The Real Grand Staircase – First Three Steps

The Grand Staircase is a massive geologic phenomenon that defines millions of acres of landscape in southern Utah and northern Arizona. Made up of five defining “layers,” the oldest layers of the Grand Staircase are found at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, while the newest layer makes up Bryce Canyon.

Starting with the oldest layer first, the stair steps are named for their general color: chocolate, vermillion, white, gray, and pink. As the landscape shifted over the millennia from lakes to sand dunes to rock, the Grand Staircase was formed by tectonic uplift along the Colorado Plateau, which fanned out and exposed the various layers of sediment and rock. Chocolate Cliffs This is the oldest or bottom layer of the Grand Staircase, which makes up the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The Chocolate Cliffs were formed around 200 million to 225 million years ago. This layer defines most of the Kaibab plateau and is made of Kaibab limestone.

The Vermillion Cliffs

The Vermillion Cliffs are a rich reddish-brown color, made up of silt and ancient desert sand dunes. This layer makes up the red rock cliffs near Kanab. The Vermillion Cliffs date back between 165 million and 200 million years old.

The White Cliffs

The massive Navajo sandstone cliffs in Zion National Park are formed by the White Cliff layer of the Grand Staircase. The White Cliffs are estimated to be around 150 million years old, created when the region was made up of lakes and massive sand dunes.

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