Scenic Highway 12 near Escalante Canyon

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is massive, covering 1.9 million acres (almost 3,000 square miles) of southern Utah.  It’s almost as isolated as it is large, with no paved roads entering the heart of the Monument.  Highway 89 borders the west and south side, while scenic Highway 12 (shown above near Escalante Canyon) borders the north side.

 

 

Dispersed camping spot near Escalante Canyon

We found an amazing dispersed camping spot near Escalante Canyon.  Can you spot our RV in the photo?

 

 

Theresa scans Escalante Canyon for a hiking destination

After we setup camp, we scanned the horizon for a remarkable feature.  There’s something especially exciting about hiking off-trail and discovering a cool attraction that’s not in any guide book.  Click on the photo above for a full-sized panorama of Theresa scanning Escalante Canyon for a hiking destination.

 

 

Shadow and Darby stop and wait patiently while we figure out a way around this steep bowl

We saw some giant caves in the distance, so we started hiking in that general direction, taking great care to avoid trampling any cryptobiotic soil.  Since there is no set trail, we had to choose our route carefully to ensure we didn’t get “cliffed out,” i.e. stuck on the edge of a cliff.  In this photo, we came upon a large, steep bowl, too dangerous to hike straight down, so we circled around and down the bowl to the right.

 

 

Theresa starts the climb back out of the canyon

We hiked for over an hour but never reached our intended destination.  No matter, for the pleasure is in the journey.  The sun started to dip in the sky, and we were getting hungry for dinner, so we turned back for the steep climb out of the canyon.  Fortunately I had my trusty GPS to help us find our way home.

 

 

Theresa admires the desert varnish on the canyon walls

One of our favorite hikes on the trip so far was Lower Calf Creek Falls.  It’s a rare gem—a trail along a year-round stream flowing through a desert canyon ending in a spectacular waterfall.  We were treated to the sound of the bubbling creek the entire way.  The canyon walls were painted in beautiful patterns by desert varnish.  Originally it was thought that desert varnish is caused by water dripping down the canyon walls.  But microscopic analysis and chemical tests revealed that the primary component of desert varnish is clay, which is carried by wind onto the cliff wall, then combined with iron and manganese and wetted by dew.

 

 

Pictographs by the Fremont Indians

The Fremont Indians painted these impressive pictographs about 900 years ago.

 

 

Horsetail lines the creek

Fields of horsetail lined the creek.

 

 

Theresa hikes toward the Lower Calf Creek Falls

We could hear the falling water and children whooping with joy long before we could see the Lower Calf Creek Falls.

 

 

Theresa and Shadow cool off in the spray of the falls

The 126-foot waterfall ejected a spray that felt cool on this warm day.  There were about a dozen families playing in the pool beneath the falls and on the surrounding beach.

 

 

Lower Calf Creek Falls

We stopped and enjoyed our lunch in front of the falls, which plunged over the edge into a chilly, emerald pool.

 

 

Shadow hiking Wahweap Creek

The highlight of our trip to Grand Staircase was an 8 mile hike along the broad, mostly dry Wahweap Creek.

 

 

Darby watching the cows

Along the way Darby spotted two cow families walking along the creek bed.

 

 

Theresa gazes upon the magnificent Wahweap Hoodoos

After a long hike under the warm sun, we arrived at our destination: the magnificent Wahweap Hoodoos.

 

 

Darby resting in the shade beneath a hoodoo

We stopped for lunch at “Hoodoo Central.”  Notice Darby in the foreground sitting in the shade of a large hoodoo.

 

 

Theresa hiking down from our lunch perch

Here Theresa is hiking down from our lunch perch surrounded by white cliffs.

 

 

Hoodoo patterns from erosion

The wind and water carved intricate flow patterns into the hoodoo rock.

 

 

Hoodoo with cap

The white hoodoo posts are made of Entrada Sandstone that is 160 million years old.  The dark hoodoo caps are made of Dakota Sandstone, which was the beach of a seaway laid down 100 million years ago.

 

 

Balanced cap

How do these caps remain balanced on top of the hoodoos?

 

 

Hoodoo cap

The hoodoo caps are extremely solid and consist of tiny stones cemented together.

 

 

Towers of Silence

The “Towers of Silence” are aptly named because they took our breath away.  We couldn’t help but feel spiritual in this nature’s cathedral.

 

 

Famous photographed hoodoo

This is one of the most-oft photographed hoodoos in the world, but surprisingly it doesn’t have a name.  But we thought he looked like the head priest of this beautiful hoodoo temple.

>> Next Stop: Goblin Valley State Park >>

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