The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument of southern Utah was the last place in the lower 48 states to be mapped, and it is believed that there are some areas in these 1.7 million acres of public land that haven't been visited by humans in the last 400 years. This area was established by presidential decree in 1986.
The two major river systems to be found here account for its main attractions. To the west, the Paria river and its tributaries formed a major canyon system that includes numerous slot canyons.
These include Buckskin Gulch, the longest and deepest slot canyon in the US. It is narrow for about twelve miles, with the cliffs reaching a height of 500 feet. In another canyon, 1,000-foot sheer rock walls tower overhead, only a few meters apart in some spots.
Utah's Kodachrome Basin State Park contains another unique attraction. Here you can see numerous spires or chimneys of rock. These are known as sand pipes and are thought to be the solidified sediment that once filled ancient springs or geysers, left standing after the softer sandstone rock surrounding them was weathered away.
This area also contains unusual formations known as hoodoos or mushrooms. These are created when softer rock and harder rock are found together and the softer rock erodes away, leaving a column behind of varying thickness. Some of the hoodoos in Paria Rimrocks consist of flat blocks of hard sandstone balanced atop narrow columns of softer rock.
One of the most interesting sites to see in this part of the country is Coyote Buttes. Because the principal attraction here is considered to be very delicate, this is also one of the few areas with access restrictions and a fee for hiking.
This attraction is a formation called The Wave. Thin, swirling strata form a pattern between eroded sandstone domes that resemble ocean waves or ripples on a pond.
In total, millions of acres of the old west have been preserved in southern Utah and northern Arizona. Some of the beauty of this region can be seen from your car in a leisurely scenic drive. Much of it requires a little more effort.
However, if you are physically able to do so, you will be amply rewarded for hiking to these natural wonders, gathering memories, and perhaps photographs that will last a lifetime.
~By Earl Hunsinger
~By Earl Hunsinger