I have lived in the American Southwest for a little over three years now but before I moved here I used to imagine myself spending time in this vast desert landscape visiting each of the awe-inspiring public lands. Now, I’ve been known to be a bit of an armchair traveler; I like to indulge in books about incredible places, usually while riding some form of public transportation into work or school. So back East, I would envision climbing the seemingly endless cracks in the sandstone at Indian Creek after reading High Infatuation by Steph Davis, meditating under the serene formations at Arches National Park at sunset after reading Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey, or being completely humbled and crying immediately upon first sight of the Grand Canyon after reading J.W. Powell’s The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons (which actually happened, but I’ll save that for another post). This led to my calling westward to a place that seemed so drastically different from where I was and where I had spent most of my life.
So it may come as a surprise that while I’ve lived here a good amount of time now, I’ve yet to recreate in many of these places. However, little by little I’m attempting to change that so about a month ago I took a short trip to southern Utah to finally visit Zion National Park.
My companion and I entered from the East and were struck first thing by a feature known as Checkerboard Mesa. The distinctive pattern after which it is named is due to cutting of sub-horizontal cross-beds that formed when ancient sand dunes were deposited and then lithified or transformed into rock. These features are useful to geoscientists because they give information about the depositional environment. Specifically, one can discern – among other things – the direction of flow of the medium that carried the particles of sand (in this case wind). Nearly perpendicular to the horizontal plane, are vertical fractures that are caused by a type of physical weathering known as freeze-thaw cycles. Essentially, water infiltrates spaces within the rock and if the temperature drops low enough, the water freezes and expands. This is followed by the reverse process of thaw and – subsequently – contraction when the temperature rises again. Temperature cycling therefore results in stresses being exerted on the rock which in turn leads to fracture. Because the fractures cut across the sedimentary strata, we know that they formed after the beds were deposited. This is an example of a so-called cross-cutting relationship.
Overall, the combination of processes makes for a pretty neat looking first glimpse of this National Park!
Until the next piece of this place of peace (Zion), I’ll leave you with some Edward Abbey:
“Each thing in its way, when true to its own character, is equally beautiful.”Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire