Gobsmacked again. How can Utah have so many spectacular spots that are so different from each other in such a small area?
We came in the eastern side of the park and our first sight was Checkerboard Mesa. Zion National Park is formed out of sandstone that was result of enormous sand dunes from a couple hundred million years ago. The horizontal lines come from the original cross-bedded sand dunes. It’s less clear where the vertical lines came from but they are probably stress fractures of some kind.
The first couple of miles there were sandstone domes and cliff walls everywhere. When you looked closely at the sandstone you could see it was made of thin layers, some less than an inch in width.
You then drive through first a short tunnel and then a real long one (1.1 miles). When you come out of the tunnel, you find yourself in the main canyon of the park. Photos don’t do it justice because the walls of the cliffs are a couple thousand feet tall.
Bryce Canyon was a relatively short drive from where we are camped in Glendale, Utah. It was a Saturday and the parking lot at the Visitor’s Center was jammed. We made one attempt to find a parking place and it took us almost 10 minutes just to get through the backed up cars. Way too small a parking lot for such a popular park. We then drove further into the park and the first two viewpoints had signs saying the parking lots were full and there were Park Rangers directing people away from those roads.
It turned out not to matter so much because once we got further away from the entrance the number of cars dropped off a lot. We stopped at a number of view points and took in the scenery.
Once again, an absolutely spectacular landscape that was completely different from anything we’ve seen before.
The columns, which are called hoodoos, are made of limestone. Millions of years ago Bryce Canyon was at the bottom of a lake. The different colors come from the times when iron-rich deposits washed into the lake and periods when the lake dried up.
Shortly after making the turnoff from Highway 89 to get to Bryce Canyon you pass through Red Canyon.
The photographs don’t do it justice, but it had the orange-est rock we’ve ever seen. I am not sure why it was called Red Canyon since it really is almost a florescent orange, but I guess Red Canyon sounds better than Orange Canyon.
The rock did not have the layers we saw in neighboring Bryce Canyon since all the rocks were a solid orange. The rock also looked a lot like dripped wax.
Red Canyon is a thousand or so feet lower than the lowest part of Bryce Canyon but I suspect it comes from one of the same rock layers.
When looking at the maps of our possible route through Utah I noticed that Capital Reef National Park was along the path so I added it to our itinerary. Our drive from southeastern Utah took us through Moab to Interstate 70 and then west through some of the most desolate desert landscape we’ve ever seen. We drove close to a hundred miles and didn’t see a single house or building. initially, it looked like tailings from some gigantic mine had just been dropped in piles along the interstate. Later we went along a section that looked like a giant plow had tried, and succeeded, in making a long, deep furrow in the earth. The rocks on the far side looked like a frozen wave about to crash down and we drove up through them in a canyon that had some been left behind. Just amazing landscape.
Our final stretch took us up over a mountain range. The pass was at 8950 feet and we saw a patch of snow by the roadside there (or at least I did, Susan refused to look) and more further up the slope. The other side of the pass, however, looked more like alpine meadow and there was a lot of green lower. When we got down to the valley we a river with water in it (!) and numerous farms most set up to use irrigation. We’re staying in Torrey, with trees and green lawn around us. It’s the first time we’ve seen this much grass in months.
Capital Reef is part of the furrow we saw many miles away. It is actually a remnant of the uplift of the Colorado Plateau. Some continental blocks got lifted more than others and there are now basically miles of tall cliffs. The cliffs were given the nautical term of ‘reef’, because they are too hard to get over and everybody had to go around. It got the name Capital Reef because it has numerous white domes in it that reminded people of state capital buildings.
When I had first planned our route through Utah, I had thought we’d stay in Moab, which is right next to Arches National Park. When I called ahead however, all the RV parks in Moab were full because of a 4-wheel Jeep get-together and we ended up staying in Monticello instead. This actually worked out well since Monticello is closer to some of the places we wanted to visit. Yesterday we drove through Moab on our way to Arches we could see that all of the RV parks were still packed. Moab itself is pretty busy and on the noisy side so we’re just as glad we’ve been staying in Monticello.
Arches National Park was about a 60 mile drive and about halfway there, we knew were were going in the right direction when we passed Wilson Arch.
Arches National Park is mostly located where an ancient salt deposit rose up through the overlaying sediments. When it did this, it fractured the upper rock layers in long, thin parallel lines. When water got into the salt dome it was dissolved and the rock layers fell into what is now a deep valley. The upper rock layers eroded along the fracture lines leaving a lot of rock fins in all different kinds of widths.
Once again PBS comes through for us. PBS has a regular show on the national parks and a couple of months ago there was one Canyonlands National Park. We’d never heard of it before, but I looked it up on the map and it was near our expected path through southeastern Utah. Canyonlands is divided into three districts (Needles, Islands in the Sky and the Maze) that are all separated by the Colorado and Green rivers. The Needles District is near where we are staying in Monticello, Utah so we took a trip to it a couple of days ago.
The scenery along the way, well before we even got to the Canyonlands park boundary, was absolutely spectacular. I know I’ve been saying that a lot lately but we really do feel that we’ve fallen into a National Geographic magazine. And once again, it was also completely different from anything we’ve seen before.
Yesterday we drove to Mesa Verde National Park, which is in the southwestern corner of Colorado. It was a bit longer of a drive than we planned on, partly because once you got to the park entrance there was still another 20 mile drive into the park itself.
We could see the Rocky Mountains all the way from Monticello, Utah where we are staying. They sort of floated above the horizon at first, but kept getting taller and taller the closer we got. Mesa Verde itself looks like a low mountain range and wasn’t terribly noticeable until we got to Cortez, Colorado.
The altitude at the start of the drive into the park was about 6500 feet. Within about six or seven miles we were at 8200 feet. The road winds a lot and has many hairpin turns. The posted speed limit was 35 MPH and I don’t really think you’d ever want to go faster than that since there were hardly any guard rails. Susan wasn’t overly enthralled with the drive since almost every time she looked out the car window there was a sheer drop-off right next to her.
We are currently staying in Monticello, Utah which is more or less in the southeast corner of the state. We’ve had poor weather the first three days we were here, with mixed snow and rain on Mother’s Day and temperatures in the mid-20’s each night. Today the weather finally cleared up and we took a trip to Natural Bridges, about an hour and a half drive southwest of us.
Monticello is located under the Abajo Mountains, which are called the Blue Mountains locally. There were a few streaks of snow when we first got here, but after the stormy weather this weekend, it has been re-topped with new snow.
The drive to Natural Bridges was through some pretty spectacular scenery. Natural Bridges itself is part of a layer of Permian sandstone that underlays several layers of very reddish rocks. The sandstone gets cut into deep and narrow canyons by streams and are very picturesque. Where the sandstone is on the surface it often gets sculpted into very interesting forms.
This has to have happened through the action of water but given the location of some of these forms it is real hard to see how the water got there.
Mexican Hat is a town about 20 miles north of Monument Valley and named for a local rock formation. We passed it on the way to Monticello, Utah which is where we are parked now.
While we were still a distance away from Mexican Hat, we noticed the mountains in the background were strikingly colored and and even more strikingly patterned.
We took the side road to the rock formation, and the reason for the patterning became more apparent.
I don’t know what causes the different colors in the layers of rock but the layers look like they were lifted in the middle into a graceful curve, and then later eroded along the lines of the layers. I think this type of formation is called a geosyncline.
This pattern though, was repeated in much smaller form near Mexican Hat rock. This is a small hill only about 150 feet high, whereas the mountains in the background were at least a couple of thousand feet high. This patterning looks a bit like a Serape and may be part of the reason why it is called Mexican Hat.