In the next 60 days, President Biden’s staff will review Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments to determine if and when they will be restored to their original boundaries. We are confident that the result will be fully restored Monuments that honor the Indigenous people who call these landscapes home and make a bold commitment to conservation, science, and environmental justice in the face of the climate emergency.
There is no other place like Grand Staircase in the world. It takes very little time here for the remote wilderness to seep into your skin. The vast silence calmly wraps around you. At night, the dark sky showers you with stars and planets—a universe to discover. You can feel the spirit of the place as you stand on the Escalante River banks and breath in the fresh air. The canyon walls gave way to this carving river for many millennia, now protecting and guiding it along.
What do we owe this land that gives us so much? Our job is to protect this place and its ability to sustain most of Utah’s biodiversity. We can elevate responsible and meaningful science, create more opportunities for Indigenous connection and justice, and continue to learn the lessons that come from protecting large, contiguous landscapes. For too long, we have seen land used for extractive industries. The land has been exploited—only used for our gain. It’s time for us to do the Monument justice by giving back and allowing its lessons to come to light.
Our organization’s vision is to honor the land and learn its lessons. We are dedicated to Grand Staircase and prepared to give more than we take for the sake of its long-term protection. This commitment means continuing vegetation and habitat restoration projects.
We must support climate change research and study dedicated to understanding the extensive biodiversity. This promise includes developing an understanding of the many unknown archaeological sites to provide better protection and prevent the permanent loss of history, culture, and spiritual connection for Native peoples. And we know this protection also leads to new and exciting paleontological discoveries in this fossil-rich environment.
There is so much more to learn at Grand Staircase. Join us as we renew our commitment to the Monument’s restoration—prepared to protect and ready to give.
To stay up-to-date on the Monument’s restoration status, visit the Newsroom on our website. You’ll find recent articles, links to important resources, and videos with the most recent updates and progress.
President Biden addressed GSENM on his first day in office in the: Executive Order on Protecting Public Health and the Environment and Restoring Science to Tackle the Climate Crisis. In our newsroom, we explain what this executive order means for the Monument.
Last week, the Salt Lake Tribune published an Op-ed written by GSEP Executive Director Sarah Bauman. This piece responds to the “political football” cited by Utah delegates who oppose the Monument’s restoration, explains a deal the state made in a past land exchange, and builds the strong case for protecting the Monument in its entirety. Find this Op-ed and other important resources in the Monument Restoration Newsroom.
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It’s an exciting time for Partners’ Education Programs. We reached a broader audience in 2020 through our virtual events, and we have even bigger plans this year for the 25th anniversary of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. To help us harness these great opportunities, we’re bringing on a new team member.
We’re currently interviewing candidates for a newly-created position within our organization: the Stewardship and Education Coordinator. We received many great applicants (over 100!). This new position will expand our capacity to deliver field-based educational events, develop short-term and long-term volunteer opportunities, and connect our education and conservation efforts through stewardship-focused events. We look forward to sharing more announcements about this position soon.
And finally, next month, we start filming a series of educational videos around the Monument that illustrate how climate change affects GSENM and how the Monument plays a role in climate change mitigation and adaptation. To stay updated on this and all the great events happening this year, be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram.
If you’ve hiked on the Monument, you’ve likely come across the reddish-brown or black orbs of varying sizes that are colloquially known as Moqui marbles. If you knock them together, they may make a more metallic sound than sandstone against sandstone because these “marbles” are iron concretions. Specifically, they are cemented chunks of sandstone surrounded by an iron oxide rind—created from water percolating through sandstone, resulting in chemical leaching from iron-rich sandstone that is then precipitated as these curious iron oxide balls.
Moqui marbles can be dated radioactively due to traces of radioactive elements within their composition and can tell us how water moved through rock millions of years ago. In the Grand Staircase, these concretions are mostly found in the Navajo Sandstone layer, but if you were to put on an astronaut suit and hike across the surface of Mars, you’d find nearly identical iron spheres (which scientists have whimsically called Martian blueberries). As geologists study the formation of iron concretions in the Monument, they are also becoming better able to hypothesize past conditions on Mars due to the similarity of being home to these unique geologic artifacts.
Davina Smith is a member of the Diné (Navajo) tribe. Davina Smith’s personal mission is advocating for Native families, in both her rural and urban communities, in addition to preserving and protecting the cultural and natural resources of ancestral Native American lands to benefit and bring healing to people and the Earth.
Davina’s extensive work experience in Salt Lake City includes: former Executive Director for SLC Air Protectors, Director of Operations for Utah Diné Bikéyah (UDB), American Indian Education Coordinator for Salt Lake School District, Fourth Street Clinic, and Program Director for the American Indian Teacher Training Program (AITTP) at the University of Utah and Arizona State University. She is currently the Vice President of IndigiCANN (Indigenous Connecting All Nations Network) and CEO of Haseya Native Initiatives LLC.
“We are thrilled to welcome Davina Smith to our organization as a member of the board of directors. Davina brings such a wealth of experience protecting cultural and natural resources throughout the West. We are incredibly grateful for her insights, her dedication to protecting Grand Staircase and Bears Ears, and her commitment to promoting healing for people from all walks of life and our planet.” -Sarah Bauman, Executive Director for Grand Staircase Escalante Partners
Our Conservation Programs are ramping up for another busy, fun, and exciting year. We’ll be carrying out Russian olive retreatment along the Lower Escalante River and its tributaries. This work will entail extensive backpacking and hiking, and we’re searching for two individuals who feel called to this challenging and rewarding work. If you or someone you know is interested, we have just posted two positions for a Field Coordinator and Field Technician. These new positions will help with a variety of conservation projects, including collecting vegetation at monitoring points across the watershed. Thanks to funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, we will be kicking off a new tamarisk vegetation treatment project in the Escalante River backcountry, in partnership with the UDWR and the BLM. We’ll apply the same Russian olive chainsaw methods to the tamarisk infestation, and we’ll pack in supplies by horseback! UDWR will be working at the same time to remove non-native fish species that pose a threat to the Escalante River. These vegetation treatments will provide better riparian habitat, increase water quality, and provide in-stream habitat to the native fishes of the Escalante.
