Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

After our back country excursion to Alstrom Point, I knew I had to explore more of these 4×4 dirt roads. The landscape is so perplexing and surreal that I couldn’t leave the area without delving deeper into Mother Nature’s handy work.

The land here is remote, harsh and unforgiving, and therefore I knew we shouldn’t explore without being prepared. Before embarking on our exploratory excursion into the back country, I made the short drive up to the nearby visitor center located just a few miles north of the Arizona – Utah border in the small town of Big Water, Utah.

Grosvenor Arch

Grosvenor Arch – Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument

Big Water Visitor Center

The visitor center is a worthwhile stop and the staff are a wealth of information regarding everything Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Don’t expect to get BLM info or any other information pertaining to the area outside of Grand Staircase-Escalante. This visitor center is all about the monument.

In the courtyard before entering the building, guests are greeted by a replicated dinosaur dig along with informative educational signs. Inside the visitor center is a large topographic map of the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument, as well as a fascinating dinosaur display complete with pamphlets describing the exact dinosaurs that once roamed the area.

After receiving a map and having all my questions answered regarding the condition of Cottonwood Road, I felt more comfortable about embarking on our trek through the Grand Staircase-Escalante. It also helped that fellow blogger and friend, Sue, had driven this road just a couple of weeks earlier and was able to share additional information.

The drive begins …

The following day, Al and I loaded up the Toyota Tacoma with plenty of food, water and emergency equipment. We knew we’d be traveling through some very remote territory without cell phone connection and running into another vehicle wouldn’t be a common occurrence. Thus, we’d be on our own!

The start of our excursion

From our campsite along the Arizona – Utah border, we traveled northwest via Highway 89 for about 17 miles and then turned north onto Cottonwood Road. The land starts off stark and barren and the road is easily navigated with the exception of some washboard areas.

Paria River valley – here’s some of the washboard road which had our teeth rattling

Eventually, the scenery changes and we rolled into the Paria River valley. Cottonwood trees line the river’s edge and free-ranging cattle dot the landscape.

I found the speed limit signs and the ‘reduced speed’ sign humorous.

A few miles later as the road bends away from the Paria River, the landscape gets barren once again. The road gets rougher, narrower and we spot a sign … Reduced Speed Ahead. After reading that sign, the first thing out of my mouth was, “No sh*t, Sherlock!” Hmm, single lane road made for two-way traffic, a blind curve, and a rutted road … exactly how fast should I go?

Cockscomb range

As we rounded a bend, we were greeted with a perplexing range of hills called the cockscomb. Each mound seems to emulate the crest of a rooster. Therefore, we can see how this range got its name.

Cockscomb

Cockscomb range

Are we there yet?

The landscape seems to go on forever. At this point we’ve driven over twenty miles (from the time we turned off Highway 89 onto Cottonwood Road) and it has taken us somewhere between an hour and a half to two hours to travel that distance and although the land exhibits a raw beauty, I can’t help but feel somewhat disappointed with the scenery.

Finally wowed!

I’m not sure what kind of landscape I was expecting, but a few miles later when we crested a hill, my mouth dropped open. Wow!

cottonwood canyon

Cottonwood Canyon – now this is what I hoped for!

Okay! Now we’re talking drop dead gorgeous mind-boggling landscape. Of course this calls for a photo-op stop … don’tcha think!

In the above photo, at the bottom of the hill is a pull-off to the right for a trailhead called Cottonwood Wash Narrows. I could see portions of the canyon/slot from the road and was tempted to lace up the hiking shoes, but today was about the drive and I made a mental note for a future outing. Although, I think the hike would be better attempted when camping in Kodachrome State Park or any number of options near Highway 12. The drive to the trailhead would be easier and shorter from Highway 12 than driving up from Highway 89.

Crème de le crème

After lingering and savoring this unique sight, it was time to finish those last five miles to set my eyes on the real gem of our journey …. Grosvenor Arch!

It was a Sunday morning and I couldn’t believe our good fortune. We literally had the place to ourselves … that is, until it was time for us to return to the truck. I’ve wanted to see this famous arch ever since I first heard about it seven years ago.

When we visited Bryce Canyon in the past, I attempted to see the arch, but recent rains made the road to Grosvenor Arch impassable. This is another place you’ll want to check on road conditions at the Cannonville visitor center before embarking on the drive. From Kodachrome State Park to the arch is about a 17 mile drive on a gravel road with a small stream crossing.

