The access point for one of the prettiest sections of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument can be found in Cannonville, which is a small community along Utah Scenic Byway 12. Cannonville is also the access point for Kodachrome Basin State Park, so there are plenty of adventure to be found in this peaceful place! When slowing down on Utah Scenic Byway 12 to turn onto Main Street in Cannonville, do not expect to see any bright neon lights and rows of fast food joints. Cannonville is a quiet Mormon pioneer community that is just now moving forward with the tourism trade. Accommodations in this small town are limited, but along the paved road to the Grand Staircase-Escalante access point there are some new glamping resorts to be found.
The key landmark to look for in Cannonville is the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitors Center. Vital information pertaining to dirt road conditions, maps and locations of points of interest can all be found in this place. Campsite locations and back country hiking trail maps can be found here too. This landmark is also a cultural museum, so plan on taking some time to browse around.
The paved road in Cannonville runs south through some picturesque farm country to the intersection of Kodachrome Basin Road. The paved road changes names a couple of times and it is called Cottonwood Canyon Road about halfway to Kodachrome Basin. At the Kodachrome Basin intersection is where Cottonwood Canyon Road becomes a rough dirt road. There is 4×4 vehicle staging area and a National Monument information kiosk at the Cottonwood Canyon Dirt Road access point, so it is easy to spot.
Cottonwood Canyon Road is one of the longest dirt roads in Grand Staircase-Escalante and this dusty trail runs all the way south to U.S. Highway 89 near Kanab and Page, Utah. There are several scenic landmarks along the Cottonwood Canyon Dirt Road that include one of the largest natural arches in the west and the pristine landscapes stretch out to the horizon.
The problem for visitors is that the Cottonwood Canyon dirt road is too rough for passenger cars. This National Monument road is designated as a high ground clearance 4×4 vehicle travel route. Travelers should not take this warning lightly, especially during the summer monsoon rain season, because the red clay soil will turn into deep slick mud when wet. Visitors traveling on the Cottonwood Canyon dirt road are responsible for their own survival, so be sure to pack plenty of water and provisions for a venture into this remote wilderness area. Jeep, ATV and horse rentals can be found in nearly every town along Scenic Byway 12 in this region, so those who normally drive a regular passenger car do not have to be left behind!
For those who prefer not to tough it out on a long dirt road in a vast wilderness area, the paved section of road that runs from Cannonville to the Little Dry Valley near Kodachrome Basin is worth the scenic drive. For travelers in regular passenger cars, the Little Dry Valley may be the end of the line, but there are plenty of panoramic landscapes to see in this area! In this area, the green lush farms from the age of pioneers meet the harsh landscape of the Grand Staircase and the high desert. The local landscape exhibits the signature exposed layers of multi color rock strata that create the first two or three tiers of the geologic Grand Staircase. Ancient ocean bottom red silt sandstone, white volcanic ash, gray cinders and pale yellow sandstone deposits are layered throughout this region and the erosive forces over eons of time have created a dramatic visual effect.
There is very little traffic along on Cottonwood Canyon Road and in Cannonville, so it is easy to pull off on the side of the road to take in the beautiful scenery. The views along the paved road are like a photographer’s dream come true, because the bright colors of the landscape are usually framed in with cobalt blue skies and there are a few old abandoned pioneer farm houses standing alone in the fields. If taking pictures of lonely looking abandoned old wooden farm buildings in a dramatic setting is your cup of tea, then be sure to bring a good camera along for the drive!
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is currently threatened by corporate sponsored political corruption, so showing support for the preservation of this National Monument is important at this time. The Grand Staircase is one of the last pristine wilderness areas in the world and this unique landscape beckons to be explored. Venturing into Grand Staircase-Escalante on the rough Cottonwood Canyon Dirt Road does require preparation and planning, so be sure to stop by the Cannonville Visitors Center to get the details. The Cottonwood Canyon section of Grand Staircase-Escalante is as majestic as can be and the adventures certainly are endless in this place!
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