Colorado Plateau


To me learning is part of a vacation. To some that sounds strange. But to me learning is fun. One of the things I have tried to learn is geology. In the American south west geology is laid bare. That makes it a little easier. This is particularly important in a region called the Colorado Plateau. This is roughly centered on the 4 corners region of the southwestern US where Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona meet.


I love the Colorado Plateau. It is a wonderland in rock and stone. Much of it is high desert with scattered areas of forest.  The nickname “Red Rock Country,” given to the region, suggests the extraordinary color of the rock that is often bare as a result of millions of years of dryness and erosion. It is famous for rock formations of domes, hoodoos, fins, reefs, river narrows, natural bridges and slot canyons.

One of the most stunning parts of the Colorado Plateau is Monument Valley that straddles Arizona and Utah.  Monument Valley has been the subject of numerous Hollywood movies, most famously the westerns directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.It is one of the most spectacular places in the world. Yet I am always surprised how few people who go to Arizona have not even heard of it, let alone seen it.

This was John Ford’s favourite spot. I must admit I loved it too. Monument Valley is not really a valley at all. The tops of the mesas mark what was once a flat plain. Millions of years ago, this plain was cracked by upheavals within the earth. The cracks widened and eroded until all that is left today are the formations rising from the desert floor, like, well, like monuments. It is profoundly humbling to consider the immensity the powers of erosion that created this valley during this immense time. The vivid red colors of the valley come from the iron oxide exposed in the weathered siltstone. The darker blue gray rocks, get their color from manganese oxide.These photos were all taken there, on a previous trip to Arizona.


Much of the Colorado Plateau is drained by the Colorado River that has carved the awesome Grand Canyon out of the rock in the south west corner of the Colorado Plateau. It is a region that is very roughly centred on the 4 Corners region of the Southwestern United States.  It covers an area of about 337,00m km2(130,000 mi2)within those 4 states. About 90% of its area is drained by the Colorado River and its tributaries.

During the Paleozoic Era  that lasted between about 570 and 275 million years ago the region was covered by  an enormous inland sea that over eons deposited more than 10,000 feet (3,048 m) of sediment.  Eventually that sediment hardened into rock. Then over millions of years after that the rock was eroded by the forces of wind, rain, and ice into the fantastic shapes we see today.

After the Rocky Mountainswere created some 80 million years ago, winds, rivers, and rainfalls eroded the many rock layers can carved out many deep canyons, including the most famous one of all, The Grand Canyon.  They also cut out incredible arches and windows that have made this region so justifiably famous. There really is nothing like it anywhere.

The  Colorado Plateau covers about 130,000 sq. miles (336,700 sq. km.). The Colorado Plateau is crisscrossed by numerous river sliced canyons. Elevations on the Plateau range from 2,000 ft. (600 m.) abo e sea level to around 13,000 ft.  There are numerous dramatic variations in the landscape including desert, rivers filled with life, huge river valleys, often out of all proportion to the size of the modern rivers, meandering through them. In some places, like Flagstaff, the hills are thickly forested.  Frequently bizarrely eroded sandstone formations can be found throughout the region.



Highlights of the Colorado Plateau region include numerous buttes and Mesas. Mesas are like canyons—they come in numerous shapes and sizes. Some are so large that they cover more than 100 miles (161 km.) across and are often the result of large land masses being uplifted by enormous tectonic forces.  Buttes, spires and some other mesas, are hard-rock remnants left behind when an ancient plain split apart, cracked and then eroded away, leaving the rock with its hard cap remaining.

The nickname Red Rock Countrysuggests the brightly colored rock that has been left bare as result of erosion and dryness. Of course, because the area is so dry, erosive powers are more corrosive. As a consequence the area is filled with domes, hoodoos, fins, reefs, goblins, river narrows, natural bridges, buttes, mesas, and slot canyons and many more.

The Plateau has the greatest concentration of National Parks in the entire country. That tells you as much as you need to know. That tells you why I love it so much. It is profoundly spectacular. Among its parks are Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon, Zion, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Arches, Mesa Verde and Petrified Forest. We visited the fourth of those parks thisd year. One to go.

John Muir said “There must be places for human beings to satisfy their souls.”  This was a place where the soul was fully satisfied. No hankerings were left.

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