Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument: A Grand Stair Step

A Grand Stair Step
Paria Contact Station.  Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  Utah.  March 24, 2016.
Copyright © 2016 A. F. Litt, All Rights Reserved

I've been interested in these national "parks" that are not administered by the National Park Service (NPS) since I was a kid.  When Mt. St. Helens erupted in 1980 and was designated a national monument in 1982, I was very excited that Washington state was gaining a new national "park." However, when I realized that it was going to be managed by the U. S. Forest Service (USFS), I was disappointed.  

At the time, I'd been to Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon and, of course, some of the local NPS run places and thought, rather naively, that the NPS was just far superior at managing recreational areas than the USFS.  I was swayed by such things as evening campfire programs and flush toilets, which were rare in the USFS campgrounds I'd experienced to this point.  To be fair to my young self, modern vault toilets were not around back then, so no running water meant a very stinky old school outhouse.

Mt. St. Helens was the first modern monument managed by the Forest Service, and later on, even as an adult, I felt disappointed when I first went to the recently established Newberry National Volcanic Monument (est. 1990) to discover it, too, was managed by the Forest Service. What? No new NPS parks? Is the Park Service at capacity?

Over the years, though, I've come to appreciate how these monuments are managed. There are some things that the Park Service does very well, but there are other things that the Forest Service and, now, the BLM are doing well, too. What I am finding as I travel to more and more of these non-NPS managed monuments, etc. is that these other agencies may actually balance recreational needs with conservationist land use better than the NPS. This is not truly an evidence based statement, merely a feeling I have when visiting these places; they still feel wild, not managed into some sort of eco-tourism Disneyland.

Please do not think that I am saying that I dislike the National Park Service, not at all.  The love of what they do is why so much of my website is devoted to these places, and the challenges they face with the system's most popular parks are, quite frankly, purely insane.  I just also appreciate these other agencies and the way they manage their lands.  And they do a great job when dealing with, a pretty significant, if usually different, set of challenges, as well.

I include these monuments and sites with the NPS managed parks in the National Parks section of my website because they are national monuments, historic sites, and recreation areas regardless of which agency manages them. Their titles tell the truth, not the managing agency. These places have earned their titles and are worthy of the same protections as the NPS managed locations. In fact, one of my favorite parks and monuments in Utah turned out to be the one pictured above, Grand Staircase-Escalante, which, after its establishment in 1996, became the first monument managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).  

Grand Staircase-Escalante is also the largest U. S. national monument.  It contains three main regions, the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante.  This photo was taken in the Grand Staircase area at the southern edge of the monument in March, but later, during the longer trip in May, I spent a couple days in the mind blowing Canyons of the Escalante area.  On my first day in the Escalante area, I'd spent some time in the main area of Capitol Reef National Park, and as I wrote yesterday, I may have been suffering from a bit of burnout on all of the slickrock formations I'd been blissfully inundated with for pretty much the entire trip.   

However, my first evening in this monument, later in the same day that I'd felt burnout at Capitol Reef, a sunset run out of Boulder on the Burr Trail pretty much cured my malaise.  Wow.  And the relative solitude of the region, after dealing with the showcase parks (especially Arches), was incredibly appreciated.

Escalante, however, was a different trip and those photos will be coming out later...

On this day in March, we were originally planning on spending the night near the Grand Canyon and most of the next day suffering the hordes of misplaced city folk swarming the south rim.  However, we discovered Zion the day before.  We couldn't just bounce through that quickly and spent most of the day in that park.  Because of that delay, we were on a late afternoon hell-run to camp at Lee's Ferry while charging down U. S. 89 through the southern reaches of Grand Staircase-Escalante.

No hiking or exploring happened this day, after departing Zion, at least.  Just a quick drive.  Even the two little visitor centers were closed by the time we passed through.  A problem with spring travel, when everything closes early because it is "off-season" but the days are growing long enough to keep you on the road for hours after all the interesting doors are locked for the day. 

Unfortunately, from the highway, there is not much to see.  Yes, there are some nice cliffs, like the one above, but even this is nothing compared to the massive Vermilion Cliffs to the south, and since the visitor centers were all closed, we knew little about what was hiding off the highway to our north and, especially in the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, to our south.

If we did, we might have skipped our 3/4 day side trip to count coup at the Grand Canyon the next day and spent some more time in this area, enjoying the relative solitude of spectacular sights not shared with literally thousands of other travelers, but we did not know what the area had to offer at the time.

This may be the biggest blessing and curse of these non-NPS managed monuments.  An exchange of solitude for a lack of publicity...   Everyone in the world pretty much knows about the Grand Canyon, few, even in the U. S., know about these spectacular monuments.  But when you learn, and when you go, the lack of disruptive, distracting crowds is definitely an added part of the attraction these places hold for me.

On a side note, I just noticed that this year is the 20th Anniversary of the monument. Free events will be taking place on September 18 at the GSENM visitor centers in Big Water, Kanab, Cannonville, and Escalante, Utah.

Interpretive Sign - Paria Station
Paria Contact Station.  Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  Utah.  March 24, 2016.

Paria Canyon Interpretive Sign
Paria Contact Station.  Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  Utah.  March 24, 2016. 

Map at Paria Station (Detail)
Paria Contact Station.  Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  Utah.  March 24, 2016. 

Map at Paria Station
Paria Contact Station.  Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  Utah.  March 24, 2016. 



Newberry National Volcanic Monument:

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