The term "American West" is an amorphous one, meaning different things to different people. For landscape photographers, especially those focusing on the desert, the term is synonymous with the Colorado Plateau and the eastern Californa deserts of Death Valley and Anza-Borrego. The Colorado Plateau is a large geoglogical area encompassing over 130,000square miles, extending from northern Utah into western Colorado, down to Albuquerque New Mexico, over to mid-Arizona, and west to St. George Utah. The Parks and Monuments listed below are all located on the Colorado Plateau as are many other photographically-desirable areas managed by the BLM or other national or state organizations. Another desert area of particular interest and not on the Plateau is Death Valley National Park.
The parks on the Colorado Plateau include:
Arches; Bryce; Capitol Reef; Chaco Canyon; Canyonlands; Grand Canyon; Mesa Verde; Petrified Forest; and Zion.
The National Monuments on the Colorado Plateau include:
Grand Staircase-Escalante; Canon De Chelly; Cedar Breaks; Dinosaur; and Natural Bridges.
The Grand Staircase refers to an immense sequence of sedimentary rock layers and extends south from Bryce Canyon through Zion and into the Grand Canyon.
The Grand Staircase has five areas called steps. These are a series of different-color cliffs which step up from one another. The Spanish word "escalante" means "climber":
- Pink Cliffs: Bryce area.
- Gray Cliffs: between Zion and Bryce.
- White Cliffs: Zion sandstone cliffs.
- Vermilion (Red) Cliffs: Lee's Ferry, Glen Canyon, Coyote Buttes (North & South), the Wave and the Paria Plateau.
- Chocolate Cliffs: Lee's Ferry and 89 area and north rim of Grand Canyon. Eastern Boundary is Capitol Reef and southern is Grand Canyon. Western is Zion and Northern is along Utah 12.