Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, encompassing 1.7 million acres (700,000 ha) of public lands on the Colorado Plateau in south-central Utah, was created on September 18, 1996, by presidential proclamation under authority of the Antiquities Act of 1906 (34 Stat. 225, 16 U.S.C. 431). The U.S. Department of the Interior had first recommended the creation of the Escalante National Monument along the Colorado and Green Rivers in 1936. In 1937, Capitol Reef National Monument was established in the area northeast of the Escalante Canyons along the upper portion of Waterpocket Fold. In 1941, the National Park Service studied the basin in conjunction with a comprehensive study of water resources in the Colorado River Basin. The study, published in 1946, identified the Aquarius Plateau/Escalante River Basin as "a little known, but potentially important recreation area." The area was recognized as a strategic link between the national parks in southwestern Utah and the canyon country of southeastern Utah.
A national monument is the designation given to a particular area to protect "historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and objects of historic or scientific interest that are situated upon the lands owned or controlled by the government of the United States." President Theodore Roosevelt exercised this authority to ensure protection for the Grand Canyon. More than 100 national monuments have been established by Presidents over the past 90 years, including Zion, Bryce Canyon, Glacier Bay, Death Valley, and Grand Teton. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was dedicated from the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, and no elected official from Utah was at the ceremony because of the controversy in Utah about the monuments designation.
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument was created to preserve geological, paleontological, archaeological, biological, and historical features of the area. Geological features include clearly exposed stratigraphy and structures. The sedimentary rock layers are relatively undeformed and unobscured by vegetation, providing a view to understanding of the processes of the formation of the earth. A wide variety of geological formations in colors such as red, pink, orange, and purple have been exposed by millennia of erosion . The monument contains significant portions of a vast geological stairway, which was named the Grand Staircase by the geologist Clarence Dutton. This stairway rises 5,500 ft (1,678 m) to the rim of Bryce Canyon in an unbroken sequence of cliffs and plateaus. The monument also includes the canyon country of the upper Paria Canyon system, major components of the White and Vermillion Cliffs and associated benches, and the Kaiparowits Plateau. The Kaiparowits Plateau includes about 1,600 mi2 (2, 574 km2)of sedimentary rock and consists of south-to-north ascending plateaus or benches, deeply cut by steep-walled canyons. Naturally burning underground coal seams have changed the tops of the Burning Hills to brick-red. A major landmark, the East Kaibab Monocline, or Cockscomb, is aligned with the Paunsaugant, Sevier, and Hurricane Faults, which may indicate that it may also be a fault at depth. The Circle Cliffs, which features intensively colored red, orange, and purple mounds and ledges at the base of the Wingate Sandstone Cliffs, are one of the most distinctive landscapes of the Colorado Plateau. Inclusion of part of the Waterpocket Fold completes the protection of this geologic feature, which was begun with the establishment of the Capitol Reef National Monument in 1936. There are many arches and natural bridges within the monument boundaries, including the 130-ft (39.4-m) high Escalante Natural Bridge, with a 100-ft (30.3-m) span and the Grosvenor Arch, a double arch. The upper Escalante Canyons, in the northeastern part of the monument, include several major arches and bridges and geological features in narrow, serpentine canyons, where erosion has exposed sandstone and shale deposits in colors of red, maroon, brown, tan, gray, and white.
Paleontological features include petrified wood, such as large unbroken logs more than 30 ft (9 m) in length. The stratigraphy of the Kaiparowits Plateau provides one of the best and most continuous records of the paleontology of the late Cretaceous Era. Fossils of marine and brackish water mollusks, turtles, crocodiles , lizards, dinosaurs, fishes, and mammals (including a marsupial primitive mammal) have been recovered from the Dakota, Tropic Shale, and Wahweap Formations and the Tibbett Canyon, Smoky Hollow, and John Henry members of the Straight Cliffs Formation.
Archeological inventories show extensive use of places within the monument by Native American cultures. Recorded sites include rock art panels, occupation sites, rock shelters, campsites, and granaries.
