VERMILLION CLIFFS NATIONAL MONUMENT, Ariz. (AP) — Half of the 20 permits for one of the most exclusive and dramatic hiking spots in the southwestern United States remain unavailable during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The virus hasn’t forced the entire closure of The Wave – a wide, sloping basin of searing reds, oranges and yellows in the Vermillion Cliffs National Monument along the Arizona-Utah border – but the virus has suspended a daily, in-person lottery for 10 permits because the U.S. Bureau of Land Management says they could not ensure social distancing.
In previous years, the in-person lottery has drawn more than 100 people who crowded into the Kanab Visitor Center in Southern Utah to vie for permits for use the following day. That lottery hasn’t happened since mid-March.
The monthly, online lottery awards 10 permits for hikes three months down the road. For example, those who applied in June find out July 1 if they can hike the Wave in October.
As the Bureau of Land Management switches its online reservation system to Recreation.gov on Monday, the agency also is considering whether to fold in the 10 permits previously available only in person.
The decision depends on whether the agency can find a way to safely conduct the in-person lottery, BLM spokesperson Rachel Carnahan said. If not, 20 permits will be awarded in the July 1 online lottery.
A 6-mile round trip hike through tall sandstone buttes and sagebrush is required to get to the Wave in Coyote Buttes North.
Brian Tritle, the acting manager for the agency’s Arizona Strip District, said more than 200,000 people apply for the 3,650 online permits for the Wave and other local recreation permits each year.
The new reservation system should be more secure, efficient and reliable, Tritle said.
Permits for two other areas – Coyote Buttes South and Paria Canyon overnight – will stay on the old system at least through June, he said.
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