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Full Spectrum

The Wave, Arizona, USA

Hike across scorched sands to reach this warped red rockscape

It’s twisted, it’s trippy, and it’s hours away from anywhere. Hiking through this ferocious desert heat is only for the brave – or those feeling lucky.

Sure, the ocean is wild – but have you ever surfed on sandstone? There aren’t many places you could walk in the footsteps of dinosaurs – and their tracks have been found preserved on its cliffs. Battered down by water and wind for millions of years, the Jurassic-age stone has been shaped into surreal, caramel-colored swirls of rock that look like they’ve dripped straight from a Salvador Dalí painting. With the dizzying ripples and undulations in the rich red and orange rocks, it’s a truly intrepid challenge.

To visit this show-stopping orange crush of rock in Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, northern Arizona, you have to win the lottery – but it’s definitely a prize worth gambling for. Only 20 permits are issued each day, and tens of thousands of people apply every year. So either plan ahead or, if you’re feeling lucky, take a risk and attempt to snag one on the spot. Your best bet is during the quieter months of December to March.

‘These surreal, caramel-colored swirls of rock could have dripped straight from a Salvador Dalí painting.’

It’s a five-mile round trip over sandy and red-rock terrain from the Wire Pass trailhead in the Coyote Buttes North area. And once you get to the Wave, the eerily quiet hike under scorching sun, over cracked ground, squeaky sand and dried-out riverbeds is immediately worth it. Marvel at the sharply colored stripes of red rock offset by the blue sky as you take it all in through your color-boosting blue Ray-Ban Chromance lenses. And with anti-reflection technology you won’t miss a single detail in the incredible texture of the sandstone contours. To bag the best shot, get here for midday, when there are no shadows in the center – although the early-morning and late-afternoon shadows can also be pretty dramatic.

Don’t stop there – this part of America is rich with natural wonders. Rev up the 4x4 and explore it on a mini road trip. The red-rock formation at Bryce Canyon (about three hours away) will wow you, too – towering hoodoos huddled together in natural amphitheaters, constantly changing color with the light. Next up, the cliffs, canyons and forests of Zion National Park. Get booted up and hike the challenging Angels Landing trail, opening onto a high ridge with epic views of the sprawling red and green landscape. From Zion, go south on 89A, passing grazing buffalo herds, and turn off for the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Gaze over two billion years of geological history carved into the sheer rock chasm in front of you – 1,000ft higher than the busier southern side. End the road trip off-road – on the deep-blue waveless waters of Lake Powell and from the deck of your own houseboat, float into sleep under a star-spangled sky. Trip complete.

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Credit: Panther Media GmbH/Alamy