In this episode, we are joined by Kanab Visitor Center Host Bob Riding to discuss the best spots to visit in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Later, explore dinosaurs in the area with Alan Titus, a paleontologist with the Bureau of Land Management.
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Hal Johnson: [00:00:00] You are listening to the Magic of Kanab Podcast, part of the Destination Marketing Podcast Network. Welcome to another episode of the Magic of Kanab. I’m your host, Hal and in this episode, we’re discussing a monument here in Kanab called the Grand Staircase. We’ve got two fantastic guests today. First, we’re talking with Bob Riding from the Office of Tourism here in Kane County. So Bob before we get started the topic here, tell us a little bit about yourself, your background where you’re from, what’s going on with you.
Bob Riding [00:00:33] I am glad to be here.
Hal Johnson: [00:00:35] Glad to have you.
Bob Riding [00:00:36] I was born in Bryce Canyon, just below the National Park. My dad had a homestead there that he was granted during the Homestead Act. And I was born in the basement of our ranch house and in 1942-
Hal Johnson: [00:00:54] Did you say the basement of a ranch house?
Bob Riding [00:00:55] Yeah, the basement, we had a basement.
Hal Johnson: [00:00:57] Didn’t even qualify for the main floor.
Bob Riding [00:00:59] No, my grandmother was a midwife and she delivered all of the older children until I got a hospital in Panguitch. So she was the midwife for all of Garfield and Kane County back in those days.
Hal Johnson: [00:01:16] Interesting wow! And from there?
Bob Riding [00:01:19] I was raised there until the end of elementary school. We moved to Saint George, I went through high school there. After high school I went in the Navy when I got out of the Navy I came to Kanab and I’ve been here ever since. That was in 1963.
Hal Johnson: [00:01:39] Goodness, goodness! That’s a while now.
Bob Riding [00:01:40] That is a while.
Hal Johnson: [00:01:42] Wow. How long were you in the Navy? Just curious.
Bob Riding [00:01:44] 3.5 years
Hal Johnson: [00:01:46] Goodness well, wow, I bet you got some stories there.
Bob Riding [00:01:50] It’s pretty good. I’ve got to do two Westpac cruises which takes you all over the far east.
Hal Johnson: [00:01:56] We’ll have you back for another episode on just that maybe. But for today let’s dive right into our episode. We’re going to talk about the Grand Staircase today, which is a monument here close to Kanab, very close. And tell us just a little bit about what that is, what is the Grand Staircase?
Bob Riding [00:02:11] It’s a national monument designated by Bill Clinton in the late ’90s and it was real controversial at the time and we had to sue the government to get access. They wanted to close all the roads, but Garfield and Kane went together to sue them and they won the suit so they had to let us have access into the National Monument. Although they were already roads and we were allowed those roads with the Act was, RS 2477 or something like that.
And, so they won the suit so they closed some of the roads like the old four-wheel drive road up the Paria that goes all the way to Cannonvale. They closed that one because they called it a watershed so they closed that one.
Hal Johnson: [00:03:14] That’s open now though, right?
Bob Riding [00:03:15] No. Not for vehicles. You can ride horses up there and hike, but no motorized vehicles.
Hal Johnson: [00:03:25] Got you, got you, unfortunate. So Bob, tell me what is the Grand Staircase exactly? What does it encompass? What does that describe?
Bob Riding [00:03:32] It describes all the area between Garfield County and Kane County. It takes up most of Kane County and it’s huge, it has very little access to it except through Highway 12, goes into the top part of it. Highway 89 goes through the bottom part of it. The Skutumpah Road and the Cottonwood Road goes right through the middle of it.
Hal Johnson: [00:04:02] So the monument is quite a big, large area, encompassing even part of two counties and a lot of Kane County. So if a person comes and says, “How do I get to the Grand Staircase?” They’re probably thinking of a specific location or trailhead and that’s not the case. Right?
Bob Riding [00:04:17] There’s no specific places to hike unless you go into a slot canyon or some other point of interest.
Hal Johnson: [00:04:26] Right, right. So I’ve been in a small plain up in the area and I can see from a small plain the entire formation and so you have of course the north rim off to the south and then you have the chocolate cliffs which extend along horizontally lifts and cliffs and bluffs and all of a sudden abruptly goes up into the Vermillion red cliffs and follows that back a ways and then that’s pops up into the white sandstone, the white cliffs as we call them. And then above that another formation that goes up in a staircase pattern to the peaks for the southern Bryce formation.
