In 1996 Grand-Staircase Escalante, established by Presidential Proclamation, became the first National Monument to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management. It is huge – spanning nearly 1.9 million acres and according to the proclamation its “vast and austere landscape embraces a spectacular array of scenic and historic resources. This high, rugged, and remote region, where bold plateaus and multi-hued cliffs run for distances that defy human perspective, was the last place in the continental United States to be mapped.”
While visiting the area I camped at Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. The park consists of 1,000 acres including a reservoir, campground and one of Utah’s best displays of Petrified Wood. These fossilized trees date back millions of years and are easily seen from trails within the park.
The parks trails (almost two miles long) bring the visitor up close and personal with an amazing number of petrified wood examples along the two trails. To get to the best sites you have to take the .75-mile spur off the main trail, while steep down canyon then back up the amount of petrified wood right on the trail makes you forget about the challenge. The fairly shallow Wide Hollow Reservoir provided good opportunity to break out the stand up paddleboard and get in some water time while in the area.
The town of Escalante, named after the river running through the valley, has an interesting history. Settled in 1876 by Mormon pioneers with over 50% of its historically and architecturally significant buildings still intact. These first settlers were farmers and ranchers a lifestyle which continues today.
Slot Canyons & Hole-In-The-Rock Road – Not to be missed!
I had the opportunity to do several great hikes while in the area in addition to the Petrified Forest hike in the State Park where I was camping. My main reason for revisiting the area was to see the slot canyons that I visited with Matt and his buddy 10 years ago when we came through this area on a two-week camping trip. These slot canyons up the Dry Fork Narrows have become quite popular but as I hiked early in the day I saw few people in the canyon and had the slots to myself.
26 miles out the dirt Hole-In-The-Rock road you find the trailhead to the slot canyons.
After climbing down a fairly steep slope into the wash the entrance to Peek-A-Boo slot presents the first challenge.
When visiting here 10 years ago I had two young teens that pushed and pulled me up the 12’ climb into this slot, without this extra help this time around all I got was a photo of the entrance.
But Spooky Gulch made the climb down into the wash worth the effort. Half a mile down the wash off a side canyon the walls narrow quickly as you enter Spooky.
Appropriately named, at times this slot narrows to only 10” wide and forces you to remove your packs and shimmy sideways to get through. The walls, lighting, colors and challenge make this canyon a not to be missed and definitely an adventure of a lifetime.
Also along Hole-In-The-Rock Road you will find the “Devil’s Garden” natural area. Walking among these unique formations is a great experience.
Erosion stripped away the Cannonville Member – a layer containing more clay and silt than the other sandstone layers above and below it exposing the more resistant Gunsight Butte Member that provides the base layer and the Escalante Member (more quartz) which forms the tops of these unique formations.
Lower Calf Creek Falls – An Escalante visitor favorite
One of the most popular hikes in the Monument, the hike to Calf Creek Falls does not disappoint.
A plus is that dogs (on a leash) are allowed to enjoy this hike. 6 miles round-trip, minimal elevation change, beautiful scenery and a 126’ waterfall at the end make this an awesome hike.
The BLM also provides an interpretive trail guide that gives hikers a great introduction to the sights along the trail. Practically every time I attend an interpretive program or travel a self-guided interpretive trail I learn something new. By the time I am done with this adventure I will be a wealth of facts and interesting tidbits of information! This trail was no exception as it was fun to learn that scientists believe that desert varnish (the same type that that graces the walls of these canyons) may also exist on Mars. The dark vertical striping seen on canyon walls is the result of microbes that oxidize the iron and manganese found in the clay mineral. This results in the black to orange-yellow coatings found where water flows over the canyon walls and can help scientists learn the environmental conditions in effect when it was formed sometimes thousands of years ago. Views of the desert varnish and some interesting pictographs were found along the trail.
Escalante River Trail hike
Another dog friendly trail and right outside of Escalante the hike up the Escalante River canyon is worth putting on the agenda.
I recommend picking a nice day and wearing shoes that you can hike in while wet as there are numerous stream crossings and try as you might you are pretty much guaranteed wet feet before you are done.
The user created trail follows the river through the canyon and you can hike as far as you like returning the same way you came.
I ended up with wet feet and Cory actually did some swimming (his legs are pretty short!).
All these great hikes and I only visited a small part of this massive National Monument.