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Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM), UT

Updated: Feb 3, 2021

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) is a United States national monument that originally designated 1,880,461 acres of protected land in southern Utah in 1996. The land is among the most remote in the country; it was the last to be mapped in the contiguous United States.

The monument's size was later reduced in 2017 by a Trump presidential proclamation. Trump ordered the monument's size be reduced by nearly 47 percent to 1,003,863 acres. Conservation, angling, hunting, and outdoor recreation groups have filed suit to block any reduction in the national monument, arguing that the president has no legal authority to materially shrink a national monument.

Even though we only had a few days to explore GSENM which is the size of Delaware, it was worth it. We decided we could always revisit the area on another trip to Utah.

High Style Living

Dave booked us at the Shooting Star RV Resort which features eight custom-designed Hollywood-themed Airstreams as unique accommodations. Each Airstream is decorated to resemble the dressing trailer of a Hollywood Movie Star while they were shooting on location. We stayed in 'Bogie’s Boathouse', which is decorated to resemble Humphrey Bogart’s retreat during the filming of Key Largo with Lauren Bacall. It was a cool place, so check it out

In addition to the RVs, the resort also has a drive-in with vintage 50's and 60's car that you sit in to watch the movie.

Not all timed pictures go as planned; evidenced by my dropped beer that the camera caught perfectly. Take 2 with a new beer.

Lower Calf Creek Falls (6 miles)

Named for its use as a natural pen for calves back in the late 1800's and early 1900's, the creek remained relatively unknown until the formation of the GSENM.

The trail runs through a broad but beautiful canyon and follows the west side of the Calf Creek. Large areas of the trail are covered in reeds, thick grass, and lush greenery - not your typical desert hike. The trail ends at a soaring 126-foot waterfall that emerges from the upper canyon. The falls cascade over a near-vertical cliff face into a large pool that is enclosed on three sides by sheer sandstone walls. Rocks closest to the water and waterfall spray are covered in patches of blue and green algae.

Damn the water was cold!

On Day 2 Dave and I had planned on hiking slot canyons in the area, but unfortunately, we awoke to the sound of rain hitting the trailer roof. One has to be cognizant of the effect that rain at a distance away can cause flooding in a slot canyon miles away. Well, it was on to Plan B.

Burr Trail Scenic Drive

driving route for burr trail from Escalante.  Burr Trail switchbacks
Our route. The area circled in blue is the location of the start of the Burr Trail switchbacks.

The Burr Trail is 66 miles of beautiful, near unparalleled views of GSENM and it provides access to the western boundary of Capitol Reef National Park. We took our time and spend the better part of 6 hours driving, walking, and eating our way through the trail.

We headed north toward Torrey into the higher elevations of GSENM and then into the western boundary of Capitol Reef National Park. We don't consider this an official trip to Capitol Reef since we were basically limited to a drive-through visit.

Next on Burr, was the unpaved Notom-Bullfrog Rd that leads to the Burr switchbacks.

The picture below highlights the 'Waterpocket Fold', one of the most significant geologic features of Capitol Reef National Park. Click here for an explanation of Waterpocket Folds.

Photo courtesy of

Notom-Bullfrog Rd leads to the Burr switchbacks which are quite the driving experience. They are unpaved, involve a greater the 12% incline, and at times are not wide enough for 2 cars to pass one another. So someone is going in reverse if you are unfortunate to meet. We didn't take many pictures since we were preoccupied with staying on the road on this white knuckled drive.

Despite having a Ford truck, several times we had difficulty gaining traction on the climb. What a great way to start, passing a boat on a trailer that had slipped off the road and been left behind by the owner. Not much chance for AAA towing services here.

Dave was not a happy camper when we finally came to a stop at the top of the switchbacks.

A picture of Peek-A-Boo Arch as we were ending our drive through Capitol Reef. The trail ends with a drive through Long Canyon.

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