And so my understanding that’s kind of what they’re trying to describe is these large sedimentary layers of different colors stacked on top of each other. Am I close on that?
Bob Riding [00:05:08] Yeah, we have a topographical map made with a 3D printer in our Office of Tourism and they can get down and see exactly how it is.
Hal Johnson: [00:05:18] Nice, nice.
Bob Riding [00:05:19] And it’s really it’s amazing and really fascinating for the tourists.
Hal Johnson: [00:05:25] I need to stop in there. I somehow missed that map. It’s been a while.
Bob Riding [00:05:28] It was made from satellite images. A very accurate map.
Hal Johnson: [00:05:33] Well and speaking of hikes you mentioned earlier, so there are some areas that have motorized access. There are some are specific to hikers and horses or ATVs but there’s a lot of areas in that monument to access, right? That are beautiful, wonderful.
Bob Riding [00:05:47] Yes. Then there’s roads that you can access but you got to have the right vehicle to do it. I mean the Smoky Mountain area and the Paunsaugunt plateau. It’s a big area.
Hal Johnson: [00:06:00] Well I noticed when I was up in that plain that if you look down you can see a whole spider web network of trails and roads and I’ve spoken with a couple of people in the Sheriff’s department here locally. And it’s not uncommon in the summer, spring and even early fall for people to get in over their heads. They don’t have that high clearance 4 x 4, they don’t have enough water, they get stranded, they’re buried to the axles, they’re relying on Google Maps or Apple Maps and that doesn’t really cover that trail system very well.
Bob Riding [00:06:28] Not very well. And you can’t just go out in any kind of vehicle. You got to be prepared, stock up on water, have a couple of extra spare tires. It’s a big area.
Hal Johnson: [00:06:41] Yes, yes.
Bob Riding: [00:06:42] And very inaccessible for a regular vehicle.
Hal Johnson: [00:06:46] Well, as far as preparation Bob good advice that you’re giving there and I do know that the Sheriff’s department gets called out frequently where people are in distress. So high clearance vehicle, a lot of water, maybe even download a map system, a reliable hunting or hiking app to your phone that’s not reliant on cellphone coverage because that’s spotty of course in the monument. Right?
Bob Riding [00:07:07] That’s true.
Hal Johnson: [00:07:08] Yeah, okay, so transitioning a little bit here, there’s some slot canyons in the grand staircase that are well-known and pretty high caliber destinations. In other words, a lot of people want to visit them. What are some of the ones that come to mind?
Bob Riding [00:07:23] Well Lick Wash is one, it’s on the Skutumpah Road and we send people there all the time. We have maps in the Office of Tourism that show them how to do it. Also, Bull Valley Gorge and Bull Willis Creek, they’re all nice slot canyons on the Skutumpah Road. Then on the Cottonwood Road, there’s Gross Winners Arch, which is always good. And a couple of good slot canyons on that road. Cottonwood narrows north and lower Hackberry Canyon. There’s also a big formation called Yellow Rock just behind Hackberry. That’s really interesting.
Hal Johnson: [00:08:06] Well I’ve been to a couple of those but I can tell I need to load you up in my rig, my high clearance 4 x 4. We got to go see some of these sites.
Bob Riding [00:08:12] Yeah, that’s the way you do it.
Hal Johnson: [00:08:14] I like it. If you had to pick a favorite, Bob, I know you they’re beautiful, they very they’re amazing. What’s your personal favorite slot canyon? Do you have one?
Bob Riding [00:08:22] I like Willis Creek, it’s a beautiful one and it’s just past the Bull Valley Gorge. There’s a bridge across the Bull Valley Gorge. It washed out a couple of years ago but they put a new bridge in.
Hal Johnson: [00:08:35] Okay? And tell me a little bit about Buckskin Gulch.
Bob Riding [00:08:37] Buckskin Gulch is just It’s in the monument but they’ve moved it a little bit, it’s in a wilderness area, a part of the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. But it’s a wonderful- it’s the longest and deepest slot canyon in the whole US. It’s easy to access because there’s a road that goes right to the trailhead. And it’s 21 miles long from the trailhead to the end of it. And it’s a lot longer if you go down the Paria all the way to Lees Ferry. Beautiful, beautiful place.
