Although the canyons can seem impossibly forbidding, marked by the extremes of heat and cold, aridity and flooding, human beings have lived in the area for hundreds of years. In the tiny community of Boulder, about 30 miles north of Escalante, the Anasazi State Park Museum preserves the remains of an ancestral Puebloan village dating to the middle of the 11th century. As many as 200 people may have lived here at one time, and archaeologists have unearthed 10 pit structures, 97 rooms, and more than 162,000 artifacts, including arrowheads, tools, and ceramic pots.
The town of Escalante, which now harbors a hardy population of about 800 people, remains peppered with evidence of the more recent past: Historic cabins, Victorian homes, and simple farmhouses, some well over a century old, dot the grid of streets. The community retains its frontier character, with only a small handful of art galleries, lodges, and restaurants catering to visitors.
The Escalante Heritage/Hole-in-the-Rock Center tells the memorable story of the 1879 Mormon wagon train that forged a hair-raising route from the dirt road that passes Devils Garden. After threading through deeply etched canyonlands and descending a 1,000-foot cliff to the Colorado River, the settlers eventually founded Bluff, Utah.
In the evenings, dusty hikers congregate at Escalante Outfitters, an outdoor shop with racks of maps that also serves pizzas such as the Silver Falls, adorned with spinach, feta, mushrooms, and slowroasted tomatoes. Down the street, Circle D Eatery offers up juicy burgers. After dark, visitors head to the drive-in theater at the Yonder Escalante, where moviegoers can reserve a 1960s convertible and watch old westerns under a star-sprinkled sky.
The resort also rents vintage Airstreams, cabins, and RV sites. Each trailer comes outfitted with a deck and grill, as well as Adirondack chairs that provide a crucial experience: tranquil moments overlooking the sagebrush, with the shadowy quiet of the slot canyons, the whispers of wind rushing over rock, the crayon-bright cactus blooms, and the humbling realization that in running a hand over the cool, gritty sandstone you are touching 190 million years of history.