Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is not considered “wilderness” by the U.S. government, but by most other measures is. The national monument designation allows for cattle grazing permits and even some resource extraction (oil and uranium), but there is plenty of de facto wilderness.The designation also allows a for a higher level of scientific research in the monument vs. most national parks. Scientists and researchers from highly varied fields of studies come to Grand Staircase-Escalante, including archaeologists, geologists, anthropologists, zoologists and entomologists, among several others.
Grand Staircase-Escalante’s 1.9 million acres can basically be broken down into halves. The western Grand Staircase half features high altitude plateaus and tablelands, as well as high concentrations of ancient Native dwellings and rock art sites. This area is essentially the northeastern and highest third of the larger Grand Staircase which descends southwestward through Bryce Canyon, Zion and Grand Canyon national parks and other state parks and national monuments.
The eastern half of the monument is the Escalante region. This area consists of the Escalante River canyon and all of its tributary rivers, creeks and canyons. At around 1 million acres, this region is a veritable sandstone canyon maze. This is a place where even the best adventurers could explore for an entire lifetime and still have missed much. From the immense Escalante River canyon to the claustrophobic Spooky Gulch, there are canyons of every size and difficulty. While most canyons here are easily hiked and fairly accessible (using rough roads), some canyons are technical-only, meaning ropes are required to ascend and rappel over series of falls, slot canyons and cliffs. These canyons are usually seldom-visited and many contain bodies of water that require the canyoneer to swim or wade, sometimes even rappelling into water or climbing out of water up difficult climbing pitches.
Both halves are potentially dangerous when heavy rains occur. Already rough roads get washed out and/or impassable due to the clay-like soil becoming over-saturated with water and extremely slick. Canyons are also prone to flash flooding during rainstorms. Nobody should travel in canyons when there is a threat of rain.