Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Abandoned Lands..A Journey Through the Colorado Plateau: One extraordinary day in the canyonlands, Part 1

 "I would rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth."

This quote is attributed to Steve McQueen of all people, and I don't know the context, but I know where I read it first: in a glorious book by Terry and Renny Russell called "On the Loose", published by the Sierra Club in the 1960s. The book was a collection of grainy pictures of their adventures in the American Outback along with quotes and statements about the value of wildness. I internalized every word during my formative years (roughly the time between my birth and yesterday), and along with Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire, I count the book as the most influential in my life.

I can get really wrapped up in the details of conducting a field studies class of nearly three dozen people, but sometimes I would realize with a start just where I was. It was late June, we were on the eleventh day of 16-day trip, and I was waking up in Arches National Park. In my perspective, it just couldn't get any better than that. Camp was still quiet but I had to get out and see the sunrise.
The Devils Garden Campground at Arches is unique. The sites are surrounded by huge fins of Entrada Sandstone, and yet views extend to the far horizon in several directions. The sun was just rising through the smoke of distant wildfires. From my perch on the rock above camp I could see the legions of tired students still sleeping in their tents.
The dark sandstone buttresses were beginning to glow. I get rather geo-philosophical when I am contemplating the rock, considering in my mind how many times the sun has risen on these fins. There is a lot of history here, of shorelines receding and advancing over millions of years, of dinosaurs and other Jurassic creatures wandering over the dunes of the coastal complex, of the land buckling and folding because of the movement of huge masses of salt in the subsurface, even the impact of a good sized asteroid only a few miles away...
And after all of that, the burial of the landscape under many thousands of feet of subsequent sedimentary layers over the next 100 million years...
And with the rise of the Colorado Plateau, the stripping and exhumation of this ancient sandstone. The formation of the Salt Valley Anticline and the development of the sandstone fins as the overlying rocks collapsed into the center of the anticline. The development of hundreds of arches...
It was quiet aside from the occasional croak from the ravens who were patrolling the campground. A few people were starting to stir in camp, and a pot clattered as coffee was prepared (even out here, the addiction continues...). We were about to start out on an extraordinary day that would include the exploration of three different parks: Arches and Canyonlands national parks, and Deadhorse Point State Park.
The sun rose above the smoke plumes from the fires out east and the sandstone flared into intense gold. It was time to get moving!
This post is part of my series on the Abandoned Lands of the Colorado Plateau, an exploration of a harsh landscape that is both beautiful and geologically fascinating.
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