A stunning state park

And speaking of Kodachrome State Park …. it was near noon by the time I was done photographing Grosvenor Arch and our bellies were growling. What better place to have lunch than at the state park!

I wish we could’ve stayed longer to explore Kodachrome State Park, but we knew we had a long and dusty drive back to camp and didn’t want the day to drag on too long. We enjoyed our lunch at the group picnic area and afterwards strolled the short nature loop taking in the magnificent scenery. This place needs to go on the list of must see places. It is stunningly beautiful!

Cottonwood Road

And then we were on the road again, traveling the return 47 miles back to highway 89. It was a loooong day, but a fantastic day. We encountered few other people traversing Cottonwood Road on a Sunday (April 15, 2018). Although much of the road can be driven with a 2 wheel drive car, there are portions where a higher clearance vehicle would be preferable.

Driving Cottonwood Road through Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument should not be attempted if rain is in the forecast or it has rained the previous days. The road does become impassable even with a 4×4 high clearance vehicle. And do note – a GPS should not be used to help navigate your travels within the monument. You WILL be lead astray.

We are but a minuscule blip in history

Later in the year, I’ll be celebrating a mile-stone birthday, even though I don’t have birthday’s anymore 🤗 It’s a number that has me questioning where has the time gone, but in comparison to this land, I’ve been on this earth but a small faction of time …. a minuscule blip in history.

As I peruse the literature on Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, I read the monument has been quietly doing its thing for 50 million to 275 million years. Who’s the spring chicken now 🤣

This Delaware-sized piece of land is the last part of the lower 48 United States to be surveyed and cartographed. Fossil excavations have yielded more information about changing ecosystems and the end of the dinosaur era more than any other place in the world. This remote unspoiled land is a dream for many: geologists, paleontologists, archeologists, historians, biologists, and tourists like myself.

More than rocks …

Although they are an interesting photographic subject, dead trees are an important part of the desert ecosystem. These dead trees provide nesting habitat for insects, birds, reptiles and rodents. These Junipers also help prevent erosion by holding the soil in place.

dead trees

As trees decompose, they release vital nutrients and minerals back into the soil making it possible for new growth to occur. Mother Nature is a wonder!

Grosvenor Arch

If you’re looking for solitude and quiet recreation amongst an amazing landscape, you’ll find it here in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. But come prepared – the land and weather are harsh and unforgiving, but the beauty is like none other.

The finest workers of stone are not copper or steel tools, but the gentle touches of air and water working at their leisure with a liberal allowance of time – Henry David Thoreau

(affiliate links) These essentials made us feel a little more secure exploring this remote land. Being self-sufficient while exploring the remote back country is vital considering you may not see another vehicle for hours and cell reception is rare. Note – a GPS is not to be trusted in Grand Staircase-Escalante

Viair 40047 Automatic Portable Compressor KitColeman Folding Shovel with Pick
Maxtrax
 Tow Strap
Utah Road & Recreation Atlas

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78 thoughts on “Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

  1. Pingback: Driving the Cottonwood Canyon Road to Grosvenor Arch, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument – David and Keng on the Road

  2. Pingback: Adventures at the Arizona – Utah border | Live Laugh RV

  3. Thanks for the photos and description along the Cottonwood Road drive. We’ll be staying in Kodachrome SP in about a month, but won’t be able to traverse the road (toad is not conducive to off-roading). I think we’ll still have plenty of hiking to do in the park. Always enjoy your blog.

    • Yes, I’m sure you won’t run out of hiking possibilities at Kodachrome. Such a beautiful park. Check with a local ranger about the drive to Grosvenor Arch. We did see cars on the road. Enjoy

  4. Wow, what an incredible day trip with fantastic weather. It’s got to be awesome to venture into raw land and feel the environment as you did. Having that truck makes for good back/dirt road trips. Thanks for sharing and the great pics.

    • My little truck does come in handy. We’re lucky we get to leave it parked at our son’s in Phoenix when it’s not conducive to travel with two trucks. Such amazing land …. boggles the mind!