Hal Johnson: [00:09:16] I’ve seen just a small part of that. But 21 miles of slot canyon, that is really something.
Bob Riding [00:09:21] And it’s all in Utah, the Buckskin Gulch part of it and it confluences with the Paria just before you leave the state. Then you go up back north to White House Campground. That’s the other trail. Beautiful, beautiful place.
Hal Johnson: [00:09:42] Well, a lot of people have heard of Hole in the Rock. Tell us what that is. And how do you access that?
Bob Riding [00:09:46] Okay, Hole in the Rock is accessed from Escalante from Highway 12. When you get to Escalante, the Hole in the Rock road goes from Escalante all the way over through back into Kane County and to Lake Powell. And that’s where the old crossing was when they went across to settle the cities and stuff over by Blanding and Mexican Hat.
Hal Johnson: [00:10:16] The early pioneers went down that route.
Bob Riding [00:10:17] The early pioneers.
Hal Johnson: [00:10:20] Well Bob. This is really interesting stuff and I’m sure some of our listeners would like to know a lot more. What’s the best source of information? How can people find out about all these varying slot canyons and scenic outlooks, all the things that the Grand Staircase has to offer?
Bob Riding [00:10:32] Well, there’s five BLM offices around the monument. But we have maps at the Office of Tourism here in Kanab. You can access the Skutumpah Road from Johnson Canyon and you can access the Cottonwood Road on Highway 89 near Big Water.
Hal Johnson: [00:10:55] I’ve heard that’s an amazing road and some amazing views on Cottonwood.
Bob Riding [00:11:00] Yeah. Oh yeah, it is amazing and it goes past some iconic areas that grows those arches is a beautiful double arch. It’s actually a triple arch almost. It’s just huge and you can drive almost to it and there’s just a short trail that goes up to it. I took pictures going up to it as I got closer and it was amazing.
Hal Johnson: [00:11:27] Well so it sounds to me, tell me if this is fair Bob, that it would take quite a long time to see all of these sites over across a million to two million acres and so it might require some prioritization for visitors that are coming in and go to the Office of Tourism figure out your ABC, 1234 sites maybe and then hopefully plan a return trip because there’s so much that’s worth seeing.
Bob Riding [00:11:52] There is and I’m 80 years old and I haven’t seen it all.
Hal Johnson: [00:11:55] I can tell you’ve seen a good portion of it.
Bob Riding [00:11:58] I have.
Hal Johnson: [00:12:00] Yes. Okay, well I sure appreciate you coming here today. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Bob Riding [00:12:04] It’s been a pleasure to be here.
Hal Johnson: [00:12:05] Bob you’re a wealth of knowledge, I really appreciate it. And we have another guest today who also is a wealth of knowledge. We’d like to welcome Dr. Alan Titus to our episode of paleontologists at the Bureau of Land Management.
Camille: [00:12:22] Hey everyone, it’s Camille, I’m jumping in here for Hal Johnson, he had to take off on a tour. So I get to guest host this segment with Dr. Alan Titus. Dr. Titus. Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do here.
Alan Titus: [00:12:34] Yeah, well I’m originally a Nevada native, I was raised in las Vegas and spent a lot of time as a youth up here in Southern Utah falling in love with the geology and paleontology of the region. I can remember for my 8th birthday I got a rock hammer as a present and I begged my dad to take me hunting trilobites up in the West Desert of Utah. So from a very early age, I’ve just been fascinated with the paleontology of Utah. So fast forward to 2000, I actually got the job as the first full-time permanent monument paleontologist for the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, a position I’ve had for 20 years. In that time just came to love the geology and paleontology even more. It’s just an incredible resource.
Camille: [00:13:26] Back up a little bit and tell us a little bit about your education. So it started with the rock hammer, with the fascination and then what about schooling?
Alan Titus: [00:13:34] So I declared a geology major at UNLV in Las Vegas and then went on and finished a master’s degree at the University of Arkansas, working on fossils from Nevada, and then finished with a PhD from Washington State University in 1996, working on fossils from Utah from Western Utah.
Camille: [00:13:55] Wow, that’s amazing. Took you all over the place.
