Posts Tagged ‘grand staircase-escalante national monument’

“Perfect is overrated.” – Tina Fey

Burr Trail switchbacks through Waterpocket Fold on the back way to Capital Reef National Park.


Back when I was an environmental reporter for the Standard-Examiner in Ogden, Utah, there was an ongoing battle about what Southern Utah wilderness areas should be protected. One of the battle issues involved the Burr Trail that begins in the small, off-the-beaten-track town of Boulder. The four-wheel drive, mostly unpaved road takes adventurers through a spectacular landscape to Capital Reef National Park and/or Lake Powell’s Bullfrog Marina in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Hoodoos at sunrise in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

I’ve driven the trail twice, once just for the sightseeing, then again with a photographer for a newspaper story shortly after the area was included as part of The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that was designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996 – and more recently in 2020 reduced in size by the current man in charge at the White House.

Today, the first 30 miles of the 69-mile or so backroad is paved, which is more than when I traveled it.

I still remember those journeys vividly. Being away from all signs of human activity, surrounded by Mother Nature’s works untouched by development without even the mechanical hum of a refrigerator was soul renewing

I remember stopping at one breathtaking view and getting out of the vehicle to take it all in. It was one of those moments in my life when I felt I was exactly where I should be exactly when I should be.

Those moments have been rare, as I spent most of my life racing from one place to the next, hurrying to meet the expectations of both myself and others. I’ve met about half of those expectations, but until this season of my life never stopped to appreciate the outcomes.

While I don’t like the current social isolation so many of us are experiencing, I do like this quieter winter of my years. It has become the season for me to both learn new things, because I have time to read and study, and to make sense of my own history.

Each day I create a to-do list of more things I want to accomplish before day’s end than there are minutes and hours to accomplish. Thus, I have a starting point and a reason to wake up the next morning.

But when I first started this habit more than a half century ago, I actually expected to complete all the many listed tasks and heartily berated myself for failing. Foolish me!

Having accepted my limitations is why I copied the following quote by Dorothy Gillman in my journal when I came across it not too long ago while reading her memoir A New Kind of Country.

“… all of must grow inside or die, that it’s given to us to live, not on a straight line but a line that slants upwards, so that at the end, having begun at Point A, we may have reached, not Z, but certainly an ascension to I or J.”

I’m not sure I would have understood those words in my younger years. I guess it was the right time for me to read them. Just as the 1990s’ were the right time for me to drive the Burr Trail and explore the Grand Staircase – Escalante National Monument, which I hope still belongs to all Americans when our children’s children are old enough to appreciate public lands.

Bean Pat: To all the utility workers in Tucson who got our power back on after the wind storm this week, and to all the others out there who continue to work at risk to themselves during this coronavirus pandemic, and to all those out in public who wear masks to keep not just themselves but others safe.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion, Scamp. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder, Lonely Planet Community Pathfinder, Story Circle Network board member, author of Travels with Maggie available on Amazon, and is always searching for life’s silver lining.

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“We must go beyond textbooks, go out into the bypaths and untrodden depths of the wilderness and travel and explore and tell the world the glories of our journey.” John Hope Franklin

The Four Hoodoos in Devil’s Garden. — Wikimedia photo

Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument 

It was an April day in 1997, just a few months after the creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I was on assignment as a reporter to write a story about this wild Southern Utah Landscape. And for four days, I wandered through its nearly 2 million acres* of mostly wild, uninhabited lands.

The explorations included a drive on the then unpaved Burr Trail, about which I wrote about the impressive silence away from the hum of refrigerators. Another day, I drove the Hogsback stretch of Highway 12, which some have called the most beautiful road in America. The Hogsback portion follows a narrow high mesa flanked by deep canyons on either side. If you’ve ever driven it you can never forget it.

It was an amazing journey and I was one lucky reporter to have been assigned to write about this magnificent landscape.

Metate Arch in Devil’s Garden. — Wikimedia photo

This day, my last before heading back to Ogden in Northern Utah, found me in a place called Devil’s Garden, located off Highway 12 about 17 miles southeast of Escalante. Except for the photographer accompanying me on this assignment, and he was off somewhere on his own, I was alone in this isolated place of strange red rock formations.

