Encompassing 1.7 million acres in Southern Utah, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has been called “the most remote spot in the United States.” This is the largest of the National Monuments and a bit bigger than Delaware.
This rock reminded me of a soaring eagle:
Grand Staircase-Escalante includes three areas: the Grand Staircase, the Canyons of the Escalante, and the Kaiparowits Plateau, which was the area we explored, and which is considered by some to be the most remote part of the Monument. Indeed, aside from seeing a single car and hearing some voices in the distance that we later determined to be just the wind, we seemed to be completely alone in this place.
Whereas Zion National Park is very red and pink, the rock formations in Grand Staircase-Escalante are mostly gold, silver and copper in color. Both are part of the Grand Staircase, a sequence of 24 sedimentary rock layers ascending north from the bottom of the Grand Canyon, whose walls act as a cross-section of all the layers. The edge of each layer forms a giant, distinctly colored step.
We drove up Smoky Mountain Road. The term “road” doesn’t really do justice to this gravel serpentine that zig zags its way up the metallic moonscape in a most treacherous fashion. It’s scary and dangerous, but also fun. The fact that Planet of the Apes was filmed in the area just adds to the creepy ambiance.
Smoky Mountain Road is named after the underground coal fires that were likely caused by lighting and may have been burning for 100 years or more. That probably sounds pretty interesting, but they do stink. I call this the Earth’s butthole:
Foul odor or not, that’s where we camped. Being so alone was unusual for me; I kept thinking that I was in the early scene of a horror movie. More rationally, we hadn’t mentioned our plans to anyone, the ranger station was closed when we arrived, and we had no phone reception. If anything had happened, who knows how long it would have taken for anyone to find us.
Since returning from the Great American Road Trip, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about all of my experiences, and Grand Staircase-Escalante has definitely emerged as a highlight. The incredible thing is that we explored a tiny fraction of this huge place, and probably not even the most dramatic area. This city slicker is already thinking about back to check out the rest of this other-worldly landscape. To think that just recently I only knew two things about Utah — Mormons and the Olympics! It really is a spectacularly beautiful place.