  5. You have the perfect vehicle for road trips like these! I assume there are no paved roads in this National Monument? The scenery is stunning. And, the best was kept for last. I’ll have to make a note about that state park as well. Hope the winds have settled down the dust! 🙂

    • No, there are no paved roads that I know of in Grand Staircase-Escalante. However, we did see a couple of cars traversing the back country so I know there are parts that Zesty could make…. weather permitting. Sometime you MUST drive Highway 12 in Utah from Torrey to Bryce. Absolutely stunning with so many sights to see!

    • Thank you 😊 There are a few wildflowers here and there but not much this year. AZ has had a VERY dry year and therefore the desert hasn’t bloomed like it normally does.

  6. Sky blue, plus sand and forest green – that’s my favorite color combination because those colors are represented in so many spectacular landscapes. Your photos of Grosvenor Arch are just gorgeous, Ingrid. Although we did visit Kodachrome, we missed Grand Staircase-Escalante due to time constraints. Your photos are doing a wonderful job of convincing me that it’s time for a return trip.

    • Thank you Mary, we were fortunate to have a beautiful day to explore this unspoiled land, and yes, this part of the country requires return visits 😊

  7. Fabulous photos Ingrid! Utah can’t be beat for the combination of red rock and, blue skies, and billowy clouds. Makes for some dreamy photos, doesn’t it?

  8. Wow wow wow !!!! Thanks for posting that trip in detail with some great photos. I wonder how many turn around someway before they get toward the end where the best scenery is ?? Another place added to my list to visit.

    • Nice to hear from you Steve. Yes, this is ‘wow’ country and photographs do not capture the truly perplexing and beautiful scenery. It’s one of those things I recommend seeing in person. And overnighting in the backcountry is allowed with a free permit. Al and I have even talked about digging out our tenting gear for a future trip, but be careful …. the weather can get brutal and dangerous.

  9. A big WOW, driving on Cottonwood remained a dream until you drove it for us. I am with you that scenery is drop-dead gorgeous. Not only that, the blue sky and clouds made your photograph more interesting. We enjoyed hiking at Kodachrome twice! Yup, you need to stay at that state park and your really nice camera will be busy. Another great post!

    • You could easily drive Cottonwood Road with your CRV, weather permitting that is. I was very fortunate with the tufts of white clouds over Grosvenor Arch which lasted all of maybe five minutes. Timing is everything with photography, isn’t it! Utah is a state I can see myself visiting time and again. The scenery never gets old!

    • With your truck camper, you MUST spend an overnight or two in the back country. The night skies are to die for along with sunrises and sunsets. It’s times like these that we miss our truck camper and the ability to get into the hinterland with comforts. Please email me if you’d like any suggestions. Enjoy!

  10. It’s always just abit nerve wracking going into the back of beyond, without communication, and where little traffic will go. Brave you. But then when you get to where you want to go – it was clearly worth what would have been a white knuckled, breath holding trip (for me anyway).

    • This was definitely not a white knuckle excursion for me … add in some sheer drops, now we’re talking white knuckles. For the most part, the road was easily traversed and we did see a few other vehicles on the excursion. So not too bad. The scenery was so worth the drive 😊

  11. After viewing your blog it’s more convincing that I should make the trip over there. Is 4-wheel drive car a must? I skirted the area 2-3 times but never made it there.

    • No, 4-wheel isn’t necessary. I never once felt a need to pop the truck into 4. There are some steep grades and washboard areas, but be forewarned, do not attempt driving this road if it is going to rain or it has rained in the previous 2-3 days. We could easily see a bunch of places where the road would become impassable due to water. If you start the trek from Hwy 89 I would call the visitor center in Big Water to double check the road condition. If coming from Hwy 12, check with the visitor center in Cannonville.

  12. Your photos of Grosvenor Arch are fantastic! Definitely on our list. We love Kodachrome State Park and stayed there for several nights a few years ago. So remote, and so beautiful. We’re hoping to travel that route in the fall.

    • Thank you Laurel. I had the perfect day to photograph the arch. Al and I keep extending our stay here in Page and have already talked about returning in September. We’ll see … I have a bunch of other areas on my list still to explore and if I keep returning to old stomping grounds, I’ll never get those places checked off 🤗. Amazing how certain places call us back.

  13. Wow. No cell service OR reliable GPS??? You mean I’d have to use a paper map??? What kind of insanity is this???? Looks awesome though! Kodachrome State Park is already on the agenda for our upcoming swing through Utah… At some point I need to stop adding to that list. We’re not gonna have time to sleep….

