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The Bureau of Land Management established the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in 1996, and it covers a large section of southern Utah. It is named after striking features along Scenic Byway 12 region of southern Utah. “Grand Staircase” refers to a series of captivating cliffs and plateaus that rise from the Grand Canyon, beyond Bryce Canyon National Park to the Aquarius Plateau. “Escalante” stems from the extensive canyon system in the Escalante River Drainage which was named after an early Spanish explorer of the region. The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is one part of the most scenically diverse area in the world.
Rugged deep maze of canyons, plains, and plateaus attract hikers who enjoy the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Ultimately, this national monument provides both awe inspiring landscapes coupled with unique biology showcasing desert trees like the Juniper and the melodious songs of birds like the Pinion Jay.
Despite its current desert landscape, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument has an interesting history. Fossils dating back 70 million years indicate that it was not always arid here. For instance, they are evidence that there was an ancient lake or ocean and animals like fish, turtles, sharks, and varied plant life. Many paleontological digs have occurred here as recently as 2001 looking for dinosaur remains, and many paleontologists claim that the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument area has one of the highest concentrations of dinosaur remains in the entire world. Fossil hunting is allowed, but fossils should not be taken out the national monument so that others can enjoy them as well.
Anasazi and Fremont Indian cultures flourished here for many centuries. Many archeological remnants from these cultures are strewn throughout the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. The Indians also left pictures on cave walls, and there are two different types of these pictures. When it is painted onto the wall, it’s called a pictograph. If it is pecked onto the wall, it’s a petroglyph. Ever day life during ancient times is depicted in the pictographs and petroglyphs. For the curious traveler, the Anasazi State Park Museum near Boulder has information and many exhibits about these civilizations; it also serves as a visitors’ center for Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Those who are interested in natural history will especially enjoy the national monument.
In contrast to the usual pink and red hues, there is a section of the Grand Staircase appropriately named “The Blues.” Powell Point (over 10,000 feet in elevation) and Table Cliffs Plateau are visible from this area of bluish rocks. Elk also migrate through here, and nearby Barker Reservoir offers great fishing opportunities. “The Blues” serves as a great stop along Scenic Byway 12.
Many roads and back ways traverse the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. For instance, Smokey Mountain Road leads to Big Water in Lake Powell area. It is named after Smokey Mountain which is laden with coal that are continuously smoldering with subterranean fires. Views of Navajo Mountain – a sacred site for the Navajo Indians – and the locations where the classic movies “The Planet of the Apes” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told” were filmed are other highlights of this road. Hole-in-the-Rock Road provides more exploring opportunities as it meanders past Devils Garden – a little wonderland full of enchanting and stunning desert scenery. Devils Garden is a must-see destination just off the main road. Dance Hall Rock which is also on this road and was a gathering location for early Mormon pioneers during the Hole-in-the-Rock Expedition. Please note that travel should only occur during dry weather and no services available along these and other unpaved roads in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
Grosvenor Arch is another highlight of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. It is located near the monument’s border with Kodachrome Basin State Park on the Cottonwood Canyon Road Scenic Backway. At a height of over 60 feet tall, Grosvenor Arch is truly a marvelous sight. Interestingly, it is a double arch with a smaller opening beside the main arch. For the geology buff, beautiful and translucent selenite crystals are strewn around the arch. Unlike the well-defined arches in Arches National Park, Grosvenor Arch has a rugged beauty, and even though it may not have a graceful shape, it is definitely worth the trek. As with all arches, it was carved by the wind and is different from a natural bridge which is carved by water. Regardless of how these formations are created, they are all stunning. For those who wish to spend several hours in the area there is a shaded picnic table and outhouse.