The fall is the ideal time to hit the road for the red rock vistas and canyons of southern Utah and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
Ten years ago, interior secretary Bruce Babbitt created the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, intending its 1.9 million acres to be the crown jewel in the Bureau of Land Management’s new “Landscape Preservation System.” Last year’s Omnibus Lands Bill made that vision a reality, ensuring the monument will remain wild. And while it may be a longer drive from Denver than Moab or Canyonlands, there’s a special magic to the place that makes it worth the trip.
Hike: lower calf Creek Falls
Southern Utah is filled with so many stunning red rock vistas and canyons and waterfalls that they all seem to blur into one after a while despite all that sublime splendor. Calf Creek Falls lives up to the billing. The 12 mile round trip hike to the lower falls is quite simply one of the very best in the U.S. and a must-do if you only have a day in the area.
Canyon: Dry Fork of Coyote Gulch
Just off the Hole-in-the-Rock Road outside the town of Escalante, this classic beginner’s slot canyon playground features four narrow canyons. each with its own unique charm. The most accessible (as long as you are not too much of a widebody) is Spooky, a one-mile long perfect slot that is no wider than two feet across the entire way. It’s a perfect playground for kids (who may fit thorugh easier than adults in spots). Next up, Peek-a-boo requires a short climb to reach and then wanders back through water-sculpted, window-shaped chambers and muddy pools. The most difficult slot here, Brimstone is dark and lonely and gets too tight to pass all the way through (a tourist was once stuck in it for five days) and not a place for the kids. If you simply want to walk up a beautiful red rock canyon, the upper end of Dry Fork itself is well worth wandering in for several miles.
Multi-Day Slot: Paria canyon
Located in the neighboring Vermillion Cliffs National Monument, the Paria is the big daddy of slot cayons—a backpacking trip that follows the tight narrows for fifty miles, requiring a trip of anywhere from three to six days to navigate the system. Start at the Wire Pass trailhead, which access the Paria through an even tighter slot. Be sure to make reservations for a permit months in advance since only 20 people are allowed to start the hike each day. It’s also possible to make day trips down Buckskin Gulch, the Paria or Wire Pass if you miss out on a permit.
Eat Organic: Hell’s Backbone Grill
Long before organic and local were the buzz words for hipsters across the country, Jen Castle and Blake Spalding opened the Hell’s Backbone Grill in tiny Boulder, Utah. With a menu that’s constantly changing to reflect the season, it was one of the first restaurants in the U.S. to focus on organic food. Everything seved here is local, too, coming from from the Four Corners region and influenced by the recipes of the Native Americans and Mormon settlers who lived here. Boulder straddles the red rock desert and mountians, making it extremely biodiverse—a wdie tange of food from pinon pine nuts to honey to chiles is natural to the region and the restaurant sources food from its own farm and gardens as well as local growers and ranchers. Those efforts have garnered numerous awards, including one from the Museum of Northern Arizona and the Center for Sustainable Environments for being “Culture Bearers of Sustainability in the Four Corners Region.” Beyond all that, the food is incredible. Be sure to make reservations.