Grand Staircase - Escalante Nat'l Park
Highway 12, connecting Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks, passes though one of our favorite parts of Utah - Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Not as well known as other national parks in southwest Utah but equally stunning, this is an uncrowded natural area with year-round creeks and accessible canyons for hiking.
Tip: The national monument covers a very large area, almost 2 million acres. On our trip, we explored those things around Highway 12, which extends 120+ miles east-west. Hotels and lodges are available in the small towns of Boulder and Escalante.
Anasazi State Park Museum
- Discover the Anasazi way of life, the ancestral Pueblo people who lived in the area during the 12th century AD. Archeological excavations show that two hundred people lived on this site, hunted wild game, farmed corn and squash, and built stone houses and pit structures. Museum is open daily, closed mid- November to mid-March.
Inside the museum are exhibits about the Anasazi and examples of pottery, jewelry, stone points, knives, spear points, and a replica of a typical underground house, with a ladder through the roof. In front of the museum are picnic tables, grass and trees.
Outside, kids will want to go inside the replica of a life-size Anasazi stone house -the short doorways and six rooms are perfect kid's size. There's also un-reconstructed archeological excavations of the ruins with storage, residential rooms and a pit house.
Burr Trail Road
Turn off Highway 12 for a drive down Burr Trail Rd. to see:
- The "Sugar Loaf" -Drive down the road approximately 1.5 miles (there's a sign for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument). On the west side of the road is a white ridge of Navajo sandstone, once a huge sand dune that was buried, and is now exposed. Kids can get out and run around the smooth stones covered with checkerboard cracks. Wear shoes.
- Deer Creek -7 miles down the road is a little creek, shade trees; it's good place for a picnic, kids can play long the creek. Turn off the road at the campground.
- Slot canyon (Long Canyon) -11 miles down the road is a bridge and the beginning of Long Canyon. Continue .8 mile beyond the bridge, on the left is a turnout, and a small slot canyon. Walk into the slot canyon -it only goes a short distance, but it's an amazing sensation, with vertical red rocks on both sides and only a sliver of light to the sky.
-If you're staying overnight in Boulder, go outside at night and look at the stars. There's no big city lights, and the desert night sky, filled with stars, is timeless and endless.
Lower Calf Creek Falls (Calf Creek Recreational Area) -Take a hike along Calf Creek to a waterfall. It's 3 miles to the falls (6 miles round trip), on a largely level trail. You don't have to hike the whole way to the falls, each part of the canyon is different, so just hike as far as the kid's want to go (there plenty to stop and see on the way).
It's a wonderful hike up Calf Creek Canyon - canyon walls in shades of cream, chocolate, caramel and licorice. The ancient Fremont people farmed, fished and hunted in the canyon, and painted pictographs on the smooth canyon walls. Lined with cottonwood trees, a year round creek flows through the canyon, beavers build their lodges on the banks, and tiny trout swim in the water.
At the beginning of the trail, pick up the trail brochure
that explains 16 numbered stops along the trail:
- Stop #3 has natural sandstone "benches" right next to the trail, perfect size for kids, and in the shade in the morning hours. Take a rest here.
- Stop #12 is a good spot to stop for lunch, right along the creek. There's flat grassy banks, and kids can look for little tiny trout in the clear waters.
Tip: Bring drinking water with you (don't drink the creek water) and pack out all your trash (trash cans are available in the campground, but not along the trail). Wear closed-toed shoes, the trail is soft and dusty.
Escalante Visitor Center
-Check out exhibits about plants, birds, animals of the area, samples of petrified wood, shark's tooth, fossils, bighorn sheep skull, and look at cryptobiotic soil under a microscope.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
-If you haven't seen petrified wood before, be sure to stop here. On the 1 mile Petrified Forest Trail (pick up the brochure at the beginning of the trail) you'll see bright red, yellow and black petrified wood, colorful lichens, black volcanic rocks, dwarf trees that survive with little water. No collecting of any rocks.
This is a good lunch stop with covered picnic tables, and samples of petrified wood in front of the restrooms. Day use fee.