Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Story and photography by Jerry Ginsberg

As I have mentioned a time or two, Grand Staircase-Escalante in central Utah is my favorite national monument. This is the case primarily for one reason; variety. This sprawling tract covers close to two million acres, almost as big as immense Yellowstone National Park.  The monument was established in 1996 with the former Escalante Wilderness as its core, primarily as a means of protecting this chunk of central Utah from the prospective strip mining of its extensive coal deposits. At the same time, whether by accident or design, it has the simultaneous effect of protecting some of the most spectacular rock formations in all of the Southwest. Lucky us!

There are several wonderful areas within the boundaries of “The Escalante” so it can be a challenge to decide where to begin. Whether or not you have researched the monument online in advance of any trip here, it’s a good idea to make an initial stop at one of the BLM / multi-agency ranger stations serving the Escalante. They are located in the towns of Kanab and Escalante, Utah. Stopping to speak with a ranger can help to put some of the photo opportunities here in some degree of logical order.

In brief and in no particular order, the prime ‘Do Not Miss’ areas here are:

Curvy red sandstone in Devil’s Garden, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah. © Jerry Ginsberg

Devil’s Garden A tightly packed and surreal playground filed with outrageously eroded hoodoos and arches. My wife, at a willowy 5’9″ is accustomed to her high vantage point. Even in light of that, she is quite struck to be “feeling like Alice in Wonderland” among these remarkable geologic forms. Best in the late afternoon. When the sun drops behind the Straight Cliffs to the west, the light here suddenly ends about 2 – 2 1/2 hours before sunset, so be there in plenty of time and plan accordingly. To reach Devil’s Garden, drive 12 1/4 miles south from Rt. 12 down Hole in the Rock Road and look for the low and very small sign for a right turn. It’s less than 100 yards to the small parking area. Grab your gear and wander around!

Lower Calf Creek Falls provides a small oasis in the desert, Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, Utah. © Jerry Ginsberg

Lower Calf Creek Falls From the parking lot for the Calf Creek campground right along Utah Rt. 12, this is an easy hike of just under 3 miles each way.  A wide angle – normal zoom is all you need for these falls.  Surprisingly, the light is best around and perhaps shortly after mid-day. A cloudy bright sky would be perfect.

Spectacular hoodoos in Devil’s Garden, Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, Utah. © Jerry Ginsberg

Peek-a-Boo Gulch An extremely narrow slot canyon. Recent erosion around the entrance could require a six foot step ladder to get in. An extreme wide angle lens will come in handy, but be careful to crop out both the sky and any hot spots. It is best to enter this fascinating slot canyon in late morning on a clear day with no rain in the forecast.

Lone tree between narrow canyon walls in Long Canyon, Grand Staircase National Monument, Utah. © Jerry Ginsberg

Long Canyon After turning east off Rt. 12 onto the Burr Trail in Boulder, drive a few miles until the long straightaway at the bottom of the canyon. Look for a prominent crack in the rock wall on your left when facing east.  Park on the shoulder. If you walk less than two hundred feet to the back of the mini-slot and look back, you will see the single unmistakable composition here. Best in late afternoon light when the opposite wall of the canyon glows red.

Grosvenor Arch in Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, Utah. © Jerry Ginsberg

Grosvenor Arch and Kodachrome Basin Turn south at Canonville for the excellent unpaved road that passes by Kodachrome Basin. Start looking for a towering rock arch about a mile off to your left. Grosvenor Arch is reached by a small spur road from here. The arch shows best in late afternoon light, but don’t wait too long as the shadows creep inevitably upward.  If you continue south through the monument past the formation known as the Cock’s Comb, you will eventually intersect with Rt. 89 between Kanab and Page, AZ.

Metate Arch stands guard in Devil’s Garden, Grand Staircase National Monument, Utah. © Jerry Ginsberg

Grand Staircase-Escalante has some other areas of interest with such forbidding names as Box Death Hollow and Hell’s Backbone. Have fun exploring! With the sole exceptions of Utah Route 12 running through it and a portion of the Burr Trail, I cannot think of any of the monument’s 1,000+ miles of roads being paved. Most of these unpaved tracks are well maintained and easy driving. However, some will require both 4 WD and high clearance. Use caution.  Your best bet for lodging might well be the Prospector Inn on Main St. (Rt. 12) in Escalante. It’s not fancy, but the location is unbeatable.

Jerry Ginsberg is a freelance photographer whose landscape and travel images have graced the pages and covers of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s National Parks with medium format cameras. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America. More of Jerry’s images are on display at www.JerryGinsberg.com  Or e mail him at jerry@jerryginsberg.com