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.
We found an amazing dispersed camping spot near Escalante Canyon. Can you spot our RV in the photo?
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Fremont Indians painted these impressive pictographs about 900 years ago.
Fields of horsetail lined the creek.
We could hear the falling water and children whooping with joy long before we could see the Lower Calf Creek 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.
We stopped and enjoyed our lunch in front of the falls, which plunged over the edge into a chilly, emerald pool.
The highlight of our trip to Grand Staircase was an 8 mile hike along the broad, mostly dry Wahweap Creek.
Along the way Darby spotted two cow families walking along the creek bed.
After a long hike under the warm sun, we arrived at our destination: the magnificent Wahweap Hoodoos.
We stopped for lunch at “Hoodoo Central.” Notice Darby in the foreground sitting in the shade of a large hoodoo.
Here Theresa is hiking down from our lunch perch surrounded by white cliffs.
The wind and water carved intricate flow patterns into the hoodoo rock.
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.
How do these caps remain balanced on top of the hoodoos?
The hoodoo caps are extremely solid and consist of tiny stones cemented together.
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.
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.