Creativity. Dad’s never lacked that. But his imagination ran wild the first time he set foot in the Devils Garden at the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. Soaring stone arches, curious hoodoos and mushroom rocks made him blink twice to make sure he wasn’t imagining things. After all it was pretty early in the morning.
“I’d seen pictures in magazines, but I’d never made it there even though I’d really wanted to, “ Dad said. “You’ve never seen anything like it, so you just stand there and stare. It’s about the size of three football fields and more stuff unfolds as you walk around. It’s amazing and very easy to explore.”
Multiple, well-worn footpaths wander through the slickrock and sandy surfaces in the garden luring hikers to the areas with the most visual interest. Dad spent a couple of hours rambling about photographing the surreal formations from pointy monoliths to hidden caves. He loved Metate Arch, which he thought looked a lot like rocks out for a stroll. He called his image “Walking Rocks”.
Over time wind and water created the strangely shaped rocks like Metate and the smaller Mano Arch. These unusual formations inspired President Bill Clinton to create the almost two million acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996. For the first time in U.S. history, he put the Bureau of Land Management in charge of the massive park.
The rugged and remote parcel of land in south central Utah remains largely uncultivated. In fact, it was the last place in the United States to be mapped. But the Anazai and Freemont peoples, two ancient Native American peoples, not only knew the area; they called the land home from A.D. 950-1100. Their petroglyphs, ruins and artifacts remain scattered across the land.
Beyond the boundaries of the relatively small Devils Garden, the Monument includes cliffs, terraces, plateaus, raging rivers, natural bridges and vibrant cliffs. The land comprises five zones from parched deserts to coniferous forests. Photographers love the narrow slot canyons, rocks with swirling patterns and colorful buttes. However, reaching these treasures can be challenging, as most of the park remains undeveloped.
Because he wanted to explore more than just the Devils Garden, Dad hired a guide in Escalante to show him other promising spots in the area. His guide grew up here and he had 4-wheel drive, something Dad lacked on his van. They met in town at 5 a.m. that morning for a full day of exploration in a company Jeep.
“The first time you go someplace new, especially some place as remote as Escalante, you should be thinking about the possibilities of getting lost or stuck,” Dad said. “I viewed this as a scouting trip and hiring a local guide just made sense.”
The guide showed Dad about five or six spots he’d love to return to in the future. For this trip, though, he did make a second stop at the Devils Garden the next day for more photography.
He quickly discovered the light danced across the Entrada sandstone creating a visual feast for the eyes no matter the time of day. Naturally sunrise and sunset provided amazing light for photography here, but Dad also felt the allure of nighttime.
“The nifty part of the place is the number of cool images that are possible. You could easily spend a whole day here photographing,” he said. “It would be perfect for star photography too.”
This trip didn’t give Dad enough time to photograph everything, but he got lots of ideas for future shots. No doubt Dad will return to the fiendishly fun garden soon to capture all of those photos dancing in his imagination.
If You Go
- Fill up the gas tank and bring plenty of food and water. There are no services in the immediate area.
- To reach the Devils Garden, go south from the town Escalante on Highway 12 for about 5 miles. Turn right on to the dirt Hole-in-the-Rock Road. Go 12.3 miles until you see the sign “Devils Garden”. Take the road on the right for ¼ mile. Park at the trailhead lot.
- A 4-wheel drive vehicle gives you options on the dirt roads within the Monument. The rough road to the Devils Garden may be impassible when wet.
- Cell phone coverage is almost non-existent. Plan accordingly.
- The BLM provided a few picnic tables, fire pits and pit toilets. Collection of wood is forbidden so bring your own wood or charcoal.
- The BLM operates campgrounds at Calf Creek, Deer Creek and Whitehouse. You can also get a free overnight permit for backcountry camping at any of the four visitor centers: Escalante, Kanab, Big Water and Cannonville.
- While there are no official trails, try to stay away from the fragile desert plants and don’t climb on the arches.
- Mountain bikes are allowed on all roads but not the slickrock or cross-country.
- Dogs are allowed, but they must be leashed at all times.
- To avoid extreme weather (like flash floods or lightening), the best times to visit the area are April through June and September through October.