Visiting Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument
Visitors to the southwestern United States flock to a small group of national parks situated in Arizona and Southern Utah.
In 2016, the last year where records are available, Grand Canyon National Park saw nearly 6,000,000 visitors, while Zion National Park had more than 4.2 million visitors.
Other well-known parks, such as Arches and Capital Reefn had more than 1,000,000 visitors each.
However, other portions of the two states, including several national parks are much less visited.
Saguaro National park saw just 820,426 visitors in 2016 despite being located within 20 miles of Tuscon with more than a half million in population.
Other national parks and monuments, which are located further from major cities, have even fewer visitors.
One national monument, which has been in the news of late, is Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Located in southern Utah, in 2016 the monument covered more than 1.9 million acres of public land.
That is no longer true, as President Trump recently signed an executive order dramatically scaling back the size of the monument.
As with most discussions about federal land use there are two sides to the story.
Utah's Kane and Garfield counties have had chronically high unemployment as well as seeing attendance at rural schools decline since the monument was established by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
Much of the population of the two Utah counties have long decried government intervention as the primary reason for stagnant economies and have asked for deregulation of at least part of the land.
Major deposits of coal in the region sit undeveloped, and local politicians hope the recent change will spur economic development.
At the same time, tribal leaders in the area have asked for even more land to be set aside as national monuments. Together with environmentalists, those tribal leaders are lobbying to have the monument returned to it's former size.
At this point in time, no one knows exactly what the impact of Trump's executive order will be.
In the short term, it is unlikely that his order will spur economic development, and it is unclear what impact it may have, good or bad on the local economy.
All this to say that Grand Staircase-Escalante is one of my favorite places to visit when touring the Southwest.
The monument saw 923,236 visitors in 2016, however, many of those visits were locals on day trips.
I have visited the monument twice, both times in November. Not the peak season for the national parks that the monument is sandwiched between, but a perfect time to visit the monument.
November is generally not too hot, and the weather, although chilly in the mornings, is often pleasant by mid-day.
Portions of the monument are internationally known for their photo opportunities and as a result of fears of overuse, those portions have limited entry.
The famous Wave, and White Pocket formations both require a limited entry permit.
A handful of those permits can be reserved in advance, while the majority are given out on a lottery system on the day for which the permit is requested.
Visitors sign in and wait in a room while waiting to see if they get lucky and get one of the permits.
Both the Wave and White Pocket are areas that I would love to photograph. However, with limited time to vacation, I have chosen to skip waiting in line and instead visit less well-known portions of the monument.
One such area is the Toadstool Hoodos. Located near Badwater, Utah, the Toadstools are accessible from a roadside trailhead.
The trailhead features a gravel parking lot, with no restroom facilities.
After signing the trail registry, visitors walk up a dry wash to reach the Hoodoos.
There is no shade or water on the 1.6-mile out-and-back trail to the Toadstools, or balanced rocks, some of which are more than 20 feet high.
Should you chose to visit Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, some research is needed as most of the monument is remote and is reached either by hiking, or off of rough, poorly maintained side roads.
Despite the difficulties accessing portions of the monument, it is well worth the time and effort to visit.