A note from our New Executive Director
Dear Friends of Partners and Grand Staircase-Escalante,
It is with great pleasure that I write my first newsletter piece as the Grand Staircase Escalante Partners (GSEP) Executive Director.
Two months into the job and nearly 20 years since I first visited this place, I am struck by the beauty of Grand Staircase as if it were my first time ever. I was reflecting yesterday morning, while in Escalante, on how the morning light descended upon the Monument, bringing forth secrets hidden in the cracks and crevices just waiting to be seen. Just the act of showing up allows for a great reveal that is, in its sheer wildness, all at once heart-breaking and heart-mending.
I have been visiting the Grand Staircase area for many years to recreate, during my visits here, I’ve bathed in the vistas, slid through slot canyons, walked barefoot in the Escalante River, and spent a solitary late afternoon at Calf Creek Falls, watching the sky grow dark as my ears sucked in the steady sounds of water falling through air and crashing upon itself. With every visit, I felt blessed, amazed at my good fortune to lose myself in this magical place. Yes, it is a wonderful thing to recreate responsibly in the Monument. And we support that. But our fight to protect the Monument is not a fight simply to protect our ability for recreational enjoyment. That is not why the Monument needs us. It is Grand Staircase Escalante Partners that taught me this. Our raison d’être goes far beyond the physical beauty of this place and our personal recreational pleasure. We are here because this place, in all its remoteness and wildness, holds the power to teach us in ways no other place in this country, or even in this world, can.
The Monument creates protections for sacred places that are part of the fabric of indigenous people’s culture – past, present, and future. Our Monument is also a mecca for biodiversity, paleontology, and archaeology.
It holds knowledge about plant and animal adaptation and climate change and about the very first humans ever to live in this area. Our public lands are, indeed, the greatest, longest-living teachers on earth.
Writer Brooke Williams describes the Colorado Plateau as America’s Wild Heart and Escalante as its core. This place is hidden and pulsating with fossils, unnamed plants, and never-before-discovered bees. It tells the story of human history, Tribal culture, and climate/ecosystem changes, such as why fires happened when. Before we can make decisions about how to manage a place, we must understand what we are managing and what we stand to lose. In this place that we call the Grand Staircase, we are just beginning to realize what will be lost, but we are nowhere near the truth of it all. We are still miles and centuries away from truly knowing the core of the heart.
Thank you all for supporting Partners and our ability to promote and support restoration work, citizen science, paleontology research, outdoor education, and so much more. Every day, with your help, we are learning from the Monument. After 20 years of visiting Grand Staircase, now I know why I am really here: to be both student and steward and to help protect our Monument, the greatest teacher on earth, for generations to come.
A note from our education coordinator, Supporting communities
What can Partners do to support rural communities surrounding Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument?
Our educational programs are one way our organization contributes to the well-being of monument-adjacent communities. Rural schools face numerous challenges to delivering hands-on, inquiry-based educational experiences. These school districts tend to be underfunded in comparison to urban school districts, making it difficult for schools to travel for field experiences or to purchase the tools and supplies for in-school activities.
Rural educators receive lower salaries compared to their urban counterparts, often lack access to professional development opportunities, and regularly hold many roles in their school, which can include teaching multiple subjects and/or grade levels and fulfilling multiple extracurricular duties.
Taking advantage of the scientific resources the Monument has to offer to deliver lessons, activities, and field experiences, our programs help educators teach scientific practices and concepts in a manner that builds student skills and connects youth to the natural world that surrounds their communities. With a new set of educational core standards rolling out in 2020, Partners is poised to connect educators and students to lessons, programs, and scientific experts in ways that meet those standards through embracing student-centered, inquiry-based learning. With your support, we’re able to bring this service to our rural communities, all the while sharing and enabling connections to this invaluable Monument.
The Monument is rich with archaeological artifacts and sites – cultural resources that not only carry scientific value, but are also highly valued by and culturally significant to communities across a number of Native American cultural groups, including the Hopi, Zuni, Southern Paiute, Paiute, Ute, and Diné/Navajo. The Monument provides special opportunities to learn about the region’s past. First, the Monument contains evidence of the oldest known habitation on the Colorado Plateau at North Creek Shelter. Second, sites containing materials from both the Fremont cultural group and Ancestral Puebloans intermingle in some areas of the Monument, suggesting some degree of coexistence, and providing an opportunity for archaeologists to examine past cross-cultural interactions.