    • Don’t plan on sleeping in Utah! So much mind-boggling scenery to photograph and explore. Piece of advice – don’t buy alcohol in Utah … stock up in AZ. And brush up on you paper map skills 🤣

  14. We haven’t been there since the kids were small, almost 20 years ago. We did camp at Kodachrome and did several shorter hikes. For some reason I don’t remember G Arch. Maybe it was a longer hike? Would love to do that slot hike. Puttin it on the list for next year! Thanks for the gorgeous pictures and info!

    • Grosvenor Arch is a 17 mile gravel road drive away from Kodachrome and the road isn’t always passable – steep grades and a stream crossing. Once at the arch, there’s hiking around but seems pretty easy. I’ve got a few more hikes to write about … so stay tuned!

  15. Great post Ingrid! Grand Staircase-Escalante is one of our favorite places. Loved the photos as usual. We were fortunate enough to tent camp there for a week and hike several slot canyons a few years ago. You and Al would probably like the Comb Ridge and Butler Wash area near Blanding Utah too. There is a great campground and Boondocking close by.

    • Thanks Jeanette. I knew you two would be a wealth of information for the area. Hope we can connect sometime to swap notes. Looks like you had a great time in Hawaii and now it’s time to explore more of the lower 48.

  16. We have made two attempts to get this arch from both ends, one year from Kodachrome (it started to rain) and the other from Page (after a wet winter, the road was washed out in several places and closed). One day we WILL get there!! Too bad we didn’t end up making the trip to Wahweep this year because this journey was on my list and we would have been successful. Oh, well! Love you photo of the arch.

    Kodacrome SP is a great place to hike with such beautiful scenery. We’ve never stayed there but have checked out the campground which is very nice. Yes, put it on your list!

    • Yeah, it’s easy to see how the road can be impassible. The area hadn’t had rain in a week, so we jumped at the opportunity to drive Cottonwood Road and it did not disappoint. Wish you guys had joined everyone at Wahweap. You were missed, but I can see how that small purchase (rather purchases) might take precedence. I know you’ll enjoy the change up in travel 😊

  17. Glad you made that drive. We really loved it. I think the WOW scenery near the end was made even more fabulous by the more drap colors and plan shapes that came before it. Following those kinds of roads is our number one favorite thing to do. You must move slowly along them which leads to all sorts of revelations. We both laugh when we see speed limit signs on back roads! They seem pretty unnecessary to me!

    • With me and my camera, there’s always lots of stopping involved. So we know the day will be long. I love my Tacoma, but there are times she still sits a little too low for some of the more extreme back roads. We may need to join the ranks of Jeep owners yet 😁

  18. We spent Easter weekend at Wahweep, and drove North on 89 heading for our Sticks and Bricks home in Ogden Utah. Passed right by Grand Staircase Escalante Turn off. Time constraintes, did not permit stopping. We will probably return sometime this summer.
    Mel

    • It’ll be quite hot visiting this area in the summer, but perfect boating weather on Lake Powell. Hopefully you’ll be able to visit longer on your next trip to the area.

  19. Great recap of the area. We visited that area a few months ago and the geology and colours are definitely jaw dropping! That’s why Utah is our favourite state visited to date. Safe travels!

    • Utah is a favorite of mine as well. No other state offers such raw unspoiled unique beauty. Fascinating, perplexing and stunning all at the same time. We’re already talking about a return visit!

  20. Wow Ingrid, what an incredible place to spend some time exploring! I had not heard of this area, but will be sure to add it to my never ending list of places to see! Have loved reading about your experience!

      • I love it! I remember at Anza Borrego Desert State Park in California we went to the far south end. It was what seemed like an endless vista to the far horizon, and literally we could not hear “anything” while we stood there. No planes, no cars, nothing but silence. It was stunning.

  21. WOW!!! Wish we had had time to make that drive…..just one of many reasons to come back. Great photos of some beautiful scenery. Loved hiking at Kodachrome SP a few years ago. Hey it’s not Sunday, you have two posts in one week.

    • You could easily do this drive in the big truck. It was a long day and even so, I really considered a stroll through Cottonwood Wash Narrows. It was hard to pass by.

      Yeah, thought I’d throw you off and add a post on a Wednesday 😆

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