The best way to become familiar with Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is to first tour the scenic byways that run along both the north and south borders of this big park. Scenic Byway 12 is a good choice for an opener, because this road runs east from Bryce Country through the northern edge of Escalante all the way to Capitol Reef National Park. Along this long stretch of road a visitor can experience several distinctly unique sections of the Grand Staircase and a world of adventure awaits in each one!
The Blues, Powell Point and the Badlands are three unique Grand Staircase sections in a row, that are located on Scenic Byway 12 between Cannonville and the town of Escalante. Each of these Grand Staircase sections can be accessed from the roadside, but only The Blues region is recommended for outdoor activities.
The Blues refers to one of the geologic steps in the Grand Staircase that has a bluish color rock strata. Of course, the color of The Blues is not completely blue and in bright sunlight the hills just look like a gray cinder color. On a cloudy or rainy day, the deep blue tones are revealed and the drab color scheme does give reason for singing the blues!
In The Blues, the eroded mountains and rock outcrops are composed of white volcanic tuff, gray cinder and plenty of yellow sandstone, which all adds up to a fairly rare landscape color combination. Light and shadow create dramatic effects in The Blues region and this adds to the eye appeal. On a bright sunny day, the yellow and white color rock strata shines so bright that the bluish tones can hardly be noticed, while on an overcast day, the grayish blue tones come to life to create a dramatic gloomy effect. When raining, the colors become even more vivid and the bright whitish yellow rock strata stands out against the bluish gray background. As can be imagined, The Blues section is a favorite of photographers and landscape painters worldwide. There are hiking trails and Jeep trails that go to seldom visited places in The Blues and primitive camping is allowed in some areas. The Blues is definitely recommended when exploring the vast Grand Staircase!
Toward the eastern end of The Blues section, the elevation rises and the paved highway passes through some pine and juniper forests. Along the north side of the road in this high elevation area is where the Powell Point Vista and the Badlands can be viewed. Powell Point is very easy to spot, because it is the only gigantic red rock outcrop mountain peak in this area. There are several unmarked roadside scenic overlooks to choose from, but there are poison gas hazard warning signs posted in this area that are best heeded. The poison gases come from irresponsible industrial operations that threaten this entire wilderness area, which is a shame and a deadly one at that.
The poison gas situation is actually only one reason why both Powell Point and the surrounding Badlands are not recommended for outdoor adventures. The second reason has to do with the terrain being a naturally dangerous place. The Powell Point and Badlands terrain is so rough, that any slip or fall will likely result in broken bones or a concussion. Basically, the Park Service has made so many dangerous rescues in the Badlands and Powell Point in the past, that the rangers now highly recommend just staying out of these two high risk areas altogether. This is why you can play in The Blues, while Powell Point and the Badlands are for your eyes only!
No matter whether you are just doing a scenic drive or you plan to spend a few days exploring this vast wilderness, the Blues, Powell Point and the Badlands are well worth checking out when spinning the wheels on Utah Scenic Byway 12. Nowhere else on earth will a visitor find the wide variety of majestic landscapes that the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument has to offer, so be sure to set aside the time to take it all in!
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