Grand Staircase Escalante
National Monument


Overview - Climate/ Maps - Things To Do - Camping/Lodging - Nearby


Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument includes 1.9 million acres encompassing three major regions of southeastern Utah:

  • The Grand Staircase, a series of cliffs and plateaus in the south and southwest region of the Monument which encompass the Pink Cliffs, the Roan Cliffs, the White Cliffs and the Vermilion Cliffs. In this area is a large reach of the Paria River and the multi-colored cliffs and domes of Kodachrome Basin.
  • The Kaiparowits Plateau, which includes 650,000 acres of the massive geologic upthrust that towers over the southern third of the area.
  • Canyons of the Escalante River, some of the most stunning and scenic redrock in southern Utah.


It includes all of the major landmarks in this vast area, including the main backcountry roads that cut through the region. The monument is 900,000 acres larger than the total acreage of Utah's five existing national parks. It contains more land, in fact, then all of the national parks in Utah, Colorado, Nevada and Wyoming (except Yellowstone)combined.

Cultural History

Native Peoples

Little is known about the early history of this area, but most investigators believe that a sequence of human occupancy began prior to the Christian era and included Desert Archaic and Basketmaker cultures. The Kaiparowits Plateau, which extends east to the Colorado River and south to the Arizona line, has always been sparsely settled.

The Anasazi, who appeared in Utah about 1,500 years ago, and subsequent Indian cultures came to know the plateau as unfriendly, isolated and unproductive. Both Kayenta and Fremont agricultural peoples occupied the area. Abandonment of a large Kayenta Anasazi village at Boulder in about 1275 ended the most significant period of prehistory. The Hopi may have visited and hunted in the region 200 to 300 years later, until Southern Paiutes began to visit the area in the 1500s and then occupied the region into historic times.

Some 3,000 archaeological sites include habitation areas, campsites, storage cysts, petroglyphs, and pictographs. Little scientific research has been conducted since the University of Utah conducted the Glen Canyon Right Bank Survey in 1959. The Anasazi Indian Village State Historical Site, located in Boulder and operated by the State of Utah, provides visitors a unique opportunity to view artifacts and increase their understanding and knowledge of Anasazi culture.

Exploration & Settlement

Since historic times, the Escalante River canyons have been a barrier to east-west travel in the region. The river is presently bridged only at its upper end. The Escalante River is believed to be the last major river discovered in the contiguous United States. In 1866, Captain James Andrus led a group of Calvary men into the headwater branches of the Escalante River near the present community of Escalante. Members of the first and the second Powell expeditions overlooked the mouth of the Escalante River when they passed through Glen Canyon in 1869.

In 1872, John Wesley Powell sent the Almon Harris Thompson-Frederick S. Dellenbaugh party to the mouth of the Dirty Devil River. Upon climbing the escarpment above Pine Creek and the present community of Escalante, the Thompson-Dellenbaugh party realized that the canyon was not the canyon of the Dirty Devil River. Thompson then credited the party with the formal discovery of the river and named it the Escalante River, in honor of the Friar Silvestre Valez de Escalante expedition of 1776 which explored Glen Canyon but never reached this area.

The two main communities in the area, Escalante and Boulder, were settled in 1875 and 1889 respectively. Stockmen from Escalante immediately began to explore the canyon and benches in 1876. Stockmen from Boulder used the eastern portion of the region as early as 1887. The Escalante River was not bridged until 1935. Boulder is often cited as one of the last communities in the United States to gain automobile access.

The Old Boulder Road is the precursor to the present Highway 12, and much of the old road is still visible today. Although variations of this route were established, the Escalante River was not bridged until 1935. Because of this, Boulder is often cited as one of the last communities in the United Stated to gain automobile access. Final construction of the present Highway 12 was completed in 1940. The road was not completely paved until 1971. The portion of Highway 12 between Escalante and Boulder is one of the most scenic roads in the entire country.

