Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Grand Staircase Escalante-National Monument

"When we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world." ~John Muir 

     In 1996 President Bill Clinton designated an almost 1.9 million acre area of southern Utah a national Monument called Grand Staircase Escalante. The first thing I learned about the staircase is that there is no geologic staircase-like formation or monument per se to be found and photographed. The concept of stairs refers to the various sedimentary layers that have been created over eons throughout the entire region. The grand staircase extends almost 150 miles beginning at the north rim of the grand canyon and extending through  Zion and Bryce over a 6000 foot rise in elevation..There are actually a myriad of layers within the steps as well.
     The second thing I learned was the difference between a National Park and a National monument. A National Park is established by congress and requires a congressional act to be decommissioned. A national monument however can be established or lose its designation through a presidential proclamation. The above photo is taken from Bryce overlooking part of the Grand Staircase Escalante.

     One of the best ways to explore The Grand Staircase of the Escalante is via scenic byway 12. We would travel about seventy miles from Tropic Utah to Boulder Utah and back. The byway is dotted with little towns, camping areas, hiking trails and some of the most spectacular scenery in southern Utah. 
     Our first stop was the BLM visitors center where the rangers helped us plan our day. They mentioned we were within nine miles of Kodachrome State Park and told us that although it involved a detour we should include this stop on our journey. They were so right. The ride out to the park was stunning. A highlight for me was a rock formation that resembled a Roman ruin. The park itself is small with campgrounds and horseback riding available. The park was named in 1948 following an expedition to the area by National Geographic magazine. It was a tip of the hat to Kodak’s revolutionary new Kodachrome film and the accuracy of it’s color process.

     We were surprised to spot more than a dozen of beaver dams along byway 12.We actually turned the car around and went back to take photos and look for beaver. We loved seeing these beautifully constructed Dams. It turns out these beavers are seen as a help to local communities .Their dams help restrict the flow of water, slowing erosion and also helping to provide water for animals that in turn help the hunting and fishing industries in the area thrive.

     Our final stop on byway 12 was the remote town of boulder Utah. Settled in the late 1800’s we could only imagine how isolated the original inhabitants were up here in the high country. We arrived hungry and were unsure if we would find any place to eat in this tiny town. We were delighted to find the Burr Trail Grill. Apparently this town prides itself on its culinary offerings. We enjoyed grass fed beef burgers, mine with grilled mushroom and gruyere, Johns with chipotle sauce and caramelized onion. We sipped our ginger lemonade in an outdoor garden enjoying the good food and the gentle breezes
     Boulder is the home of the Anasazi State Park museum and it is one of the must see attractions in town. Our visit there included entrance to the archeological remains of an puebloan village inhabited between 1050- 1175AD. The site itself was nestled in a field of sage and desert wild flowers that covered every free square inch of ground and perfumed the air as we wandered the ruins

    It was time for us to head home for the evening and we began the drive back past Bryce through Zion where we had a hotel room reserved for the night. The baby buffalo above was grazing in a field on Hwy 89 with his family.Our route took us back through the southeast entrance to Zion. We entered the park at about 7PM driving along the switchbacks enjoying the way the afternoon light of the slowly setting sun played with the colors of the rock formations. John noticed a few cars parked on the side of the road and people looking up which can only mean a wild life sighting. John is an excellent spotter and I would miss an awful lot without his eagle eye. He immediately pulled over for his latest sighting Big Horn sheep grazing high up on the mountainside.

     Rangers will tell you that you are not likely to see these bighorn sheep in Zion as they prefer their solitude and get quite skittish around people. Apparently just before dusk is when they like to have dinner. We were so happy to have the 500mm lens on the camera. Transfixed by the sight we snapped away. In a matter of minutes the sight of our lens drew a crowd. People were thrilled to see these elusive sheep and we share binoculars with the group and traded wildlife sighting anecdotes for almost a half an hour.

     With the sun rapidly dropping and the weariness of a day on the road catching up to us we set off for the southwestern park entrance. As we rounded the first corner we were stunned to see a big horn sheep grazing right alongside the road. As John slowly drove up alongside of him he raised his head and let me take a few photos. He was not frightened at all and It is a moment we will never forget.


  1. Thank you John and Debra for allowing us to take a Virtual vacation with you. I enjoyed every word through the beautiful photographs <|;-)

  2. Great post, Thanks a lot for sharing on this with us. Please keep on posting!

    Horseback Riding Grand Staircase