Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, UT

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Say that three times fast and go! Tricky eh? I was stumbling trying to find the right adjective to describe Grand Staircase-Escalante and the most fitting one I picked was massive. 1,880,461 acres of protected wilderness and it's just, fantastic. Some twenty-years ago, then-President Bill Clinton designated this huge batch of land covering nearly all of southern Utah to remain untouched and preserved. Protected for both conservation and recreational uses. Today, it remains the wide-open doorway to desert exploration. Managed by the Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management, GSENM is also the largest natural monument in the United States. The fun truth of it is, you have to pass through it when you're on Utah's scenic state route 12 in between Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks. It might be the best driving road you'll set wheels on in this country. You'll also be lucky enough to pass through the Dixie National Forest as you leave Capitol Reef National Park.

Get ready for a bliss of nature, jaw-dropping views and crazy elevation. Here's where I'm going to take a moment and get a bit sentimental. As I was driving along state Route 12, in the lush highlands of Utah, time just slowed down to a stop. For that hour-long pass through the Dixie National Forest, I felt free. It was like a complete immersion into outdoor heaven, all right there in front of me. I remember getting out of my car on multiple occasions, walking a bit to a ledge and stopping to stare out onto the distant horizon. I'd just stand there slowly shaking my head in sheer disbelief of how beautiful that treasured land was. The wind blowing, Aspen trees lit up in flaming gold and it was raining just ever so slightly. Open range signs meant cattle straddled across the roads and mule deer grazing the fields stared back at me. Breathtaking. Minutes later the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport I was piloting entered into GSENM.

Inside Grand Staircase-Escalante there's a hike you have to do- the trek to Lower Calf Creek Falls. Located just outside of the towns of Escalante and Boulder, Lower Calf Creek Falls is a 126-ft waterfall that empties out into a hidden oasis awash in sandstone cliffs in this abyss of desert that is GSENM. The trail is a little under 6 miles round trip and takes just two or so hours to do. The trailhead is located at the Calf Creek Campground (free camping is just up the road towards Escalante at site BLM 106). I swear the last like ten minutes of the hike feels like a dream, walking through a tunnel of low hanging aspens, leaves flickering and tall grass until you reach a deep pool at the bottom of the towering waterfall. It's simply gorgeous and like a mirage. The pictures below prove why this hike in the middle of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is worth it.

This whole experience here today has just been heavenly. That's how I'll put it.