The Grand Staircase is an immense sequence of sedimentary rock layers that stretch south from Bryce Canyon National Park through Zion National Park and into the Grand Canyon. In the 1870s, geologist Clarence Dutton first conceptualized this region as a huge stairway ascending out of the bottom of the Grand Canyon northward with the cliff edge of each layer forming giant steps. Dutton divided this layer cake of Earth history into five steps that he colorfully named Pink Cliffs, Grey Cliffs, White Cliffs, Vermilion Cliffs, and Chocolate Cliffs. Since then, modern geologists have further divided Dutton’s steps into individual rock formations.
What makes the Grand Staircase worldly unique is that it preserves more Earth history than any other place on Earth. Geologists often liken the study of sedimentary rock layers to reading a history book–layer by layer, detailed chapter by detailed chapter. The problem is that in most places in the world, the book has been severely damaged by the rise and fall of mountains, the scouring of glaciers, etc. Usually these chapters are completely disarticulated from each other and often whole pages are just missing. Yet the Grand Staircase and the lower cliffs that comprise the Grand Canyon remain largely intact speaking to over 600 million years of continuous Earth history with only a few paragraphs missing here and there.
Unfortunately, the Grand Staircase is such a vast region of rock that no matter where you stand on its expanse, most of it will be hidden behind the curvature of Earth. Places such as Yovimpa Point and the north slope of the Kaibab Plateau are the exception where even a non-geologist can discern the individual chapters of this colossal history book–these immense steps of Dutton’s Grand Staircase.
Explore Five More
Anasazi State Park
The Fremont were a prehistoric group that occupied most of Utah during the same period as the Ancestral Puebloans. The result is a blending of traits or a prehistoric “melting pot” that is reflected in the artifacts recovered from this site, as well as in the architecture.
Escalante Petrified Forest State Park
A visitor center was built in 1991, and features petrified wood, petrified dinosaur bones, ammonite, and shell fossils. Visitors will also enjoy several trails, which wind throughout the park.
Kodachrome Basin State Park
As soon as you see it, you will know that the name fits perfectly. Kodachrome Basin State Park, with its red tinged rock formations and incredible blue skies, just begs to be photographed.
Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park (40 min)
Changed by winds, these mountains and hills of sand can move as much as 50 feet per year. With areas for off-highway vehicle enthusiasts and those with non-motorized pursuits, the dunes offer adventures for all.
Vermilion Cliffs National Monument (1 hours)
This 280,000-acre Monument is a geologic treasure, containing a variety of diverse landscapes from the Paria Plateau, Vermilion Cliffs, Coyote Buttes, and Paria Canyon. Elevations range from 3,100 to 7,100 feet.