day in order to preserve the backcountry wilderness experience and protect the sandstone formation. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

    This May 28, 2013 photo shows a hiker taking a photo on a rock formation known as The Wave in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits the number of permits for hikers to 20 a day in order to preserve the backcountry wilderness experience and protect the sandstone formation. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows hikers pausing to view a rock formation known as The Wave  in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits the number of permits for hikers to 20 a day in order to preserve the backcountry wilderness experience and protect the sandstone formation. The permits are issued by lottery, half of them four months in advance through an online lottery and 10 by a live drawing of bingo balls the day before. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

    This May 28, 2013 photo shows hikers pausing to view a rock formation known as The Wave in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits the number of permits for hikers to 20 a day in order to preserve the backcountry wilderness experience and protect the sandstone formation. The permits are issued by lottery, half of them four months in advance through an online lottery and 10 by a live drawing of bingo balls the day before. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows hikers walking on rocky terrain for a 3-mile trip to The Wave rock formation in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. People who make the hike are advised to bring at least a gallon of water for the desert backcountry journey that begins in southern Utah and crosses over the border into Arizona.  (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

    This May 28, 2013 photo shows hikers walking on rocky terrain for a 3-mile trip to The Wave rock formation in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. People who make the hike are advised to bring at least a gallon of water for the desert backcountry journey that begins in southern Utah and crosses over the border into Arizona. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows a hiker on a rock formation known as The Wave  in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits the number of permits for hikers to 20 a day in order to preserve the backcountry wilderness experience and protect the sandstone formation. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

    This May 28, 2013 photo shows a hiker on a rock formation known as The Wave in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits the number of permits for hikers to 20 a day in order to preserve the backcountry wilderness experience and protect the sandstone formation. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows a hiker taking a photo on a rock formation known as The Wave  in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits the number of permits for hikers to 20 a day in order to preserve the backcountry wilderness experience and protect the sandstone formation. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows a on a rock formation known as The Wave  in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The area’s photogenic qualities have made it a popular hike. But permits are only issued by lottery for 20 hikers a day. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows a section of a rock formation known as The Wave, part of the land that comprises the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. Access is limited to the site located in the Utah-Arizona desert backcountry, with just 20 hikers allowed in per day. Permits are given by lottery.  (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows a swirling colorful rock formation known as The Wave  in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits the number of permits for hikers to 20 a day in order to preserve the backcountry wilderness experience and protect the sandstone formation. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
  • This May 27, 2013 photo shows a bingo basket at the Grand Staircase-Escalante visitor’s center in Kanab, Utah, that is used to determine who gets 10 permits for the next day’s hike to a rock formation known as The Wave in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Another 10 spots are decided daily by an online lottery four months in advance. Access to the site in the Arizona-Utah desert backcountry is limited to preserve the area and to maintain the wilderness experience.  (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows a hiker taking a photo on a rock formation known as The Wave  in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits the number of permits for hikers to 20 a day in order to preserve the backcountry wilderness experience and protect the sandstone formation. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows hikers pausing to view a rock formation known as The Wave  in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits the number of permits for hikers to 20 a day in order to preserve the backcountry wilderness experience and protect the sandstone formation. The permits are issued by lottery, half of them four months in advance through an online lottery and 10 by a live drawing of bingo balls the day before. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows hikers walking on rocky terrain for a 3-mile trip to The Wave rock formation in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. People who make the hike are advised to bring at least a gallon of water for the desert backcountry journey that begins in southern Utah and crosses over the border into Arizona.  (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
  • This May 28, 2013 photo shows a hiker on a rock formation known as The Wave  in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in Arizona. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits the number of permits for hikers to 20 a day in order to preserve the backcountry wilderness experience and protect the sandstone formation. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

Small wooden balls click rapidly in a whirling bingo basket, as 78 hikers wait to see whether their numbers will roll out to win one of 10 permits to visit an Arizona rock formation known as The Wave.

Some had been contemplating the hike for years. Only 20 people are allowed to visit The Wave each day, with 10 chosen in an online lottery four months in advance and the other 10 picked in this daily 9 a.m. lottery. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management limits access to protect The Wave’s delicate red sandstone formation and to prevent overcrowding at the designated wilderness site.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, The Wave has kind of caught on as a fun hike,” Kathy Spellman, a bureau visitor information assistant, said to the room of hopeful hikers in May.

“The hike out is very nice,” she said. “It’s 6 miles round-trip, so it’s not too long, not too short. You can go in there, and it’s not a marked trail. The trees don’t have names on them. There are not little rocks along the edges of the trail, so you can feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere.”

The Wave’s dramatically flowing contours in bright orange, red, pink and yellow, are a prized image among landscape photographers, who can be seen lugging tripods across the desert wilderness. The fiery swirls have been emblazoned on postcards, posters, maps and computer screensavers.

“It’s just become such a ubiquitous, iconic photo,” said Kevin Wright, monument manager of Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, where The Wave is located in the Arizona backcountry near the Utah border. Among people who “love the outdoors and have these bucket lists, I think it’s become something to check off their list.” About a third of visitors are from other countries, particularly Germany, with an upswing from Japan and China in recent years, Wright said.

Last year, 48,264 people applied to visit The Wave, said Spellman, who works at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center in Kanab, Utah, where the drawing is held for hikes that take place the next day. That’s compared with 7,300 permits awarded in a year, based on the 20 allowed each day. To reach The Wave, lottery winners drive the 46 miles from the drawing site in Kanab to the trailhead.

The colorful, contoured landscape at Vermilion Cliffs is more than just something to marvel at; it’s how you find The Wave. Permits come with a map and directions that include compass points. The map also has 12 photographs of key navigational points with dotted lines showing the way with sandstone ridges and other stony landmarks. Six photos capture main points on the way; six illustrate the way back. Each photo also has written directions to help get from an area shown in one photo to the next.

Hikers are warned about sun and heat. At least a gallon of water per person is recommended, as well as salty snacks and sunscreen. If you’re not handy with a compass, the photographs alone may not be enough to navigate the unmarked way. Some get lost, either on the way or when trying to return. The area is remote, so losing your way can lead to an unexpected night on the rocks.

Guides can be hired to provide a ride in a four-wheel drive vehicle across the 8 miles of dirt road that leads to the start of the hike. First-timers can also hire guides to accompany them on the trail. The bureau has a list of registered guides who don’t need an additional permit to accompany permitted hikers.

The Wave was not well-known in the decades before Vermilion Cliffs was designated a national monument in 2000. “Nobody knew really where The Wave was,” Spellman said. “Friends had to tell friends. It wasn’t on the internet. Somebody would give you a secret map, hand drawn with circles, and you’d go up to a desk and people would say: ‘Oh yeah, go on in there.’ ”

But nowadays, Wright said, it’s not uncommon to have 150 people take part in the daily drawing, particularly in April, May and June. Fewer apply in winter, and a hot forecast in summer can also cut the numbers.

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