Escalante National Monument

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April 21st 2013
Published: May 1st 2013
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Lots of free-range cattle in these here parts
What a difference a few miles make. From the rust-shaded bottom roads in Capitol Reef we climbed until we found ourselves cruising narrow ridges high above it all. At first we found ourselves high above the frost-line among pine and birch and Mule deer. This soon gave way to white sandstone. The remains of a Sahara-like desert that once existed in this place until it was compressed for eons under enormous weight, transformed into rock and born again when wind and rain exposed all. Everything here is so bright. The sun reflects off all surfaces giving the landscape a washed out, flat effect. Distances are hard to judge as boulders and buttes fade into the camouflage. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, at 1.7 million acres, dominates southern Utah. It is unique in that it is the first monument to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management, rather than the National Park Service. Here you can find a wide variety of formations, features and paleontological sites. Grand Staircase is a geological formation spanning eons of time and is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. It is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Escalante canyons.

The roads hug the axes of narrow escarpments. There are few guardrails here. On either side of the asphalt lay wide, steep, water-carved canyons speckled with squat, round shrubs and small trees. The sandstone above breaks off in great, skittering tiles and bright-yellow 'Falling Rock' signs picket the roadside. Every turn opens onto another stunning landscape. While passengers enjoy the ride, drivers white-knuckle the paperclip twists always mindful of the yawning chasms. Some folks here build huge homes on rocky shelves that they've bulldozed out of escarpment walls. Great, big concrete mixer/ pump trucks rumble along the highway delivering foundation mixin's to building sites. We saw a huge, Robin's egg blue Victorian with a ski jump access road being built high over a canyon. I wondered how they would cope with their water needs and other utilities but then I remembered that there are no problems so big in this world that they cannot be solved with lots and lots of money.

Bill Clinton declared National Monument status for Escalante under the Antiquities Act in September of 1996 at the height of his campaign against Bob Dole. For some reason, Clinton made the
Cement Truck/ PumperCement Truck/ PumperCement Truck/ Pumper

Saw more than a few of these things negotiating the hairpin turns.
formal announcement in, 'too close to call', Arizona and gave Utah's Congressmen and the Governor of Utah all of 24 hours notice before the event. While the act sewed up the environmentalist vote for Clinton there are still questions as to whether the Antiquities Act constitutionally allows for the annexation of such large areas. Unlike National Park status, Monument status can be revoked. The Antiquities Act was signed by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 to protect archaeological sites in the Southwest US. It's Presidential use since then has 'evolved' into a backdoor method of getting around Congressional oversight. There are currently 108 National Monuments vs. 59 National Parks. The Escalante alone is more than 10 times larger than all of the National Parks put together.

The Escalante is a vast area and completely unlike anything we had seen so far on this trip. It is well worth a dedicated excursion but it is fairly remote which is why it remains essentially unchanged no matter how many Victorians are built. In the Ponderosa Pined flats between the west side of the Escalante and Bryce Canyon are a number of small resort towns offering lodging, food and souvenirs labeled as 'Local Crafts'.
Tout DogTout DogTout Dog

Every Gift Shop/ Eatery in the Escalante has a dog out front to draw you in.
It seemed that in front of every shop lay a well-groomed dog who would watch the road through sleepy eyes only rising when a visitor pulled into the parking lot. The dog would then pull itself erect and greet the tourists with a degree of enthusiasm directly proportional to the amount of pocket currency the hound detected.

We shook a disappointed paw and headed on towards the Hoodoo's of Bryce.

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