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Grand Staircase National Monument

National Monuments and Forests

Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Mounument boundaries were modified by presidential proclamation in December 2017 which reduced the size of the overall monument and separated the monument into three distinct units: Grand Staircase, Kaiparowitz, and Escalante Canyon.

The three units unclude a vast treasure chest of geologic and other natural wonders. Over 250 million years of Earth's geologic history reveals itself in the technicolor cliffs within the monument. The land is among the most remote in the country being the last to be mapped in the contiguous United States. The monument is managed by the Bureau of Land Management rather than the National Park Service. This was the first national monument managed by the BLM. 

Themed visitor centers are located in the towns bordering the monument: Kanab hosts the Archaeological/Geologic Center. Big Water is home to a facinating Paleontology exhibit. The Cannonville Visitor Center explains the early Paiute and Pioneer life. Escalante Visitor Center shares scientific discoveries in botany, ecology and biology.

The original monument encompassed nearly 1.9 million acres ( the monument was slightly larger in area than the state of Delaware). After the reduction ordered by presidential proclamation, the monument now encompasses just over 1 million acres. 

The Grand Staircase unit is the western part of the monument which includes the Paunsaugunt Plateau bordering the Paria River, and is adjacent to Bryce Canyon National Park. This section shows the geologic progression of the Grand Staircase. Visitors can access this unit from Johnson Canyon Road and Skutumpah Road. Features include the slot canyons of Bull Valley Gorge, Willis Creek, and Lick Wash.

The Kaiparowits Plateau unit is the large, elevated landform which makes up the largest portion of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Its extension to the southeast, Fifty-Mile Mountain runs nearly to the Colorado River and Lake Powell. An extension of the plateau's harsh terrain is known as Smoky Mountain. Visitors can access this part of the monument on the Cottonwood Canyon road or Smoky Mountain road.

The Escalante Canyon unit is the northeastern unit of the monument. It is bordered by the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the east and south. The popular hiking, backpacking and canyoneering areas include the slot canyons of Peekaboo, Spooky and Brimstone Canyons, and the backpacking areas of lower Coyote Gulch and Harris Wash. The Devil's Garden is also located in this area. Access is via the Hole-in-the-Rock-Road which extends southeast from the town of Escalante, along the base of Fify-Mile Mountain. 

Sixty million years ago most of southwestern Utah was covered by lakes, and over eons the lake sediment hardened into rock. The ‘staircase’ was formed when the area now known as the Colorado plateau lifted, causing the layers of sedimentary rock below to fan out. The exposed layers revealed a four-billion-year timeline of geological history; the lower, chocolate steps are located to the south in the Grand Canyon region, while the upper, geologically youngest layer makes up the pink cliffs of the Grand Staircase to the north. Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is divided into three topographically-distinct regions: the cliffs of Grand Staircase; the central, fossil-rich Kaiparowits Plateau; and the dramatic Escalante Canyons.

Climate and Geography
Grand Staircase Escalante is comprised of remote, rugged landscape and contains nearly double the total combined acreage of all of Utah’s national parks. The two major rivers in the region are the Paria and the Escalante. Explorers should be aware of environmental threats such as extreme temperatures, sudden storms, flash floods, deep water in slot canyons, quicksand, slick rock, and steep cliffs.

The fauna and flora found in Grand Staircase Escalante is as varied as the landscape. This monument and it's three sections are home to 200 species of birds, including the endangered (and rarely sighted) Bald Eagle and Peregrine Falcon; nearly 60 species of mammals; dozens of reptiles and amphibians; and several types of fish. Fremont Cottonwood trees thrive in the moist soil of the Escalante River Canyon area, while pinion pine, juniper, and sagebrush are common in the Grand Staircase region. Utah’s state flower, the Sego Lily, can be found throughout the monument boundaries.

Recreational Activities
Camping, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, off-roading, and photography are popular activities. Visitor centers are located in Kanab, Escalante, Cannonville, Paria, and Anasazi State Park. Visitors must keep in mind that this is mostly undeveloped territory, and the BLM recommends camping only in established campgrounds. There are no facilities, so campers are responsible for properly disposing of waste and litter.

Most hiking routes are not well marked, although there are several oft-used and well-worn paths. Lower Calf Creek Falls is a moderate-to-difficult 5.5-mile round trip hike along a developed trail, and there are several major trailheads with access to the Escalante River. Challenging hikes through the cliffs and slot canyons include Death Hollow, The Gulch, and Twenty-mile Wash. Backcountry hikers are required to obtain permits for overnight hikes at Escalante Interagency Visitor Center.

Some of the more accessible areas for day-trippers are the Devil’s Garden Natural Area and Grosvenor Arch. Vehicles can tour Utah Scenic Byway 12 or U.S. Route 89 for magnificent, changing vistas. There are also a number of partially-paved or dirt and gravel roads, including Hole-in-the-Rock Road, Cottonwood Canyon Road, Johnson Canyon/Skutumpah Road, Pahreah Townsite Road, and Burr Trail. Top sites in the monument and surrounding region include Calf Creek Falls, Canyons of the Escalante, Burr Trail, Anasazi Indian State Park, Escalante State Park, Johnson Canyon, Bull Valley Gorge, Grosvenor Arch, Kodachrome Basin State Park, and Bryce Canyon National Park.

The earliest humans known to occupy the area were the Basketmaker people and the Anasazi Indians, beginning around 500 A.D. The Fremont, Hopi, and Paiute also briefly occupied the area. The Escalante River Canyons presented a barrier to exploration until the Powell expeditions in the mid-1800s. In 1941 the NPS began studying the Escalante River area, the last in America to be discovered and mapped. The region was declared a national monument in 1996, under executive order by President Bill Clinton and later re-sized by President Donald Trump in 2017.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
669 South Highway 89A
Kanab, UT 84741
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