Scientific Benefits of GSENM

Scientific Benefits

[Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument’s] size, resources, and remote character provide extraordinary opportunities for geologists, paleontologists, archaeologists, historians, and biologists in scientific research, education, and exploration” –Center for American Progress

In addition to historic artifacts in GSENM such as “ruins and rock art from both the pre-columbian Fremont people and the ancestral Pueblo peoples”, the monument is a “fertile hunting ground for dinosaur bones, particularly from the Late Cretaceous Period (roughly 65 million years ago).” Extremely significant fossils, including marine and brackish water mollusks, turtles, crocodilians, lizards, dinosaurs, fishes, and mammals, have been recovered from the Straight Cliffs Formation. Within the monument, these formations have produced the only evidence of life in our hemisphere 85-100 million years ago.” Twenty-one never-before-seen dinosaurs have been discovered since the monument’s designation. If the monument fails to be protected, many dinosaurs and fossils can go unfound and destroyed.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument hosts a science symposium that entices the public to explore “the thrill of dinosaurs to unsolved mysteries of ancient peoples, world-renowned scientists and local experts will be your guides. Come learn how some of our most visually-stunning landscapes gave microbes to thank.” The symposium highlights just a few of the many scientific discoveries that have been made possible as a result of the monument.

Grand Staircase isn’t only known for its abundance of dinosaur bones and fossils, but also for its biodiversity and ecology. Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is in the top 4% of similarly-sized western monuments for ecological intactness and in the top 7% for ecological connectivity and night darkness – indicators for high biodiversity and landscape conservation. In basic terms, this means Grand Staircase is one of the only monuments in the West that has kept its landscape untouched and natural, which allows for species to grow and evolve with minimal human disturbance.

“In addition to the study of specific scientific resources and scientific disciplines, the Monument setting will allow study of key issues such as understanding ecological and climatic change over time, understanding the interactions between humans and their environment, improving land management practices, and achieving a properly functioning, healthy, and biologically diverse landscape.” The monument puts forth many efforts to try to maintain the natural landscape and prevent invasive species through vegetation monitoring. Vegetation monitoring has “occurred on approximately 200,000 acres and consisted of Proper Functioning Condition (Lotic and Lentic), Rangeland Health (IIRH), Long Term Trend, Vegetation Treatment establishment monitoring, and fire restoration monitoring. GSENM also monitored the condition of willows transplanted in 2013 on Henrieville Creek, along Highway 12. The Monument has had success in partnering with local schools in its willow planting project. The schools help cut willow shoots, the Monument prepares the cuttings, then the schools place the willow cuttings to reduce erosion and shade water.

Grand Staircase’s geology is perhaps its most obvious amazing feature. “The monument is a geologic treasure of clearly exposed stratigraphy and structures. The sedimentary rock layers are relatively undeformed and unobscured by vegetation, offering a clear view to understanding the processes of the earth’s formation. A wide variety of formations, some in brilliant colors, have been exposed by millennia of erosion. The monument contains significant portions of a vast geologic stairway, which is how it got its name: the Grand Staircase.

Of course the monument’s abundant wildlife should not be neglected. In an effort to learn more about the species that occupy the park, “Monument Resource Staff completed several wildlife water projects which have led to the better distribution of species and numbers across a wide area and alleviated high impacts to a localized key areas and critical natural waters.” Research projects have been conducted on hummingbirds and bats, bighorn sheep, pronghorns, and cougars to ensure that the park was fostering a healthy environment and habitat for the many species that live in the monument boundaries.

The following was taken from Learning from the Land: Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Symposium Proceedings (November 4-5, 1997):

Archeological findings in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument represent some of the oldest evidence of human habitation on the Colorado Plateau.  The North Creek Shelter site represents over 11,000 years of human occupation, one of very few sites on the Colorado Plateau to include human history just after the Paleocene epoch. The sandy, desert environment has preserved botanical evidence and remnants of early subsistence habits, including the remains of ducks, beavers and turkeys.

Sites within the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument have provided new understandings of the human experience in 950-1100 AD, illustrating more significant interaction than previously understood.  Using ceramics, site plans and architecture, migration and interaction patterns between Fremont, Kayenta Anasazi and Virgin Anasazi cultures are beginning to be understood.

Research is being conducted in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument on unusual features known as cup and channel petroglyphs.   These unique petroglyphs are exceptionally large, in some cases up to two meters long, can be found at prominent locations, and have long been a mystery waiting to be unraveled.  Potential uses of these petroglyphs include navigation to water sources and seasonal markers, but scientists are just beginning to connect these features with “cultural affiliation and sociocultural function.”

The archaeology of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument offers incredible potential for understanding the very earliest human cultures from the Four Corners region.  Interestingly, it can also be applied to our understanding of the landscape-scale management the Monument was designated to study.  Archaeological work on the Grand Staircase has also reconstructed climate, fire and vegetation patterns spanning back 7300 years for Fiftymile Mountain and nearly 1650 years for Johnson Canyon.  These records document contemporary impact of cattle grazing, help establish a baseline for natural fire and vegetation patterns and have established the significant scientific and historic value for early agricultural archeological sites in these two significant areas of the Monument.

The Monument also continues to preserve human history and the stories of the rugged individuals who sought to carve out a life in these remote lands: Paiute, Ute, Hopi, Zuni and Navajo.  There are over 20,000 known sensitive archeological sites on the Monument, but it is estimated that only 10 percent of the area has been thoroughly surveyed.  It is anticipated that tens of thousands additional unknown sites exist.  The Monument also preserves resources from a particularly challenging era of Mormon history, including sites such as the Old Paria town-site, rock houses, cowboy camps, Dance Hall Rock, and the famous Hole-in-the-Rock trail.

You can read a summary of many scientific projects that have been conducted in the park here.

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