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Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument Overview

The Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, established in by president Clinton in 1996, encompasses 1.9 million acres of wilderness in southeastern Utah.  It is located between Glen Can National Recreation Area, Capitol Reef National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.  To get there, drive along Utah State Highway 12 which runs east from the Bryce Canyon area to the small towns of Escalante and Boulder.  The Monument is home to spectacular scenery, twisting canyons, interesting geology, paleo sites and as of yet - no tourist amenities (thank goodness).

The term "Grand Staircase" has been used by geologists to describe the unique geologic sequence in the area.  The rocks that comprise the Grand Staircase would sit above those found in the Grand Canyon, where they have since eroded away.  Some of the rock layers form cliffs, each of which has a distinctive color.  Starting from the south, the cliffs that make up the staircase are:

  • Vermilion Cliffs - composed of the Moenave, Kayenta and lower Navajo Sandstone Formations.  Formed as rivers deposited silt across ancient tidal zones, then eventually desert dunes covered the terrain.   This deposit is easily seen near Kanab, Utah.

  • White Cliffs - composed of the upper Navajo Sandstone formed by the deposition of sand from ancient dunes.  Seen in the Escalante River and Calf Creek areas.

  • Grey Cliffs - composed of the Tropic and Straight Cliffs Formations, these were deposited as sediment in streams and swamps.   This step is seen in the central portion of the Monument especially along Hole-in-the-Rock Road. 

  • Pink Cliffs - composed of the Wasatch Formation, which was deposited as mud, silt and limestone in a series of lakes.   Bryce Canyon National Park provides an example of this formation.

The monument is managed by the BLM and continues to face threats including: grazing, hunting, oil and gas exploration (thanks to Conoco), illegal road building as well as the ubiquitous use of ORVs used to cart flabby flesh where weak legs can't go.  The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance offers some good suggestions for what you can do to help protect this special area (click here).