Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was established in 1996 and is the first to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management. When we looked at its 1.9 million acres on the map, we hardly knew where to start. This was the last place in the United States to be mapped. Paved highways border the north and south, but most of the interior is some sort of gravel/dirt/sand/rock road. We have a 4-wheel drive Jeep, but when we don't know anything about an area and read that it is so remote there are no cell signals, we feel a bit leery.
Luckily we found a very helpful visitor center where we learned about this massive piece of land and how to access it. At some point eons and eons ago, what we know as the North American continent was bisected by a sea. As the water ebbed and flowed, volcanos erupted and spewed ash, and multitudes of colorful layers were created that are gradually being uncovered today. The eastern Staircase part of the park is comprised of broad terraces that have different colors - vermillion, white, gray and pink. Together these steps expose 200 million years of the earth's history in a colorful panorama. The Kaiparowits Plateau middle part of the park is full of fossils. Pieces of dinosaurs never seen before have been discovered here. Paleontologists have been going great guns finding one unique sample after another. The eastern part has been formed by the Escalante River.
We drove about fifty of the one thousand miles of unpaved road that criss cross the park in Cottonwood Canyon. The road was well graded and we could go about 30mph. The views were outstanding. Every twenty minutes the rocks changed color and the sand/dirt/gravel on the road changed color as well. Sometimes the formations were soft and ashy; other times they were strewn with boulders and hard looking. After thirty miles of WOW, we came to a picnic table below a set of twin arches. As we munched we could see two raptors flying in and out of a hole under one of the arches. Were there babies in there? Along the way we passed a number of promising looking hiking possibilities. There was no time left. We need to come back.