A Monumental Road Trip: Grand Staircase-Escalante

This Spring, my partner and I – along with tens of thousands of Americans – were stunned to watch President Donald Trump sign an Executive Order that could jeopardize one of America’s greatest assets: our national monuments. From Bears Ears to the Statue of Liberty, our national monuments preserve our natural and cultural treasures.

So we decided to take a leap and help defend our national monuments! Over the course of the next few months, we will be visiting threatened national monuments throughout the West.

We want you to come along for the ride. We hope to meet many of the people who worked together to conserve our national heritage along the way. And we hope that you join us in defending our national monuments by making your voices heard here.

A Monumental Road Trip: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument!


“America’s Public Lands Embody Our Common Ground: Heritage, Freedom and Hope for the Future.”

Designated in 1996, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah is a serious powerhouse of amazing vistas, cool landscapes, adventure, science and history. Its designation established it as a monument for scientific research, and the monument continues to wow visitors, provide grand solitude and be a place of novel scientific discovery.

There are over 20,000 archaeological sites in the area. In addition, there are dinosaurs! Twenty-one new dinosaurs have been discovered since 2000. (Sorry, no dinosaur pictures …)

Grand Staircase-Escalante is also home to the Escalante River, one of the last free-flowing rivers in the West. The river felt like the life blood of the monument and has created fantastic washes, canyons and slot canyons that are a joy to explore. While we were there, we traveled to the famous Hole in the Wall Road (it travels from just north of Escalante to Lake Powell) and hiked to Golden Cathedral. It’s a stunning sandstone dome at the end of a narrow canyon with a waterfall that pours through a hole in the ceiling. The hike takes you across high plateau, traverses down a wide canyon to the Escalante river, and then up narrow Neon Canyon. Sitting there looking up at the dome, you can feel the history of the place.

Since President Clinton established the monument in 1996, there has been a continual grumble that the monument has hampered economic growth in the county by closing the area to oil, gas and mineral development. Not surprisingly, the current motivation behind the push to remove or shrink the monument is pressure from the fossil fuel industry.

The reality on the ground was much different. We found that the communities around Grand-Staircase Escalante to be excellent examples of the economic benefit designation of a monument can provide to local communities. Both Boulder and Escalante, Utah, seemed invigorated by the monument. Local businesses have sprouted up clearly as a result of tourist traffic through the area. The Magnolia Street Food bus was parked outside of the visitor’s center and served up killer tacos using local and seasonal ingredients. In addition, one of the best restaurants in America is in Boulder, Utah – Hell’s Backbone Grill & Farm. Blake Spalding, co-owner of Hell’s Backbone, spoke at the This Land is Our Land March in Salt Lake City, UT and extolled the benefits that the monument has brought to the community. We found a similar story in Escalante with cute restaurants, a great natural foods market and tour guide companies. Both communities felt alive and thriving. Nate Waggoner from Escalante Outfitters was recently interviewed on Go West, Young Podcast. He provides a solid local perspective for the economic growth the monument has provided for the local communities. Later, we visited Kanab and saw numerous businesses geared toward the monument there as well.

As the BLM has emphasized about the monument’s archaeological sites, “it is the wholeness of the sites” that makes the monument so valuable. In Red, Passion and Patience in the Desert, Terry Tempest Williams also extolled the monument for its importance as an ecological bridge between National Parks, a bridge between ecological islands. Williams poignantly describes Grand Staircase-Escalante as the “crucial missing puzzle piece that prevents ecological fragmentation.”

Crucially, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument rejoins Bryce National Park to Dixie National Forest and the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area, which then weaves Capitol Reef National Park into Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

I don’t know if it was the river, the spirit of the surrounding communities, the canyons or the red desert, but Grand Staircase-Escalante stole our hearts, and it’s a place to which we will return.

As we travel onto our next national monument, I urge you to please help preserve this incredible national monument.  Visit here to take action!