Cottonwood Canyon Road is a great touring route that offers 46 miles of some of the most picturesque views in the entire west. A high ground clearance vehicle is recommended, because this long dirt road can be bumpy ride. Most of Cottonwood Canyon Road is smooth, but there are a few deep sandy sections in the south end of Grand Staircase-Escalante between Hackberry Canyon and Highway 89 where a 4x4 will have an advantage. The landscape in this end of the National Monument changes from an upheaval reef to towering mesa buttes, volcanic peaks and rolling mounds of gray cinders. The views along the Paria River certainly are mesmerizing after not seeing water for what seems like days and the towering river bluffs provide plenty of morning shade in this parched high desert environment.
The long 46 mile southbound trek from Cannonville to Highway 89 is well worth experiencing. The reason why touring this long dirt road from north to south is best is because the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Visitor Center is located in Cannonville. Information about the current road conditions, hazards and dispersed camping can be found here, so a visitor will not be entering this vast wilderness area in the blind. The most important thing to keep in mind is that all visitors are responsible for their own well being in this desolate place, so being prepared for unexpected events that may lead to a survival situation will be necessary.
A series of previously published articles describe the points of interest and campsites along Cottonwood Canyon Road, which include Grosvenor Arch, Cottonwood Narrows and Hackberry Canyon. This long dirt road drive is best done as a two day trip, because there is so much to see and do along the way. Primitive dispersed camping is the only option and the pack it in-pack it out rules do apply.
As can be seen in the photos, the terrain in the south end of this park certainly is a definitive desert landscape. The Paria River meanders like a snake through the lowland canyons and it eventually fans out in a very wide flood plain that is lush with green growth. The lower tiers of the geological Grand Staircase can be easily seen, which is mostly composed of pale yellow white sandstone buttes with thick layers of gray cinder underneath. The volcanic landscape in this end of the park looks as if it was created way back when this region was covered by a deep ocean, which may be the case. The earthen color combination in this region creates a visual effect of glowing golden butte peaks over drab gray, which is interesting to see.
Doing the complete Cottonwood Canyon Road tour certainly is well worth it and planning an extended stay is the best way to make the most of the trip. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments is one of the very last unspoiled wilderness areas on earth and this pristine landscape beckons to be experienced. A world of adventure most definitely awaits along Cottonwood Canyon Road, this is reason enough to pack the camping gear and get the expedition underway!
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