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The Monument stretches from the towns of Big Water, Glendale and Kanab, Utah on the southwest, to the towns of Escalante and Boulder on the northeast. Encompassing 1.9 million acres, the monument is slightly larger in area than the state of Delaware.
The western part of the Monument is dominated by the Paunsaugunt Plateau and the Paria River, and is adjacent to Bryce Canyon National Park. This section shows the geologic progression of the Grand Staircase.
The center section is dominated by a single long ridge, called Kaiparowits Plateau from the west, and called Fifty-Mile Mountain when viewed from the east. Fifty-Mile Mountain stretches southeast from the town of Escalante to the Colorado River in Glen Canyon. The eastern face of the mountain is a steep, 2200 foot (650 m) escarpment. The western side (the Kaiparowits Plateau) is a shallow slope descending to the south and west.
East of Fifty Mile Mountain are the Canyons of the Escalante. The Monument is bound by Glen Canyon National Recreation Area on the east and south. The popular hiking and backpacking areas include the Canyons of the Escalante, shared with Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Skutumpah and Cottonwood Roads. Highlights include the slot canyons of Peekaboo, Spooky and Brimstone Canyons, Bull Valley Gorge, Willis Creek, Lick Wash and the backpacking areas of lower Coyote Gulch and of Harris Wash.
The Hole-in-the-Rock Road extends southeast from the town of Escalante, along the base of Fifty Mile Mountain. It is important in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the settlements of southeast Utah, including Bluff, as well as providing access to the Canyons of the Escalante, and to the flat desert at the base of Fifty Mile Mountain that is used for grazing cattle.
The Monument is managed by the Bureau of Land Management rather than the National Park Service. This was the first National Monument managed by the BLM. Visitor centers are located in Cannonville, Big Water, Escalante, and Kanab.
Since 2000, numerous dinosaur fossils over 75 million years old have been found at Grand Staircase-Escalante.
In 2002, a volunteer at Grand Staircase-Escalante discovered a 75 million-year-old dinosaur near the Arizona border. On October 3, 2007, the dinosaur's name, Gryposaurus monumentensis (hook-beaked lizard from the monument) was announced in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society. G. monumentensis was at least 30 feet (9.1 m) long and 10 feet (3.0 m) tall, and has a powerful jaw with more than 800 teeth. Many of the specimens from the Kaiparowits Formation are reposited at the Utah Museum of Natural History.
Two ceratopsid (horned) dinosaurs, also discovered at Grand Staircase-Escalante, were introduced by the Utah Geological Survey in 2007. They were uncovered in the Wahweap formation, which is just below the Kaiparowits formation where the duckbill was extracted. They lived about 80 million or 81 million years ago. The two fossils are called the Last Chance skull and the Nipple Butte skull. They were found in 2002 and 2001, respectively.
Humans didn't settle permanently in the area until the Basketmaker III Era, somewhere around AD 500. Both the Fremont and ancestral Puebloan people lived here; the Fremont hunting and gathering below the plateau and near the Escalante Valley, and the ancestral Puebloans farming in the canyons. Both groups grew corn, beans, and squash, and built brush-roofed pithouses and took advantage of natural rock shelters. Ruins and rock art can be found throughout the Monument.
The first record of white settlers in the region dates from 1866, when Captain James Andrus led a group of cavalry to the headwaters of the Escalante River. In 1871 Jacob Hamblin of Kanab, on his way to resupply the second John Wesley Powell expedition, mistook the Escalante River for the Dirty Devil River and became the first Anglo to travel the length of the canyon.
In 1879 the San Juan Expedition crossed through the Monument on their way to a proposed Mormon colony in the far southeastern corner of Utah. Traveling on a largely unexplored route, the group eventually arrived at the 1200-foot (400 m) sandstone cliffs that surrounded Glen Canyon. They found the only breach for many miles in the otherwise vertical cliffs, which they named Hole-in-the-Rock. The narrow, steep, and rocky crevice eventually led to a steep sandy slope in the lower section and eventually down to the Colorado River. With winter settling in, the company decided to go forward, down the crevice, rather than retreat. After six weeks of labor, including excavation and the use of explosives to shift rock, they rigged a pulley system to lower their wagons and animals down the resulting road and off the cliff. There they built a ferry, crossed the river and climbed back out through Cottonwood Canyon on the other side.
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