Alan Titus: [00:13:57] All over. And then my first teaching job out of graduate school was actually at Snow College in Central Utah. So, Utah has sort of been at the center of my paleontology vortex ever since I was an undergraduate.
Camille: [00:14:12] Did you know, you wanted to end up here early on?
Alan Titus: [00:14:14] I didn’t know I’d end up here specifically, but it certainly was one of those places that I dreamed of ending up at.
Camille: [00:14:20] That’s amazing.
Alan Titus: [00:14:22] And here I am.
Camille: [00:14:24] I have a little bit of fangirl going on with Dr. Titus, he’s amazing in this sphere and a fun fact that I’m just going to throw in here. So he’s also in a rock band called Mesozoic, which I think is awesome. So, I’m like, if he’s not doing a dig, he’s doing a gig.
Alan Titus: [00:14:38] It’s true and our resurrected Mesozoic had our first public gig last Saturday.
Camille: [00:14:45] Oh, awesome. After the pandemic, you mean?
Alan Titus: [00:14:47] Well, no, the band broke up.
Camille: [00:14:49] Oh, the band broke up. I didn’t know this.
Alan Titus: [00:14:50] And is reformed.
Camille: [00:14:52] Awesome. I’m glad you’re back in action on the rock and roll scene. So let me ask you this, we have tons of visitors who come through here. How would they experience this amazing dinosaur-rich area? How can they experience it as a visitor?
Alan Titus: [00:15:07] Well, step number one would be to drop by your travel center and see the two that we have on exhibit over there.
Camille: [00:15:13] Exactly. I love them. Seriously, the Nasutoceratops School is right by my office door so you can peek in and say hi.
Alan Titus: [00:15:20] Yeah. And then I would say step number two would be to head on over to Big Water if they can make it and see our visitor center over there. We have a fantastic display on the evolution of horned dinosaurs like Nasutoceratops. And also a giant 40-foot mural that depicts the ancient landscapes as they used to look like so that people can get their heads around all this huge change that’s occurred in the different climates.
Camille: [00:15:46] I was surprised the first time I went through, I’m like, this is such a gem. Like you just don’t know it’s there, it’s a little bit hidden. But if you pull off the highway and go to this visitor center, the kids will just go nuts there.
Alan Titus: [00:15:57] Yeah, 4, 5 and 6-year-olds will freak out.
Camille: [00:15:59] Yep. That’s my grandson’s age. I have to put a leash on them.
Alan Titus: [00:16:04] We just had a National Fossil Day out there not this last weekend, but a week ago, this last weekend and we had over 300 people turn out.
Camille: [00:16:11] Wow, that’s amazing.
Alan Titus: [00:16:13] I heard kids running around going, “This is the best day of my life,” because we had a little dig where they could dig up bones and, lots of activities for them.
Camille: [00:16:25] That’s so cool. Us adults need to start saying that more. This is the best day of my life.
Alan Titus: [00:16:31] Every day.
Camille: [00:16:32] Right? I know. My grandkids say that and I need to bring that energy back in my life. So okay then the visitor center and what else?
Alan Titus: [00:16:39] Well there are ways you can connect out in the field in on the ground, which of course is usually a lot more impactful to actually see the evidence of these amazing beasts in the field, in the rock, which is where they left their legacy for us. There are places like the Cottonwood Canyon Road where you could stop at the oyster beds at the south end there and just imagine that it was covered by ocean and this is an oyster reef, 94 million-year-old oyster reef. These oysters were alive at the same time, the dinosaurs were stomping around on the beach not far away.
Camille: [00:17:15] So did the dinosaurs, did they eat the oysters then or?
Alan Titus: [00:17:17] No, they are a little tough for them.
Camille: [00:17:18] Yeah. I didn’t picture that, but I’m like, what do I know? I’m kind of like a toddler in your presence right now. I know nothing.
Alan Titus: [00:17:26] No, they have these giant softball-sized shells that were about two inches thick and there’s just no way a dinosaur could get through that.
Camille: [00:17:32] Got you.
Alan Titus: [00:17:33] They did have predators, but there were large snails. They would drill through them and suck their meat out through the whole –
Camille: [00:17:39] I guess everything had a predator.