There was a slight breeze that made the day a bit too cool in the shade, and a hot sun above that made it a bit too warm outside of it. The undersides of the few fluffy clouds overhead were pin-tinged, a reflection from the red rocks, I assumed. The shadows among the rock formations were deep as if holding a mystery that demanded to be explored..

Occasionally I would hear a bird chirp, but mostly it was silent. It was peaceful. I was content. All the cares of the world, my hectic life, my worries. The didn’t exist. It’s nice to go back to that place every once in a while — if only in my memories.

*In 2017, President Trump reduced the size of the Grand-Staircase Escalante Monument to 1.3 million acres

Bean Pat: Derby Poo Ponds http://www.10000birds.com  A great place to find birds.

Pat Bean is a retired journalist who lives in Tucson with her canine companion Pepper. She is a wondering-wanderer, avid reader, enthusiastic birder and is always searching for life’s silver lining. Check out her book Travels with Maggie, available on Amazon, to learn more. She can be reached at patbean@msn.com

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 “I have a theory about the human mind. A brain is a lot like a computer. It will only take so many facts, then it will go on overload and blow up.” — Erma Bombeck

Looking down from the Hogsback, the Escalante River snakes a path of greeness through the rocky landscape. -- Photo by Pat Bean

Travels With Maggie

Heading southwest out of Boulder from Highway 12’s junction with the Burr Trail, you’ll pass the entrance to Utah’s Anasazi State Park and Museum.

It’s a protective home for an Indian village occupied between approximately AD 1050 and AD 1200. It’s a fascinating place to visit for archeological and history buffs and shouldn’t be passed by. While that’s exactly what I did this day, I had spent time in the museum and in the Coombs Site Indian ruins here on previous visits to the area. Check it out at: http://tinyurl.com/3wzmn6z

Just a little ways farther down the road and I was on the section of Highway 12 known as the Hogsback, although some people refer to it as Knife’s Edge, which seems quite appropriate.

Looking back as Highway 12 leads onto the Hogsback. -- Photo by Pat Bean

This section of Highway 12, which 70 years ago opened up Boulder to the more civilized world, travels along a high narrow ridge with steep cliffs on both sides. There is not a single spot along the highway that doesn’t offer magnificent views.

But since it’s narrow enough in some places to see down both sides of its 2,000-foot high cliffs at the same time while driving, for safety’s sake I did most of my gawking at pullouts.

The first time I crossed this amazing landscape was when I was visiting Escalante in the late 1970s and a local was showing me the sights. I was quite impressed – and the amazed emotions haven’t dimmed with the years.

Since leaving Boulder, I had been traveling through the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is spread across nearly 2 million acres of Southern Utah.

Its creation in 1996 by Democratic President Bill Clinton, who announced the gigantic news in Arizona with the widowed wife, Norma Mattheson, of Utah’s former Democratic governor, Scott Mattheson, did not sit well with the state’s then Republican administration, nor the state’s large anti-environmentalist segment.

The controversy was a boon, however, for this  environmental reporter who was thrown into the thick of the battles.

In the end, at least in my opinion, the protection of these awesome lands has benefited the state greatly with increased tourism in an area where jobs were scarce, and with transfer/trades of lands elsewhere to the state that have been more profitable in providing income for Utah’s school system.

Calf Creek Falls, worth the 6-mile round-trip hike. -- Photo by Scott Catron

 Escalante had certainly grown since my last visit about eight years ago, I noticed as I entered this town named after a Franciscan missionary who was the first to explore the area. And why not? It’s situated in some of the best scenery and hiking trails you’ll find anywhere in North America.

One of my favorites is the six-mile round-trip hike to Calf Falls,whose trailhead I had passed before entering Escalante. It has been a long time since I had seen the falls, but I could still recall the thrill at the end of three miles, mostly on a sandy path, of coming upon the 125-foot waterfall beneath which lay an inviting pool and shade trees.

Egads! Here I’ve covered only 27 miles of driving in today’s blog, and already I’m in past-and-present landscape brain overload.

Highway 12 will do that to you. And there’s more to come – tomorrow.

*Continuing Day 11 of the journey, April 29, 2011

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