The Vermilion Cliffs are the second "step" up in the five-step Grand Staircase of the Colorado Plateau. Reddish or vermilion-colored cliffs are found along U.S. Highway 89 and U.S. Highway 89A near Kanab, Utah (and near Navajo Bridge in Arizona). They extend from a location near Page, Arizona, west for a considerable distance, in both Arizona and Utah. 112,500 acres (45,500 ha) of the region were designated as the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness in 1984, and an even greater area was proclaimed Vermilion Cliffs National Monument in 2000. Famous locations in the cliff area include Lee's Ferry, Glen Canyon (a national recreational area), The Wave, Coyote Buttes, and others.
The cliffs sat astride an important route from Utah to Arizona used by settlers during the 19th Century. The area was thoroughly explored by the Mormon pioneer and missionary Jacob Hamblin who started a ranch at the base of the cliffs in House Rock Valley. Modern U.S. Highway 89A basically follows the old wagon route past the cliffs through House Rock Valley and up the Kaibab Plateau to Jacob Lake.
The Vermilion Cliffs are made up of deposited silt and desert dunes, cemented by infiltrated carbonates and intensely colored by red iron oxide and other minerals, particularly bluish manganese. In the spring, after a good winter rain, the valley between Highway 89 and the Vermilion Cliffs will be covered with a carpet of desert mallow and other spring flowers.
In the far north of Arizona, the Vermilion Cliffs provide the most visible feature in one of the five new BLM-administered national monuments that were established in 2000. Like the others, the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument is marked only by a few signposts and is likely to remain without any particular visitor facilities or other improvements - this is a place for people to explore by themselves, though still most tourists zip by on US 89 or US 89A, en route between Zion National Park, the Grand Canyon and Lake Powell, without stopping in this scenic region.
Much of the area is an isolated plateau, flat and sandy, with just a few scattered ranches and occasional 12th century Anasazi remains - known as the Sand Hills, access is very limited and there are no obvious attractions here. The most interesting parts are the edges, as at the top is the Buckskin Gulch, the longest slot canyon in the Southwest, followed by the lower Paria River Gorge, a deep, watery canyon that rivals any in the much more famous Zion National Park. The west edge of the plateau is formed by a long ridge of eroded, upturned strata (the Coxcomb) which has much colorful, weathered rock formations including 'The Wave', while the south and east edges are formed by the Vermilion Cliffs themselves, which must be one of the most spectacular and extensive cliff faces in the US - unusually colorful because of the especially variegated Chinle Formation that forms the lower strata, the escarpment runs for over 30 miles and reaches heights of 2,000 feet. Further to the southeast, the land is quite flat for 100 miles or more though is split by the Colorado River, at the start of its Grand Canyon.