Named after its unique topography and impressive rock formations, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a beautiful area of desert scenery.
The area consists of nearly 2 million acres of unbelievable canyons and naturally expansive vistas. Associated hiking trails have numerous stops and the views into the valley are absolutely incredible. Visitors can walk around and step on the ancient and fossil-rich rockland, which has remained largely exactly as it appears today for more than 70 million years.
In fact, dinosaur fossils dated to over 75 million years ago have been found around the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, particularly since the year 2000 when archaeological exploration has picked up significantly in the area. The oldest dinosaur fossil found so far was unearthed near the Arizona state border and astonished researchers with its 75-million-year age.
Hikers commonly see the shapes and fossils of fish, turtles, sharks teeth, and dinosaurs embedded in the rock underfoot and around the trails. But signs of ancient humans abound as well, with petroglyphs carved by early humans scattered throughout the many rock formations.
Containing the Navajo Sandstone geological formation, the National Monument is also home to thousands of mysterious iron oxide concretions known as Moqui marbles, thunderballs, or shaman stones. They come in many shapes and sizes, but many of the Moqui marbles are spherical sandstones coated with hematite. It’s still uncertain how they were formed, although there is a number of theories, sometimes likened to the Martian “blueberries.”
Visitors are advised to remember that every fossil or carving found is precious and irreplaceable, and as such, it should be left for others to be able to enjoy them too.
Know Before You Go
Peek-A-Boo and Spooky Canyons in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is a hidden secret and well worth the hour drive down a gravel washboard Hole-in-the-Rock road. It's one of the best slot canyon hikes in Utah (possibly USA) with many holes to climb up and crawl through. At its narrowest it's 12 inches wide.