Escalante, Utah – A nature preserve at its beginning

Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument is one of the youngest and at the same time largest nature preserves in the USA. It doesn’t protect a certain nature phenomenon, but a huge, untouched and inaccessible area with a multitude of climatic zones and nature wonders. Canyons, arches, natural bridges, petroglyphs, Anasazi ruins, waterfalls, and slot canyons are found between desert and alpine mountains. The monument got its name thanks to a coloured terraced cliff landscape in the southwest and on the other hand Escalante River that conferred its name on the former Mormon settlement as well. The region was one of the last in the United States to be mapped, and Escalante River one of the last important rivers to be discovered. One of former president Bill Clinton’s last important official actions in 1996 was to pass the law that put this area under conservation. For the first time the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) was given the task of managing the park instead the National Park Service. Until today there are no continuously paved roads, no scenic drive, no campgrounds in the park inside, and nearly no restrooms in Grand Staircase – Escalante; what at the same time holds the particular attraction of this complimentary accessible area. Perhaps it has a chance to survive this way and not be “loved to death” like the other parks.

Infrastructure is limited to Escalante Town and surroundings, where the most important visitor centre is situated. Here we get maps, descriptions to the mostly not marked hiking possibilities, a permit for backcountry camping and other essential information: Most hiking paths are not recommended now since they request walking through rivers up to a mile. Nobody detracts us from doing so, but since crossing the icy pond in Arches NP I am satisfied with bathing in ice-water for this winter. Some of the best spots are accessible without getting wet feet anyway. The well-known Hole-in-the-Rock Road (# 200) in the east of the park where to find many attractions is passable. Unfortunately the heavy rainfalls and flash floods in September and October also caused heavy damages in this area: All tracks in the park’s centre as the popular Cottonwood Road (# 400) or the Alvey Wash Road / Smoky Mountain Road (# 300) are impassable and couldn’t be redone due to the continuous soil moisture. A re-opening before spring 2011 is out of the question. We could try the Skutumpah Road / Johnson Canyon Road (# 500 / 501), but the rangers aren’t sure (always these experiments).

Initially we have to do some essential things in Escalante Town like taking fuel, buying food, changing engine oil, visiting a laundry, getting internet access. The town is distinctively sweet and festively decorated, seems to be neat, and the people are very likeable.

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