Our third day exploring the canyons had us driving through breathtaking scenery, and we couldn’t help but feel in awe, if not insignificantly small, as we experienced millions of years of geological evolution before our very eyes…
Grand Staircase- Escalante
Driving through Red Canyon to reach our destination for the next two days, was no disappointment. Cut into the Paunsaugunt Plateau, the various erosional shapes along the four miles of byway burst with brilliant shades of reds and crimsons.
We stopped at the visitor center in Cannonville, and we were encouraged by the ranger at the front desk to drive the 70 mile one-way drive through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, where we would ‘encounter a special surprise’ at the end of the drive. He didn’t have to tell us twice! We got in the car and headed out on the open road.
We were both expecting to park the car and stand before a giant rock formation, but in fact, the Grand Staircase-Escalante is a 1.9 million acre monument. The space was set aside in 1996 “to preserve its wide open spaces and intact ecosystems.” Following the National Scenic Byway 12, we traveled with the top down, through endless stretches of canyons and switchbacks.
We passed through Henrieville, Escalante, and further onto Boulder, Utah– dots on the sun-scorched horizon.
The area offers hiking, backpacking, canyoneering, ATV tours, slot canyon discovery, and a million other outdoor activities you can think of– at that moment, we preferred to navigate the area in our humble steed, taking in the three distinct regions of the area.
The Grand Staircase is a series of massive geological steps that descend towards the Grand Canyon, and the five cliff formations- pink, gray, white, vermillion, chocolate- are each different chapters of geological history. The Kaiparowits Plateau is a massive, isolated region of mesas and canyons, and the monument’s central section. The Canyons are a series of smaller, labyrinthine canyons of sandstone that feed the Escalante River on its way to the Colorado River.
The land is arid and daylight is nearly blinding. Dried up river beds are predominant in most canyons during the summer months, but as we found ourselves cautiously driving over a narrow land bridge with sheer drop offs on both sides (this was the surprise!) we could feel the moisture gather in the air until it exploded into a tiny rain storm.
We kept the top down and pulled the car over, letting the rain drops fall on our faces, the smell of pure, wild weather, overwhelming us. Small rivers raged down the side of the road and off of the rock cliffs, creating miniature, temporary waterfalls.
Shortly after, we headed back to our home for two nights, Bryce Canyon Pioneer Village. As common in this area, we had the option to stay in a cabin, while other vacationers chose the motel, RV park, or camp ground options for their accommodations.
Our room included a mini fridge, so our beer and leftover pizza from dinner that night became a late night snack as we fell asleep watching The Big Labowski.
Up next: Day 4 at Bryce Canyon!