Canyons of the Escalante
The Canyons of the Escalante is a collective name for the erosional landforms created by the Escalante River and its tributaries, the Escalante River Basin. Located in southern Utah in the western United States, these sandstone features include high vertical canyon walls, water pockets, narrow slot canyons, domes, pedestals, arches, and natural bridges. This area, extending over 1500 square miles (3900 km²) and rising in elevation from 3600 feet (1100 m) to over 11,000 feet (3350 m), is one of the three main sections of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, is part of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and borders the adjacent Capitol Reef National Park. It is an increasingly popular recreational destination in Utah's Canyon Country.
The headwaters of the Escalante River are located on the slopes of the Aquarius Plateau, in Utah's Garfield County, just west of the town of Escalante. Upper Valley and Birch Creeks merge to form the official start of the river which is soon joined by North Creek, then just below the town, the flow of Pine Creek is added. From there the river runs southeast for over 65 miles (130 km)  before meeting the Colorado River, in Kane County. The lower section of the river, southeast of Coyote Gulch, is now beneath the surface of Lake Powell.
Numerous side canyons also feed the main river, accounting for the large size of the basin. From the west, the major tributaries are Harris Wash, Twentyfive Mile Creek, Coyote Gulch, Fortymile Gulch, and Fiftymile Creek, along with the smaller Phipps, Fence, Scorpion, Davis, Clear, and Indian Creeks. Most of these larger creeks flow from the top of the Kaiparowits Plateau or from the base of its eastern edge, the Straight Cliffs. An even greater number of tributaries flow in from the north and east, including Death Hollow and Calf Creeks, the combined Boulder and Deer Creeks, The Gulch, Wolverine and Silver Falls Creeks, and Choprock, Moody, Stevens, and Cow Canyons. Streams from the north flow from Boulder Mountain, while those from the northeast originate in the Circle Cliffs area, near the Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef National Park.
The sandstone layers now exposed in the Canyons of the Escalante were deposited during the Mesozoic era, 180 to 225 million years ago, when this area was part of a large area of sand dunes. Near the end of the Cretaceous period, about 80 million years ago, the entire western section of North America entered an era of uplift and mountain-building, an event known as the Laramide orogeny. More recently, additional uplift formed the Colorado Plateau province. These episodes of uplift raised the Aquarius Plateau to the extent that there were strong erosional forces acting on the Escalante River Basin. Wetter climates during the recent ice ages of the Pleistocene period contributed to deep cutting of the canyon walls.
Additional details on the geology of the area can be found in the articles Geology of the Capitol Reef area and Geology of the Bryce Canyon area. Sandstone exposed in canyons nearer to the Colorado River are typically from the Glen Canyon Group. The dark red cliffs of Coyote Gulch, for example, are composed of Navajo Sandstone. The lighter sandstone domes of Dance Hall Rock and Sooner Rocks are formed from the higher Entrada sandstone layer. Due to tilting of layers throughout the area, sandstone exposed at higher elevations near the town of Escalante (e.g. Deer Creek) may actually be from a lower layer, Wingate Sandstone.
Popular places to visit
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Sources and Further Reading
- Hiking the Escalante, by Rudi Lambrechtse (1985), ISBN 0-915272-27-X
- Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau, by Michael R. Kelsey (1995), ISBN 0-944510-11-6
- Canyons of the Escalante, Trails Illustrated Map (1994), ISBN 0-925873-98-5
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