Tag Archives: Colorado Plateau

Capitol Reef National Park


Capitol Reef National Park was the 4thof the “Big 5” National Parks that we have seen.  The Park is most important geological feature is a wrinkle in the earth’s crust that extends for nearly 100 miles from Thousand Lake Mountain to Lake Powell. It was created over a long period of time by 3 gradual but powerful forces: deposition, uplift, and erosion. The result is a stunning example of what geologists call a monocline, or one-sided fold in the crust of the earth in what are otherwise largely horizontal rock layers. This fold runs north and south through the Utah desert. Waterpocket foldwas form about 65 million years ago when the earth’s surface buckled upwards. This was around the time the dinosaurs went extinct.

The climate in the region changed fantastically over millions of years. During the past 280 million years ago this region changed from ocean to desert to swamp and river bed. During this time 10,000 feet of sedimentary rock consisting of limestone, sandstone, and shale was deposited.

That was followed by uplift between 50 and 70 million years ago when an ancient fault was reactivated during tectonic activity. This lifted the land to the west up by 7,000 feet higher than the land in the east. The land did not crack, rather the layers folded over the fault line. 20 million years ago it was uplifted again.

After that erosive forces shaped the landscape. Much of this sculpture work occurred between 1 and 6 million years ago. Moving water and gravity were the main erosive forces. Powerful rains, flash floods and awesome freeze/thaw cycles loosen and crack the rock after which much of it is washed away. Often this left behind stunning canyons, cliffs, domes, and natural bridges or arches made of rock.

The original European explorers thought it looked like an ocean reef and thought its white domes looked like the American capitol and hence gave it the name Capitol Reef.

People have lived here for long periods of time.  As a result the park contains Ancestral Puebloan petroglyphs and a preserved Mormon homestead.

Charles Dutton the famous geologist who first scientifically explored much of the American Southwest in the 1880s described it like this, “…the light seems to flow or shine out of the rock rather than to be reflected from it.”

All American Road: Scenic Byway 12



We woke up and ate breakfast in our hotel and stopped briefly in town to take a couple of photos from Kanab. Then we headed north along highway 89, continuing our exploration of the extravagant Colorado Plateau. Driving in the morning was an exquisite pleasure.  Driving I have decided, while looking at mountain creeks and forests is the perfect place for happy little clouds and happy little thoughts. It was clearly a place to do what DeWitt Jones says we should do: “celebrate what’s right with the world.” Here that was easy.  I thought of Azar Nafisi and her two wonderful books, Reading Lolita in Tehran and Republic of Imagination which I read. One last year; one this year. Brilliant and inspiring. I thought of Marilyn Robinson in her Gilead trilogy. Minsters in a small Iowa town bringing much-needed gentleness to religion. If I had read this series before I lost my faith who knows how different my life might have been. But above all I thought about what a beautiful day it was. A beautiful day in the neighbourhood as Mr. Rogers might say.


Highway 12 connects Highway 89 with Capitol Reef National Park about miles away. According to my guide book, “This road boast what may be the most spectacular and diverse array of landscapes found along any road in the country.” This, I found, was no exaggeration.

The road starts south of Panguitch where Highway 89 intersected with highway 12. Our first stop just a couple of miles into the journey was at Red Canyon State Park immediately beside the road. I have already posted photos from there.             Red Canyon State Park is cut into the fantastic red mountains of the Paunsaugunt Plateau sprinkled with dark green coniferous trees. It has weirdly carved erosional rock forms that form a stunning array of turrets, hoodoos, pinnacles, or spires. Such features are found at many places along this magical road, but perhaps most sensationally right at the beginning of the road (from the west) or near the end (from the east). I took many photographs of this amazing place. It was very difficult for me to tear myself away while there was still room left on my camera’s memory cards.

We also drove through Cannonvillea quaint Bryce Valley town. It was settled by Mormons in 1876 and named after one of those settlers George Q. Cannon. They have an annual Old Time Fiddlers and Bear Festival. Now that is a strange combination. Fiddlers and bears?


There are constants in this country: red stone, flawless silence, impossible blue skies, and beauty without end. It often looks lifeless. But if there is water, there is life.

Sadly, this is one of the National Monuments that Donald Trump wants to desecrate. He says it is too big. So he wants to cut it down to size. 20% is all that will be left. This is national disgrace, but that won’t stop Trump.

A short drive off of Scenic Byway 12 took us to another special place—Kodachrome Basin State Park. I hesitated about driving 9 miles out of the way from Cannonville past the sign at a forsaken gas station that read, “Too Pooped to Pump”. How foolish that would have been not to take that diversion. I would have missed the splendour of this astonishing park. One of the little gems of Utah, often missed by those in pursuit of the “Big 5.”  Just like tourists in Africa often miss out on Africa in pursuit of their Big 5.

Not only that, but once we arrived we considered not going into the park since we had to pay the park fee even though we would be here just a short time. I think it cost us $15 or something like that. We were about to drive back when Chris, ever the wise one, said “lets pay”. It would have been criminally negligent to have gone. It was astoundingly beautiful, like so much in Utah on the Colorado Plateau.

Kodachrome was named in the 1940s after a revolutionary slide film prepared by Kodak. Some people think it is stupid to name a park after a film. As a photographer who loved to shoot Kodachrome for years, until its supremacy was dethroned by Velvia produced by Fuji. What is wrong with naming a park after a brilliant film? Maybe nothing.


Visitors to the park are drawn to it by it unusual geological forms such as a series of upright cylindrical forms. There is a series of them called sand pipes. They vary in height from 6 to 170 feet.  More than 60 of them have been identified in the park and we had a picnic very near to one of them.

Geologists are not in agreement about how the pipes were created. One theory goes sort of like this: What is certain is the pipes provided a unique landscape that we enjoyed immensely, especially as we had a lovely picnic. A stellar jay came to visit us, expecting we might be willing to hand out food to a poor supplicant. Sadly, when it perched on a branch right beside our table, like an incompetent photographer, I scared it away when I went to get my camera from the car, much to Chris’s disappointment. She had her camera ready, but it was gone. A competent photographer, like Chris, would have had the camera at the ready. Nonetheless we had a wonderful picnic and Chris did not maim me for my ignorant stumbling away from grace.


The story of the park is the story of geology which is the story of the earth. The one thing that is constant with the earth is change. That sounds paradoxical but it is not. Nothing stays the same; even massive rock. Everything changes and over time reveals the secrets of its history to observant seekers. Each layer of rock is like a new chapter of a book. Some layers tell a story of when the land was covered by a large inland sea. Other layers speak of raging rivers long since becalmed. Some layers speak of the unspeakable—immensely violent forces of nature that often seem so benign. Each layer tells the story of relentless forces of erosion—wind and water that can carve the hardest surface. All they need is time and gravity and then nothing can stand in their way. And this story never ends. New pages are added literally every day. We just have to learn to read those fascinating pages.

The towering chimneys of Kodachrome Basin change in color with the day’s changing moods. Against a clear blue sky like today, they look tinged with red, like so much of the American southwest. This contrast led the National Geographic Society to get the permission of Kodak to name the park after their film.

The stone sand pipes protrude from the surrounding sandstone out of which they have been carved like one  of Michelangelo’s unfinished sculptures that we saw in Florence. They seem to stand like guards over the park. It was indeed a great day in the neighbourhood.


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.