Historical evidence indicates that the monument was occupied by both Kayenta and Fremont agricultural cultures for a period of several hundred years centered around a.d. 1100. The area has been used by modern tribal groups, including the Southern Paiute and the Navajo. In 1872, an expedition of John Wesley Powell did initial mapping and scientific field work in the area. The expedition discovered the Escalante River, naming it in honor of the Friar Silvester Valez de Escalante expedition of 1776. The Escalante River Canyons have been a major barrier to east-west travel in the region in historic times. The river is presently bridged only at its upper end. Early Mormon pioneers left many historic objects, including trails, inscriptions, ghost towns such as the Old Paria townsite (built in 1874 and abandoned in 1890), rock houses, cowboy camps, and they built the Hole-in-the Rock Trail in 1879–1880 as part of their colonization activities. Sixty miles (96.6 km) of the Hole-in-the-Rock Trail are within the monument, as well as Dance Hall Rock, used by Mormon pioneers for meetings and dances, and now a National Historic Site.
As a biological resource, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument spans five life zones, from low-lying desert to coniferous forest . Remoteness, limited travel corridors, and low visitation have helped to preserve the ecological features, such as areas of relict vegetation, many of which have existed since the Pleistocene. Pinonjuniper communities containing trees up to 1,400 years old and relict sagebrush-grass park vegetation can be found on No Man's Mesa, Little No Man's Mesa, and Four Mile Bench Old Tree Area. These relict areas can be used to establish a baseline against which to measure changes in community dynamics and biogeochemical cycles in areas impacted by human activity. The monument contains an abundance of unique isolated communities such as hanging gardens and canyon bottom communities, with riparian plants and their pollinators; tinajas, which contain tadpoles, fairy and clam shrimp, amphibians, and snails; saline seeps, with plants and animals adapted to highly saline conditions; dunal pockets, with species adapted to shifting sands; rock crevice communities, consisting of slow-growing species that can thrive in extremely infertile sites; and cryptobiotic crusts, which stabilize the highly erodible desert soils and provide nutrients for plants. The wildlife of the monument is characterized by a diversity of species, where both northern and southern habitat species intermingle. Mountain lions, bears, and desert bighorn sheep, as well as over 200 species of birds, including bald eagles and peregrine falcons, can be found within the monument. The wildlife concentrates around the Paria and Escalante Rivers and other riparian areas.
The Secretary of the Interior, through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which in the past has been responsible for the public lands included within the monument area, will manage the monument. This is the first national monument that will be managed by the BLM. The BLM will develop a management plan to address measures necessary to protect the scientific and historic features within the monument by three years after the date of establishment of the monument. The BLM will consult with state and local governments, other federal agencies, and tribal governments to prepare the land use plan.
The boundaries of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument were drawn to exclude as much private land as possible, as well as the towns of Escalante, Boulder, Kanab, and Tropic. The national monument designation applies only to Federal land and not to the approximately 9,000 acres (3,644 ha) of private land remaining within the boundaries of the monument. Private landowners continue to have existing rights of access to their property. The landowners may participate in land exchanges with the BLM to trade land within the monument for land of equal value outside the area. The State of Utah owns about 180,000 acres (73,800 ha) of isolated, 640-acre (262 ha) sections of school lands within the boundaries of monument. The State will be allowed to exchange these isolated school lands for federal lands of equal value outside the monument boundaries. All federal lands were withdrawn from sale or leasing under the public land laws upon designation as a national monument. The designation also prohibited the issuance of any new mineral leases in the area, including new claims made under the Mining Law of 1872. Existing uses under federal or state laws, such as hunting , camping, travel, hiking, backpacking, and other recreational activities, as well as grazing permits, continue under current policies and rules. The proclamation did not reserve water or make any federal water rights claims. As part of the management plan, the BLM will evaluate the extent to which water is necessary for the care and management of objects of the monument and the extent to which further action may be necessary under federal or state law to ensure availability of water.
[Judith Sims ]
Bureau of Land Management. List of Historic and Scientific Objects of Interest: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Salt Lake City: Bureau of Land Management, 1997.
——. Questions and Answers on the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Salt Lake City: Bureau of Land Management, 1997.
Clinton, W. J. Establishment of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument: A Proclamation. Washington, DC: The White House, 1996.