I had the privilege to spend quite a bit of time in the area of Grand Staircase Escalante during my time in the area of Bryce Canyon. In fact, my entry from Capitol Reef to Bryce took me through a large section of the Grand Staircase, my campground in Cannonville was within the boundaries of the Monument, and in the end, I opted to postpone my visit to Zion until my spring trip in order to spend more time in the Grand Staircase area explore the land and talking to the people as the potential cuts to this particular monument are being decided as we speak. There is so much diversity of geography, stunning land forms, variety of recreation with which to partake, wildlife habitat and Native American history within the borders of this designated space that belongs to us (for the moment), the American people. From hiking to fly fishing, rafting to climbing, biking to off-roading, or just enjoying the scenery and learning of the history and heritage, Grand Staircase has it all in spades! If my entry into the area days before wasn't breathtaking enough along the climbing curves of scenic route 12, I spent 4 nights camping ending my day with my sunset view looking out over the beautiful buttes and rolling hills of this monument. I couldn't wait to delve deeper into the highlights this monument had to offer and especially to talk with the people connect to it.
Impressed, blown away, visually overwhelmed? None of these descriptions express my reaction to the geographical wonders I saw in the Grand Staircase Escalante. In fact, if I take all the blow away sites I had seen in the last 4 National Parks I had visited in the 10 days prior to exploring Escalante, the Grand Staircase had ALL of those features combined together in one place - natural bridges, arches, hoodoos, spires, buttes, slot canyons, river gorges, waterfalls, petroglyphs, and the list goes on....and I only had 2 days to explore!!! This is a wonderland for both the outdoor enthusiast and the content observer of natural beauty. As an artist, photographer and explorer, I have a foot in each of these camps so to speak...so for me, it was the best of the best (and bonus - no crowds or parking lots to navigate!) This is a bucket list item for any and everyone to see and experience - WRITE IT DOWN - and a worthy cause to save from sell off and oil exploration which is the proposed plan by Secretary Zinke! From the scenic vistas off of Route 12, to Devil's Garden, Coyote Gulch, Hole in the Rock, and Grosvenor Arch. There is so much here to see and do, that it is a must return for me to see more and spend more time with the people of this area.
Speaking of the people, they are the crown jewel in the crown that is the Grand Staircase Escalante. Knowing that this was one of the major monuments that potentially is on the chopping block based on Sec. Zinke's recommendations to the president, I made it a priority to spend time talking to locals, business owners, travelers and rangers to find out how they felt about this issue and how it could and will impact them and this place. I wasn't quite sure how people would respond to my questioning, but people were quick to open up in a passionate way (many"off the record" though I'm not a reporter...so names are being with held) The locals especially are fervently passionate to save this place and preserve it for the public, for future generations, for the geological and cultural heritage it contains, AND for their livelihoods that depend upon it. The town of Escalante (pop. 850) is the largest town within the boundaries of the Monument as well as within 70 miles in any direction. This tiny ranching town is a thriving mecca for tourists and adventurers exploring the Grand Staircase area and have developed a charming little community of restaurants, shops, guided tours, equipment rentals, inns and camping to accommodate the visitors to the area. The designation of this Monument has dramatically changed the fabric of this town and their lives. This is also the case on a smaller scale of other bordering towns in the area.
The people of Escalante are passionately fighting for their monuments designation status and everywhere you go there are signs, stickers, shirts and constant conversation about the topic - "Save the Staircase", "I Stand with Grand Staircase", etc... They are knowledgeably informed on the topic and can and will hold deep conversation with you and each other about the state of the matter, the lack of leadership, the deceit and lies in the supposed impact report and what the true impacts of this proposed cut to their lives, the people, the land, and the greater Utah population. The biggest question that arose several times was why didn't anyone come here to investigate, why were communities like Escalante not part of the potential 'Impact Report" when their entire livelihood depends on this designation? The frustration and despair in the tenor of peoples voices as they speak is palpable as they feel abandoned, without a voice in government or elsewhere to hear them, yet they press on and stand up to protect their place. I was most impressed with the people who run the awesome get anything one stop shop of Escalante Outfitters where you can get any kind of quality gear and clothing you may need, book a fly fishing guide, a cabin if needed and come in any time of day for coffee and breakfast or beer and wood oven pizza! The owners, workers and patrons here were amazing to talk to and passionate about their Staircase.
They are most encouraged by the outsiders like me, many from the east coast or California that are voicing their support, donating funds, making trips out to visit and support the cause and the economy which helps fuel them to keep fighting, keep calling, keep on....From 2000 miles away back in Vermont, reading about the plight of places like Grand Staircase Escalante saddened and frustrated me enough to push me the last vital step to taking the leap of faith, donning my courage, silencing my fears, and climbing into my Jeep for over a month of roughing it to see, hear, and record these places with my own eyes and ears. But being with these people and seeing their anger, fear, and despair for my self, walking these trails with my own boot-clad feet with the wind and sun on my face is a radically different experience. I've moved from saddened to enraged, from frustrated to embroiled, and from motived to impassioned to carry the torch, share the beauty and tell the stories of the Grand Staircase on other nationally designated places that belong to US....were protected by people who came before us for US, and need to continue to be protected BY US. I may be back in Vermont, but will continue my part with my one voice and my paintbrush and camera to spread the word to others like you about these places.
That is all for today, as I settle back into life here at home - paintings to finish from the road, another blog post to get out to you tomorrow on Black Canyon of the Gunnison and a surprise visit with a PFP donor :) and continuing work to help protect these places and share my project - until tomorrow...