On a brilliantly sunny day with just enough clouds to add to the photographic drama, we embarked on a day trip from Lake Powell to explore a small portion of the monument.
At close to two million acres, this is our country’s largest national monument. Our agenda was to visit three close-by places within Grand Staircase Escalante. A short hike to the Toadstools, a visit to the colorful ghost town of Paria, and a stop at the Big Water Visitor Center made for a perfect one-day adventure. All of our destinations were conveniently located off of Highway 89.
First Stop: The Toadstools
A magical Alice-in-Wonderland landscape, the trail leading through The Toadstools offers a wonderful concentration of unique rock formations known as “hoodoos.” A hoodoo is a spire of rock composed of a relatively soft rock topped by a harder rock. The softer rock erodes more quickly than the capstone, which creates unusual rock sculptures.
An easy three-quarter-mile trail leads to the Red Toadstool, one of the most spectacular and photogenic hoodoos. Following the footpath that parallels the dry creek bed reveals panoramic views of the surrounding colorful badlands and many more hoodoo toadstools.
Second Stop: Paria Townsite
Originally settled by Mormon pioneers in 1869, Paria Townsite was abandoned 40 years after flash floods washed away their farmland, their homes, and their dreams. In the 1940s Hollywood discovered the scenic area, built an Old West movie set, and made films through the mid-1970s. The Old West movie set is gone now, too, a victim to time and pyromaniacs.
But the real attraction—at least for us—is the magnificent multi-colored cliffs and hills. There’s also a lovely picnic area with a gorgeous view of the banded hills.
Third Stop: Big Water Visitor Center
One of four visitor centers scattered across Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the focus at Big Water Visitor Center is on dinosaurs. Apparently, the monument has recently been discovered to be a premier location for dinosaur fossils.
My knowledge about dinosaurs pretty much ended with what I learned in elementary school. But at Big Water, I learned that all dinosaurs had feathers. I most definitely was not taught that in school. Feathers on most dinosaurs obviously weren’t meant for flight but were probably for insulation. Somehow I find dinosaurs more appealing when I imagine them covered in feathers.
Unlike the tourist magnets of Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend that we visited earlier in the week, we saw few other people on the trails. At the Big Water Visitor Center, we were the only visitors. This gave us the opportunity to talk with the amateur paleontologist, who discovered his own dinosaur while casually hiking in the monument. He proudly told us that it’s named after him. From beginning to end, this was a unique and colorful day.
We were blown away by the colors at the Paria Townsite. And the toadstools were so fun to climb around and photograph. It’s hard to really “get” their size and weirdness in a picture!
Thanks for taking us back there Laurel…
Sue, I felt like I was in the Southwest version of Alice in Wonderland wandering among the stone toadstools. :-)
Wow! I have so many questions. Since you’re on Lopez, I will ask them in person. I did want to note that I never knew dinosaurs had feathers. It explains why flying Blue Herons have such a dinosaur look to them. They actually are the remnants that we have. The toadstools are fabulous!
Sheila, I’ve also often thought that Great Blue Herons have a “dinosaur” look. Much more attractive with feathers than without, to my way of thinking. :-)
The contrast between the blue sky and technicolored toadstools made fabulous photos. Looks like a nice place to spend some time. Hope you are enjoying your island.
Thanks, Debbie—the Southwest in general is a wonderful place for photography, but the colors of the toadstools and in Paria are especially vibrant.
We loved that toadstool hike when we traveled through. The Dinosaur Visitor Center was closed, but the outdoor portions were still wonderful. Glad you have traveled in this magic world and love it as much as I do.
Sue, there is something magical about the rock formations, color, and light. The Visitor Center was so interesting—with your soil science background, I think you would enjoy it if you return to the area.
Once again incredible!! Are those toadstool rocks for real. Seems so unlikely!
Sue, they don’t seem quite real, do they? It’s amazing how wind and water can shape the rocks into such fantastical formations.
Wow!! Spectacular color palette.
These are really the colors of the landscape, Brenda—no photo enhancement needed!
I love having so many bloggers who have spent large chunks of time in Utah, as we have done so little exploring in this beautiful state. This is an area that we will definitely want to see, such beautiful colors.
LuAnn, I know you’ll enjoy the hiking and adventures that Utah has to offer. We’ve spent a lot of time here over the years, and there’s still more to explore!
We have only driven through that particular area, not delved into it yet. Utah has the most stunning landscapes of anywhere we have been. Your photos are gorgeous and bring me right back to Utah and all of the glorious hiking we’ve done throughout the state.
Thanks, Lisa. :-) I agree with you, Utah has the most spectacular landscapes of anywhere we’ve been. The hiking opportunities are amazing, too, as you know!
The Toadstools were so much fun to hike around. Thank goodness we were alone for most of our visit with Dave and Sue! But the Paria Townsite was the most gorgeous colors we have ever seen. We actually took a second drive down another day. I was blown away. Thanks for taking us back:)
Pam, I’ve seen many beautiful photos of Paria and the Toadstools (including yours!) but I was still stunned by the vibrant beauty of the area. I can see why you returned a second time.
Boy that header picture is a knock out. If it was any more gorgeous in real life I won’t be able to believe it. Love the picture of the toadstools with their white horizontal stripes and dark caps against that fantastic sky. What a day you had! The red and white badlands picture looks like you used a ruler to draw the line between the red and white. That’s amazing. I could pretty much comment on every single one of these beautiful photographs. I’m trying to imagine T-Rex with feathers. I’ve never been to Grand Staircase-Escalante but you’ve just moved it to the top of my list for my next visit to Utah. Thanks for the beautiful eye candy.
Thanks, Sherry—so glad you enjoyed the photo tour. :-) This is a place you guys will love exploring when you get back out west. A wonderful mural in the visitor center depicts the dinosaurs with feathers—it’s pretty amazing!
As always…stunning photos and an insiders view of when and how to make the most of the visit…but dinosaurs with feathers?….stegosaurus and triceratops…just too much to imagine? Love and so looking forward to seeing you in September.
Dinosaurs with feathers seem to fit right in with the rest of the colorful, otherworldly landscape here, Diana. As artists, you two would love this area. Miss you!
Oh we love that area and you have vividly captured those painted hills. We had fun or I had fun taking pictures of the toadstools.
Southern Utah is on our route again next year!
We just might have to join you, ML! We love that area, and there’s more to explore.
Those are some gorgeous painted hills. Really love the contrast between the hills and that sky! The toadstools trail looks pretty awesome! We’ve heard of some good boondocking spots at Grand Escalante so we want to visit it again when it’s not so hot. It’s good to hear about some trails we should try next time we’re around.
Kathie, I think that happy hour we shared at Lake Powell was the hottest ever. I can’t imagine boondocking in those temps. But I also don’t want to be in the wind storms that can happen in April. Maybe winter? You guys will love the toadstools.
Still travelling in Utah in summer, you are brave!. There seems to be so much in Utah, you have certainly given us some great ideas
Jane, we left Utah in mid-May. I’m just way behind on our blog. :-)