Wednesday, October 26, 2016
Insane Discover America Tour: 2016: Grand Staircase-Escalante
No one really thinks about visiting the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, certainly not in the same way they do Bryce or Arches. The Grand Staircase doesn't even hold National Park status, despite the fact that it covers a huge region, far larger than both of those National Parks put together. We stopped in at both visitor centers, and spoke with the staff inside. Both visitor centers were modern structures, with impressive amenities. This seemed odd, given how few visitors they receive. The staff helped share their love of the park by offering us a piece of cake, as they celebrated the Monument's twentieth birthday.
The second visitor center had a cast of a Utahceratops skull on display. This dinosaur species, a relative of the better known Triceratops, was discovered in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and named only six years ago. In time, I imagine more important fossil finds like that will not only help advance our knowledge of Paleontology, but also stir the public's interest in this relatively new National Monument.
As we drove through Grand Staircase-Escalante, it seemed that, with each turn of the road, we were seeing something new and awesome. Photographs don't do this area justice, but we took a lot that day. Off hand, I cannot remember a time when we pulled over to the side so often to take a photo, with the possible exception of our first visit to Kauai.
The photo above reminds me of the area used by the filmmakers for the planet Vulcan in the first of the recent series of Star Trek movies. It isn't--that area is located in the San Rafael Swell, another area in Utah overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. Still, it's easy to imagine Spock growing up amid a stark landscape such as this.
At one point, I noticed a cave off the side of the road. So we turned around, parked, and did a little exploring. It reminded me of similar caves I've seen in Kauai, Oregon, and Texas. The pink/red of the rock made it far different than those others, however.
Part of this area also merges with the national forest system. We passed lots of campgrounds as drove. We also passed through quite a few little towns. You're really living at the top of the world up here. Most of the time we were around nine-to-ten thousand feet elevation. You've got to be hardy to spend lots of time here, without the altitude bothering you.
I'm not sure I'd want to spend a winter in such a remote region. But it's beautiful in the autumn.