Alan Titus: [00:17:41] Everything’s got to look out. Nature read in tooth and claw. Then go up Cottonwood and then another good place to see the Dinosaur Story here would be down Hole in the Rock over to 20 Mile Wash where you can see an amazing track site up on this entrada sandstone bluff. There’s about 1200 mapped large three-toed predatory dinosaur tracks on that one bench and some of them are so detailed that you can see the individual pad prints and the impressions of the claws of the tips of the feet.
Camille: [00:18:16] Wow, that’s amazing.
Alan Titus: [00:18:18] So that’s a really, really great place to see that inside Grand Staircase. There are lots of smaller sites. There’s what we call it the Veloso Chicken Site next to Highway 12 between Escalante and Calf Creek. It’s hard to actually tell you where it is. I don’t know what milepost is on the highway, but it’s literally right in the road cut. You can see it from the highway, it’s on the shoulder.
Camille: [00:18:41] That’s amazing. So the port of entry isn’t in the monument, but that has some dinosaur tracks up there that’s kind of an easy-to-get-to hike?
Alan Titus: [00:18:49] It does. Yeah just part on the south end of the parking area near the port of entry and then hike up through the first ledge, it’s a little tricky to get through that first ledge. But then head out west to the nose and up to the top. And I think there’s three or four tracks up there, you can check out.
Camille: [00:19:05] Yeah. I’ve taken my grandkids out there. I actually had one kind of strapped to me. She was little enough so I could do it with carrying a baby and had a toddler with me. So it’s not difficult.
Alan Titus: [00:19:14] No. Now for the adventuresome, there’s Flag Point.
Camille: [00:19:18] Yeah that’s right. I haven’t even been to Flag Point.
Alan Titus: [00:19:20] What?
Camille: [00:19:21] I know it’s crazy. I mean I know where it’s at. I just need to go. Maybe I could go with Dr. Titus, how cool would that be?
Alan Titus: [00:19:28] I would love that.
Camille: [00:19:29] Okay let’s plan it.
Alan Titus: [00:19:31] Yeah. No that has so many superlatives about it. I mean there’s actually a rock art panel depicting dinosaur tracks nearby and there’s several tracks up on top of the bench there that are quite distinct and very well preserved and yet the view from the ledge just goes on forever. You can see the north rim of the Grand Canyon and the whole East Kaibab uplift and the Cockscomb and over to the Paria.
Camille: [00:19:57] So I have a question for you since you mentioned rock art, there’s the Mansour Cave and there’s what looks like a big chicken. Do you think that Native Americans were like seeing these prints and wondering where’s the big chicken, you know?
Alan Titus: [00:20:10] No, absolutely. So that’s one of the cool things about the Flag Point rock art site is they clearly depict a three-toed dinosaur track and they surrounded it with giant bird images.
Camille: [00:20:24] Yeah, I can imagine that that’s what they had to think.
Alan Titus: [00:20:26] They understood these to be giant birds. And it turns out science has shown that they weren’t actually that far off because T-rex was basically first-cousin to the birds.
Camille: [00:20:36] That is so wild. So let me ask you this then. So somebody who wants to be like Dr. Titus, how would they go about becoming involved in the paleontology of Grand Staircase?
Alan Titus: [00:20:47] Well, that is another great question and I’ve got a great answer for you. You just need to come over to the Kanab BLM headquarters, sign up as a volunteer and we’ll do your little on-the-job training and get you started.
Camille: [00:21:02] So you don’t even have to be a scientist. You can just be somebody that’s passionate.
Alan Titus: [00:21:06] This is one of those fields where just average citizens can come in and make a meaningful contribution to the science.
Camille: [00:21:15] That is so cool.
Alan Titus: [00:21:17] Yeah. You have to be 16 and able to operate a government vehicle. I can’t take 4 or 5 or 6-year-olds.
Camille: [00:21:21] There goes my four-year-old grandson’s dreams. He has something to look forward to.
Alan Titus: [00:21:37] Yes.
Camille: [00:21:28] Well, thank you, Dr. Titus, so much for joining us on the show today and we hope to have you back some time and I’m going to plan on that Flag Point hike.
Alan Titus: [00:21:36] Okay let’s do it. It would be my pleasure to come back. Thanks, Camille.
Camille: [00:21:39] Thank you. Thank you so much for joining us today. We appreciate your listen. Make sure and follow us on our social media platforms and we will see you next time on the Magic of Kanab Podcast.