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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Oases like you wouldn't believe

Aug 29, 2019 03:17PM ● By Melanie Wiseman

What to know before exploring Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

With Bill Clinton’s 1996 proclamation that first protected 1.9 million acres in southern Utah, my husband and I immediately headed west to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to beat the hoards of visitors we assumed would soon follow.

Grand Staircase was the first U.S. monument to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management, although it was reduced in size by 47 percent in 2017.

A recent camping trip with friends lured us back to these majestic lands some 23 years later so we could explore them further and observe the changes that had taken place. Although the area is busier in recent days, there are still plenty of remote adventures to be had in isolated camping spots and slot canyon escapades.


Although we spent the majority of our road trip on Hole in the Rock Road near Escalante, getting there offered countless days of adventure. Some stop-worthy destinations include:

1. Just past Green River, explore High- way 24’s Goblin Valley State Park and Little Wild Horse Canyon. Continue past Hanksville and stop at Capitol Reef National Park.

2. Discover excellent petroglyph displays, pleasant camping and easy canyon hikes at Grand Wash or Capitol Gorge.

3. Pull off for breathtaking vistas at Dixie National Forest.

4. Anasazi State Park Museum in Boulder offers informative exhibits, as well as Magnolia’s Street Food, an old turquoise, retrofitted school bus serving Mexican food out front.

5. Travelers epitomize Hogback as “Truly one of the coolest roads in the country...maybe the world.” This portion of Highway 12 winds over the narrow spine of a mesa with stunning canyons on either side.

6. Past Hogback is Lower Calf Creek Falls Trail, an easy 5.7-mile out-and-back hike with views of a 126-foot waterfall spilling into a large welcoming pool. It’s the perfect place for a cool dip on a hot day.

7. Down the road is another cool- off destination: Escalante Creek Trail. This trail serpentines through canyons, crisscrossing Escalante Creek at every turn. Works as an in-and-out day trip, or you can backpack overnight and emerge 14 miles upstream in the town of Escalante.

8. Escalante is a great place to refuel, grab ice cream at Nemo’s Drive-Thru, and visit the excellent informative welcome centers on either end.


Drive 4.5 miles east of Escalante, and you descend along Hole in the Rock Road, a jumping-off point for modern adventures and the most visited area of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. We spent most of our time exploring this some- times-rough roadway. Four-wheel drive isn’t required until the last five miles, but expect over 50 miles of slow, dusty, washboard, gravel road and six steep dry wash crossings. The road is primarily flat, grassy plain used by cattle ranchers and, unfortunately, is fairly uninteresting, as many fantastic canyons leading to the Escalante River are hidden from view.

Despite lengthy rides in the car, the road offered spectacular sunsets, starry nights and remote camp- sites. My husband, Dan, found the desert gems a pleasant surprise. Within the desert there were “oases like you wouldn’t believe,” he said.

Our journey ended five miles from the end of Hole in the Rock Road, as we were tired of driving and really wanted to be exploring.


GPS can be unreliable in such remote country. Stop and talk to folks at a visitor center so you know what you’re heading into and whether you and your vehicle can handle it. Rely on good maps or guidebooks and good descriptions rather than GPS. Plus, take plenty of water and food for both camping and hiking! There are no convenience stores or rest areas on Hole in the Rock Road for the entire duration.

For easy to moderate hiking, remarkable slot canyons, arches, desert creeks and waterfalls, check out these three favorite hikes easily accessible off Hole in the Rock Road: Willow Creek Trail to Broken Bow Arch, Zebra Slot Canyon, and Dry Fork Slot Canyons Peek-A-Boo and Spooky. You won’t be disappointed!

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