“Our parents and grandparents saved the Grand Canyon for us; today, we will save the Grand Escalante Canyons and the Kaiparowits Plateau Of Utah for our children.” President Bill Clinton
On a cloudy January morning, the Perfect Stranger and I left Vermilion Cliffs bound for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Remote and extremely rugged, it’s 1.9 million acres was the last area to be mapped in the continental United States.
Driving north on Highway 89a, we doubled our altitude in less than forty minutes. At 9000 feet, we were greeted by a snowy Kaibab Plateau.
Two days earlier, the Perfect Stranger had driven this stretch of road. In the early morning darkness, the Perfect Stranger negotiated hairpin corners on a highway without guard rails and navigated a terrain that offered no cell phone cell service. Love tends to inspire drastic acts of madness when you miss someone. It had been ten days since our yurt adventure. We both missed each other. No rain, snow, sleet, or ice storm was going to stop the Perfect Stranger from coming to see me.
After a brief stop in Jacob Lake, we rapidly descended the west side of the Kaibab Plateau. Views of Fredonia, Kanab, and St.George, quickly came into view.
Forty miles east of Kanab and twelve miles west of Big Water, lies the unmarked trailhead for Paria Rimrock Toadstools. With no official entrances to the monument; it’s a small parking area on the north side of Highway 89 that identifies the trail.
The Toadstool trail is a 1.7-mile hike through rimrock sandstone, toadstool terraces, and sun-baked eroded badlands.
Differential weathering has created these mushroom-shaped columns, also known as hoodoos.
For the love of hoodoos; the perfect stranger and I spent the afternoon exploring and capturing the magic of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Many tourists focus on visiting Utah’s Mighty Five: Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef. There are many lesser known national monuments and state parks that are overlooked. Grand Staircase-Escalante is a monument not to be missed!
As the Perfect Stranger and I explored off-trail, we were mindful of the cryptobiotic crusts that are prevalent in the area. These crusts often go unnoticed; however, they are vital to the stability of eroded soils and in dry regions that receive minimal precipitation.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton declared Grand Staircase-Escalante a national monument. At the time, it was a very controversial decision; preserving 1.9 million acres versus mining the largest coal field in the country. With an estimated value of one trillion dollars, the debate remains open as to whether the monument has hurt or helped southern Utah’s economy.
After a final glance back at the Paria Rimrock Toadstools, the Perfect Stranger and I headed back to the parking lot. The desert no longer felt mysterious to me; I felt at home. Remote desert landscapes were now a geological postcard that symbolized a friendship that organically morphed into love.
Update: U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, is urging President-elect Donald Trump to abolish national monuments created by Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. The action would be unprecedented. No president in U.S. history has undone the creation of a national monument by a predecessor. Grand Staircase-Escalante is one of the monuments that could lose its protection.