Board Member Highlights
In a recent article about Stephen Trimble by Rachel Fixsen in the Moab Sun News, Stephen talks about work on his most recent book release, The Capitol Reef Reader. Stephen states that he started working on The Capitol Reef Reader forty-five years ago without knowing it. “I was a seasonal ranger in Capitol Reef in 1975 when I was in my twenties, and I did what every seasonal ranger did—I started reading up on the background of the park so I could be a competent ranger and give a good campfire talk.” As a young ranger, Trimble explored authors he calls “elders”—Clarence Dutton, Edward Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and Ann Zwinger. Essays and excerpts from all of these authors are included in the collection. “I found a very rich literature. It turns out that there may be a richer literature for Capitol Reef than there is for other, more highly visited parks,” Trimble said, referring to the other four of Utah’s “Mighty Five” national parks.
News from the paleo lab
The end of the year’s fieldwork, as always, is a time of mixed emotions. It is hard to walk away from all the exciting finds, but the off-season gives the program a chance to focus more on lab preparation, which is at least equally exciting. It is also a chance to get research done. Heading up the to-do list is finishing a manuscript on the geology, site history, and preservation at Rainbows and Unicorns (Grand Staircase’s very own tyrannosaur mass mortality site), hopefully, to be submitted in early 2020 for publication.
Also in the works is the description of North America’s oldest mosasaur, a marine reptile from the Tropic Shale Formation related to Komodo Dragons, and the naming of at least two new species of dinosaurs.
In other news, a team led by Dr. Randy Irmis from the Natural History Museum of Utah published a detailed description of one the most important Late Triassic fossils ever found in Utah, a nearly complete articulated Poposaurus found in the Circle Cliffs area of Grand Staircase. Detailed study of this specimen revealed that this group of crocodiles had become bipedal and were converging in both form and behavior with theropod dinosaurs, which were their main ecologic competitors. Imagine that, a crocodile that looked remarkably like a tiny T. rex!
We are pleased to announce that, this fall, we completed initial Russian olive treatment on the Escalante River—this equates to treating 90 miles of river!
The collaborative Escalante Restoration Project represents an incredible milestone, with ten years of work by the Escalante River Watershed Partnership (ERWP) and Grand Staircase Escalante Partners. Together we’ve completed chainsaw work in Upper and Lower Harris Wash and packed out the backcountry camps. A huge Thank You! to the Utah Conservation Corps, Southwest Conservation Corps – Ancestral Lands, and Arizona Conservation Corps for their contribution to this incredible accomplishment.
With the close of 2019, Grand Staircase Escalante Partners and ERWP have completed ALL chainsaw efforts in the Escalante Canyons. We are excited to move into the Monitoring and Maintenance phase of this project. Although initial treatments are completed, retreatments in 2020 and beyond are critical to protecting this significant investment of time, funding, and labor.
The Grand Staircase Escalante Partners Restoration program is looking forward to new initiatives in the watershed, from springs inventories to continued restoration on private lands, upper watershed work, uplands work, and more!
Digital research library
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) Digital Research Library at Southern Utah University (SUU) is a great resource for those interested in the Monument. It’s free and available to all—researchers, students, and the general public. In the archive you can find hundreds of scientific documents—theses, dissertations, and published papers in all of the subject areas for which the Monument was established: paleontology, geology, archaeology, human history, and ecology. You can also find the proceedings from several scientific symposia sponsored by GSENM between 1996 and 2016. A unique aspect of the digital archives is a collection of over 300 oral histories from people who tell their stories of living in the GSENM region; all transcripts are available to the public.
Currently, we need funding to help SUU transfer tape recordings into digital format, as tapes disintegrate with time. When completed, people will be able to hear their ancestors tell their stories firsthand!
What is AmazonSmile? AmazonSmile is a simple way for you to support Grand Staircase Escalante Partners every time you shop, at no cost to you! Amazon will donate 0.5% of your eligible purchases to our organization.
How do I shop at AmazonSmile? On your first visit to AmazonSmile you need to select Grand Staircase Escalante Partners to receive donations from eligible purchases before you begin shopping. Amazon will remember your selection, and then every eligible purchase you make at smile.amazon.com (click here) will result in a donation to Grand Staircase Escalante Partners.
You are invited to join us at the Natural History Museum of Utah for DinoFest at the end of the month.
January 25 & 26, 10am – 5pm each day.
There will be many lectures, activities, and resources to help you learn about paleontology. Also, be sure to stop by our booth and say hello!
Visit the Natural History Museum website (click here) to learn more and to save $2 on admission tickets!
We are seeking education volunteers
Are you excited about education and science?
Do you want to foster connections to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and share knowledge about its scientific and cultural resources?
Do you live in Kane or Garfield Counties and have an interest in volunteering in your community?
Get in touch with our education coordinator, Neak, to learn more about upcoming opportunities to work alongside our team and help local students experience the Monument!
Neak Loucks, Education Coordinator
Phone: (435) 644-2724