|Sunset through wildfire smoke at Arches National Park, Utah|
|The Rings Trail through Banshee Canyon in the Mojave National Preserve|
The Mojave National Preserve is not actually part of the Colorado Plateau, but we needed a place to stay on the way there, and I can't think of a more interesting spot than Hole-in-the-Wall and Banshee Canyon (above). There's a trail that winds through the bizarre canyon with rings placed in strategic spots to allow access. It's not the plateau, but there is a connection: 18.5 million years ago a colossal rhyolite caldera eruption sent ash drifting across a vast region. The same ash exposed on the Rings Trail is also found on parts of the rim of the Grand Canyon near Peach Springs, Arizona.
|The walls of Zion Canyon from Watchman Campground|
|The Transcept Trail follows the rim over the Transcept, a deep tributary to Bright Angel Creek which is itself a tributary tot he Colorado River. In any other place a canyon like this would be its own national park.|
|The view upstream of Navajo Bridge over the Colorado River|
|Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River near Page, Arizona|
|House on Fire Ruin in Mule Canyon. I photographed the ruin years ago without realizing the presence of the "flames" formed from differential weathering of crossbeds in the sandstone.|
|Pictographs on sandstone near House on Fire Ruin|
|Ruins in Mule Canyon|
The picture above needs explanation. That's a cloud, yes, but an unusual one. It's a pyrocumulus cloud, generated by the disastrous La Plata (416) Fire that was burning north of Durango, Colorado. Huge plumes of superheated air rise and cool in the upper atmosphere, condensing to form the gigantic clouds. Unfortunately they don't produce any significant precipitation (wouldn't it be nice if wildfires came with their own extinguishers?). But looking at the drought-induced fire burning beyond the ruins of Mesa Verde caused me to consider the "cycle of life", or more correctly the cycle of human habitation. Many hypotheses concerning the abandonment of the region by the Ancestral Puebloans involve extended droughts and overuse of the available resources. The drought in 1285 AD had lasted around 25 years.
We are currently in another drought that has now lingered for two decades. The Colorado River supplies water for cities and farms across the entire southwest, but the two giant reservoirs that store most of the water are barely half full, and if the drought continues (as predicted by some global warming scenarios), the lakes will become useless pools and cities throughout the region will be in serious trouble as a result. The Ancestral Pueblo people left for wetter climates 700 years ago. What alternatives will the current residents have?
These are my favorite pictures from the first six days of our journey. More will be coming!