Grand Staircase/Devil’s Garden is ‘masterpiece’ worth trip

Sunset Arch at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is quite a ways from Grand Junction, but is worth the more than four-hour trip. “It is a masterpiece of geological and biological diversity,” Geologist Clarence Dutton described what he termed a grand stairway of sequential cliffs and terraces in his Report of the Geology of the High Plateaus of Utah (1880).


Grand Staircase/ Devil’s Garden

Drive time and distance: 4 hours, 54 minutes; 268.48 miles

Length: 1 mile if you meander

Hiking Time: Depends on how often you stop to take pictures

Difficulty: Easy

The Devil’s Garden is a fairyland of goblins, hoodoos, gnomes, knobs and arches. It’s also Heaven for rock hounds, scientists, historians, photographers and other desert rats like me.

Although it’s located only a quarter-mile off the Hole-in-the-Rock Road through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, it’s still far removed from most human habitation. In fact, when we visited, there were no other humanoids to be found.

But the goblins? Whew….

There were “Four Wise Men,” uneven pillars of sandstone with hard caps, caused by differential erosion. They looked more like gnomes or goblins than Wise Men.

There was Metate Arch, a delicate sandstone pillar with a thin slab of stone on top, connected to a multi-colored sandstone wall.

There were dozens of small knobs and hoodoos splashed colorfully in layers of brown, rust and white, framed spectacularly by crystal clear blue skies.

It takes a while to get there from here. said drive-time and distance from Fourth and Main streets in GJ is four hours, 54 minutes, 268.48 miles.

That’s if you catheterize yourself and never stop.

Then, there’s the Hole-In-The-Rock Road. It’s in great shape compared to when I bounced down the same road 30 years ago. Yet, it’s 12.7 miles down this dusty road and the turnoff to Devil’s Garden.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is surrounded by the hamlets of Kanab, Cannonville, Boulder, Bigwater and Escalante.

None of these towns have more than a few hundred people living in them, (actually, 3,564 people said they lived in Kanab in 2000), yet each of these towns has a visitor center with maps and great information about this 1.9 million acre wonderland.

They also have gas stations, food stores, motels, restaurants and places to refill your water containers.

Scenic All American Highway 12 (Utah State Highway 12) runs along the northern portion of the monument, and State Highway 89 is on the southern boundary. Bryce Canyon National Park abuts the monument near Cannonville.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Capitol Reef National Park lie adjacent to the monument on the east, and Dixie National Forest borders the monument to the north.

This monument contains some of the most remote country in the lower 48 and was the last place in the continental United States to be mapped.

To reach Devil’s Garden, travel 4.5 miles southeast from the town of Escalante on State Highway 12 to Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Turn right (southeast) and proceed another 7.5 miles to the Devil’s Garden Turnoff. Turn right again, and proceed about a quarter-mile to the parking area and picnic spot.

There’s no real trail here. You’re allowed to simply meander and check out the sights on your own. According to the National Park Service, this Grand Staircase — the Chocolate, Vermilion, White, Gray, and Pink Cliffs — spans five different life zones from Sonoran desert to coniferous forests.

“It is a masterpiece of geological and biological diversity,” Geologist Clarence Dutton described what he termed a grand stairway of sequential cliffs and terraces in his Report of the Geology of the High Plateaus of Utah (1880).

The “Staircase” region is a series of multi-colored cliffs that begin at the rim of the Grand Canyon and ascend nearly 5,500 feet across the southwestern side of the monument, to end with a final stair of pink cliffs in Bryce Canyon National Park.

These stairs consist of “risers” of resistant and non-resistant rock formations up to 2,000 feet high, and “treads,” which are valleys or plateaus up to 15 miles wide.

The stairs include the Chocolate Cliffs, Vermilion Cliffs, White Cliffs, Gray Cliffs and Pink Cliffs, all large expanses of exposed rock strata that provide a continuous stratigraphic record from Grand Canyon (Precambrian) to Bryce Canyon (Tertiary).

It wasn’t until 1996 that the Escalante-Grand Staircase was designated a U.S. National Monument by President Bill Clinton, who used his authority under the Antiquities Act to protect this scientifically and historically important area.

That created quite a hubbub, but in April, 2004, Federal District Court Judge Dee Benson “delighted conservationists and disappointed the Utah Association of Counties and the Mountain States Legal Foundation,” by ruling that President Clinton’s 1996 proclamation was constitutional and legal.

Several presidents have used the Antiquities Act to withdraw large land areas for these purposes. President Theodore Roosevelt was the first to do so. He used the act for this purpose 18 times.

There are six other monuments near the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument in Utah that were created in the same manner — Cedar Breaks, Hovenweep, Timpanagos Cave, Dinosaur, Rainbow Bridge and Natural Bridges.

I’ll tell you more next week, when I travel into Spooky Gulch and other fairyland-type places within this fascinating national monument.


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