Park History

Although the upper canyons of the Escalante River were formally reserved as the Aquarius National Forest in 1903, formal recognition of the area's recreation and scenic qualities did not occur until the 1930s. The first significant recognition of the recreational resources of the Escalante River occurred in 1941, when the National Park Service studied the basin in conjunction with a comprehensive study of water resources in the Colorado River Basin. The study was published in 1946 and identified the Aquarius Plateau-Escalante River basin as "a little known, but potentially important recreation area." Much of it has been under BLM management ever since.

After much pressure from environmental groups, the region was finally designated as Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by President Bill Clinton on September 18, 1996. He did so under authority of the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives the President unilateral authority to designate national monuments. Since the 1906 act, only Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush have refrained from establishing or enlarging a national monument. National parks can only be established by Acts of Congress.

Natural History

Plants & Animals

The most common vegetation of the upper Monument area is the pinion-juniper and sagebrush. Below the rim of Boulder Mountain in the upper canyon areas of Death Hollow and Sand Creek you find Gambles Oak and Pointed Manzanita. Down lower in the lush, wet bottoms of the Escalante River canyons, giant stands of Fremont Cottonwood appear. Horsetail, sedges and scouring rushes line the stream banks. Other plants in the lower Monument area include Rabbitbrush, Saltbrush, Sagebrush, cacti, yuccas, Indian Paintbrush, Penstemon and Sego Lily.

The Monument is home to 59 kinds of mammals, 200 species of birds, 46 forms of reptiles and amphibians, and 6 species of fish representing many of Utah's threatened and endangered species. Major native game include Mule Deer, Bighorn Sheep, Cougar, Mountain Lion and Cottontail Rabbits. Coyote are also common. Elk were transplanted onto the Boulder Mountain in 1976-77 and about 300 now winter in the Boulder and Deer Creek areas.

Many of the bird species are seasonal residents or migrants. Two endangered species, Peregrine Falcon and Bald Eagle, are rare. At least seven other raptors are known to nest in the area. Calf Creek, Deer Creek, Boulder Creek, North Creek, and the Escalante River provide stream fishing opportunities for Brown, Cutthroat and Rainbow Trout.


The geological wonderland preserved by the Monument includes the Escalante River basin, a formation of overlapping cliffs known as the Grand Staircase and the Kaiparowits Plateau. The pink, gray, white, vermilion and chocolate cliffs of the region reflect almost 4 billion years of geologic history in an area considered to be the most remote in the lower 48 states. It includes slot canyons 100 feet deep and 10 feet wide, as well as caves, alcoves, domes, pinnacles, sinkholes and monoliths.

The Escalante Basin, the magnificent landscape of the Escalante River canyon, is bordered by the prominent features of the Aquarius Plateau to the north, the Circle Cliffs and Waterpocket Fold to the east, and the Straight Cliffs of Kaiparowits Plateau to the west. These great plateaus, sheer cliffs, and deep canyons began during a period of intensive geological and erosional activity occurring 60-80 million years ago. As the plateaus were uplifted by the shifting and buckling of the earth, and the canyons were eroded by meandering streams, a great cross-section of geological formations was eventually exposed. On the western extreme, Cretaceous-age Kaiparowits, Wahweap, White Cliffs and Tropic Shale formations reveal layers thought to have been deposited 180 to 225 million years ago.

BLM Photo

As the Escalante River moves southeast toward the Colorado River, it cuts through the lower Morrison, Dakota and Entrada Sandstone formations. Geologists believe these various formations were deposited as the area alternated between sea, lake and desert environments. The Jurassic-age (150 to 200 million years ago) Morrison formation contain the fossils of dinosaur bones, sea shells, land and marine organisms, while Carmel and Navajo Sandstone and Chinle Shale formations below reveal petrified wood from ancient forests.

As with much of the Colorado Plateau region, the erosional activity of water and wind on layers of sandstone stacked like steps of pancakes produces amazing geological displays, including the intricate network of deep canyons, uplifted plateaus, sheer cliffs, beautiful sandstone arches and natural bridges, water pockets, sandstone monoliths, pedestals and balanced rocks, domes and buttes.

Overview - Climate/ Maps - Things To Do - Camping/Lodging - Nearby



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