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Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was created in 1996 by President Clinton, ultimately preserving for the American public nearly 1.9 million acres of remote and rugged high desert landscape in south-central Utah. The vast size of the monument, its generally unspoiled landscape, the age of its exposed geology, and its early focus on scientific study, have not only permitted scientists to discover many new species of dinosaurs but to define the entire ecosystem they inhabited. While numbers of bees—crucial pollinators for many of our crops—have experienced a steep decline in this country, more than 650 species have been identified in the Monument, offering the prospect of understanding, thus preserving bee numbers. University/Monument archaeological partnerships have studied many new sites and advanced our understanding of the ancient North American cultures inhabiting the region. However, subsequent budget cuts, combined with President Trump's executive order (being challenged in the courts) to remove nearly 1 million acres from Monument protection have gutted scientific study while opening the area to commercial development and mining. In 2021, President Biden restored the Monument's borders and protections and ordered a new management plan. Here is the entire proclamation which contains more details on the value of the monument. For more on protecting the Monument and for a link to my e-Book on the canyons of the Escalante River, go to:  A new E-book on the Escalante Canyons in Grand Staircase and Glen Canyon National Recreational Area, is available in the book section of this website here


The Escalante canyons, for the purposes of this website, are the tributaries and drainages of the Escalante River from its beginning near the town of Escalante, to its submerged terminus in Lake Powell. The eastern canyons tend to be shorter, more rugged, and drier than the western canyons which are longer, gentler, and well-watered. The Escalante canyons extend beyond the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument into Box-Death Hollow Wilderness area to the north and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area to the south.    


The Escalante River Canyon is where the undammed Escalante River flows. This approximately 90-mile-long canyon starts near the town of Escalante where a very shallow stream enters the Escalante Monocline and almost immediately creates a 1000-foot deep canyon. It heads east before turning south-southeast until it joins the Colorado River under the waters of Lake Powell. The upper part of the river canyon was suitable for hunting and farming and was used by ancient people for many thousands of years. The middle part of the canyon is a transition from the gentler upper canyon to the lower canyon, which is very rugged and remote and where the river and its banks are littered with house-sized Wingate boulders that create obstacles to travel. Rarely, snowmelt from a big snowpack on the Aquarius Plateau combines with a period of heavy rainfall to make it possible to kayak the Escalante River all the way to Lake Powell.   


The Box is a north-south trending canyon in the Navajo sandstone and colorful Carmel formation, north of the town of Escalante in the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness. The higher elevation of this canyon supports the growth of large Ponderosa Pine trees and its perennial stream more than doubles the flow of water in the Escalante River when they join. 


Calf Creek Canyon is the most visited canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The main attraction in the lower canyon is a 130-foot-high waterfall that drops from a hanging upper canyon into a deep pool. The waterfall is reached by a sandy 2.7 mile (one way) trail that passes occasional beaver dams and Fremont rock art sites. Another waterfall in the upper canyon can be reached by a very steep trail, but the stream between the two waterfalls is not negotiable due to very rugged terrain and dense vegetation. Like many well-watered canyons in the Escalante, it was heavily used by ancient North American cultures before they generally abandoned the region around AD 1300.      


Willow Canyon begins near the Straight Cliffs and quickly becomes a lovely canyon in the Navajo sandstone. It is narrow but not claustrophobic for much of its length, and its sinuous course and pastel colors makes it visually attractive. There are many seeps on the canyon walls where profusions of monkey flowers grow in the summer. Those same places are where the canyon floor is wet and very slippery, so caution is advised. One narrow passage is almost always filled with water of varying depth—from ankle deep to chest high. Lake Powell invades the lower end of the canyon before its junction with the Escalante River Canyon, so as the water level in the lake drops, the walkable length of the canyon gets longer. While ancient people did use this canyon, the remaining signs of their presence are scattered and usually subtle. 


Little Death Hollow is on the east side of the Escalante River, originating at the base of the Circle Cliffs and ending at Horse Canyon, which eventually joins the Escalante River a couple of miles further south. Very wide in its beginnings in the soft, petrified-wood-rich Chinle layer, the canyon narrows almost immediately upon encountering the harder Wingate sandstone three miles later. The rest of the canyon’s course to Horse Canyon is very narrow. Chockstones in the tight canyon can create challenging drop offs and deep, unavoidable pools. The going is slow and challenging, and once you are in the canyon, there are very few exits. The water-sculpted canyon walls make good subjects for photography, but a flash flood is a very real threat. 


Wolverine Canyon runs parallel, but to the north of Little Death Hollow. Like its neighbor, it begins in the Circle Cliffs and ends at Horse Canyon, but it is not nearly as narrow along its course. The upper part of the canyon is notable for a protected area of petrified wood at its origin in the Circle Cliffs. The lower part is remarkable for its lovely red-orange canyon walls that are streaked with black desert varnish and punctuated by countless numbers of solution cavities. An exploration of this normally dry canyon is often combined with Little Death Hollow to make a very nice loop hike.


Harris Wash is one of the longest of the west side canyons. It drains a large, generally dry area south of the town of Escalante, flows south, and then turns east, cutting through a number of geologic rock layers on its way to the Escalante River. Due to its large drainage area, the canyon is prone to flash floods, which may have kept the canyon relatively free of major obstacles. For that reason, a route down Harris Wash eventually replaced the difficult Hole-in-the-Rock route. It went down Harris Wash, crossed the Escalante, and went up Silver Falls Canyon to the Circle Cliffs and then on to Halls Crossing on the Colorado River.   


Silver Falls Canyon is a dry and rugged east side canyon. Together with Harris Wash, it was used for a short time as a route of travel from the town of Escalante to the Colorado River and then on to the Mormon settlement of Bluff on the San Juan River. The name Silver Falls is said to derive from the beautiful streaks of desert varnish on its high walls.

Click the link for Silver Falls images in B&W.  

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