Finally, we just received remote sensing data from the ERWP. This data will allow us to monitor vegetation change throughout the year using high-resolution satellite images. Yet another tool to help us monitor and conserve the precious Escalante River.
Photographer Anthony Sanna first visited the serpentine canyons found in Grand Staircase-Escalante in the late 1960s while attending the University of Utah. The bright colors and textures of sheer sandstone walls stood in stark contrast to Tony’s hometown in the Midwest, and he experienced the awe many feel when coming to this incomparable desert landscape. His admiration, respect, and wonder grew over the years as he studied fine-art photography at the university and often used the canyons as his primary subject.
Tony spent weeks hiking through the web of canyons to take pictures. The bulky camera equipment added significant weight to his pack, and he recounts regularly hauling 80–100 pounds of gear through the difficult terrain. He weighted his camera’s tripod to stay upright in quick-moving rivers—just in case that was the only spot to capture the shot. And this tripod often became his crutch crossing deep sections of river. He would go down any unknown side canyon or up any cliff he thought might lead to a great photo. Tony wrote about exhausting hiking days, where he’d pack up all his equipment after stopping to take a picture, only to find he no longer had the strength to lift his bag.
These were not trips of convenience for Tony. He was inspired to capture the striking features of the canyons—no matter how long it took or how much he had to bring. His close friend, Richard Yates, was the first to show Tony this area, and they continued to hike over the years. Richard would often take the bulk of their food to give Tony more room for his camera. Richard described to us the time and care he saw Tony put into his photography. And the inspiring work leads to an incredible collection of photos from Grand Staircase-Escalante spanning decades.
As Tony’s skill developed, he would become known for his expert color control. And his fascination with color is evident in his photos. Unlike many photographers who come to this area to take pictures of the vast landscape, Tony focused on smaller areas to capture the deep colors and textures. He has many photos of the desert varnish on sandstone canyon walls, where his framing presents near-abstract images.
Desert varnish is a painting thousands of years in the making as minerals and organic matter slowly coat the sandstone walls. The exact processes that create these streaks and colors remain somewhat unclear, but it continues to captivate us. And it’s clear through Tony’s work how moving this sight is for all of us.
On Dec. 21, 2020, Tony died peacefully at his home surrounded by his wife, Stephanie, and three children, Kyle, Maija, and Gabriel. We’re grateful we learned of his work and more about his deep connection to the Monument area. It’s no easy task to convey the striking views and sense of wonder you find here, and now we have Tony’s life’s work to bring that to you. Thank you, Tony. You can see more of his work at tonysanna.com.
This is Monumental news: The Grand Staircase Escalante Partners Science and Monitoring Plan, an adaptive resource management framework based on expert knowledge, is now complete. This document was created by scientists, Indigenous leaders, policy specialists, and others who all have specialized knowledge of the Grand Staircase-Escalante region.
The next phase of this project will focus on sharing and implementing this framework into resource management plans, building a comprehensive database of ecological resources (including decades of scientific research), and promoting and facilitating further research. This guide and collection of critical knowledge can be used to inform and improve management practices, such as in the development of a robust climate adaptation plan for the Monument.
To help people understand what this document is and why it’s so critical to the way we protect the Monument, we will begin to share section summaries with you over the coming months. We look forward to this plan’s continued development and growth to guide us to the best solutions in land management—here in the Monument and beyond.
“Canyoneering is the obsession of communing with the desert environment in an immersive (literally) and intimate manner. This is what I do. This is what we do. This is what canyoneers do. We make gear to assist with this.
Imlay Canyon Gear is a small company located in rural Utah, just east of Zion National Park. The extensive wildlands of the Utah desert are our focus, loving them for their wildness and in a way that preserves their wildness. Canyoneers have worked hard to build a supportive community that mentors people coming into the sport in safe and environmentally respectful practices. Wildness is a vital aspect of the beauty.
We support the Monuments, Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, and other environmental groups. I see this moment as a pivot point in our collective/political history, where the future of these lands for the next 100 years will be determined. Preservation or Ruin. Wildness or Desecration. Those are the choices; this is the time.” – Tom Jones, Imlay Canyon Gear and Canyoneering USA
GRAND STAIRCASE GUARDIANS The best way to provide ongoing support for our conservation efforts, educational programming, and advocacy for the Monument is with a monthly, recurring gift. Our sustaining donors provide reliable year-round support that fuels our organization and our mission to honor the past and safeguard the future of the Monument. New in 2021: all Grand Staircase Guardians will receive a custom GSENM-themed hiking buff with our logo. Click the button below to become a sustaining member.
NEW: BUSINESS MEMBERSHIP PROGRAM The Grand Staircase Escalante Partners business membership program is an excellent way for your company or employer to support the protection of Utah’s largest geological masterpiece. If you know of a business that might be interested in helping advance our efforts to be stewards for GSENM, tell them about our business membership program. Business memberships begin at $150, and members will be recognized with listings on our website and in emails. Higher membership levels also include logo placement on our website, spotlight features in newsletters, shout-outs on social media, and even recognition in our new headquarters in Escalante.