Precarious Balance

This morning I went on a hike with some other women from my graduate program and we got to talking about various things, one of them being how cool Tucson is compared to Phoenix (at least that’s my opinion). I have come to love a lot of things about Phoenix and there are definitely a lot of cool spots around the Valley of the Sun, but Tucson overall just seems so much more hip – more “artsy” – and is a lovely relatively nearby place to travel (especially in the summer months when it’s just a little bit cooler there). I can’t wait to go back and try this place a friend recommended called “Barista del Barrio” because I’m told they have the best breakfast burritos there (they “slap”, I’m told).

But that got me thinking about Tucson and about how almost two years ago, I travelled to there from Phoenix for Memorial Day Weekend. It was my first time actually visiting, instead of just passing through on the way to somewhere else. I’ve been back a couple of times since then, once for rock climbing at Mt. Lemmon and once to stay at the luxurious Ritz-Carlton resort just outside of the city.

During that first trip, though, we decided to head a couple of hours East past Tucson to a place called Chiricahua National Monument. We camped in the Coronado National Forest for the night (“Land of Many Uses”) and went hiking the following day. We did a hike called the Echo Canyon Loop which offered a short, easy hike with incredible views of the area.

Chiricahua is known by the National Park Service as the “Wonderland of Rocks”, a very appealing place name for a geologist like me. There are many geologic features to be admired in the entirety of the Monument; however, one of the most striking are the rock pinnacles made up of a rock type called rhyolite (or more specifically, rhyolitic tuff).

Rhyolite is an igneous rock which means it formed from the solidification of molten rock. In the case of rhyolite, this solidification occurred above the surface of the Earth, so it came from particles of lava (which is different from molten rock below the surface – called magma). Igneous rocks are classified based on two major things (1) their texture (which has to do with the process by which they form) and (2) their composition, or mineralogical makeup. Rhyolite has a “fine” crystalline texture due to rapid cooling at the surface and it has a silica-rich (or felsic) composition. Rhyolite is basically the extrusive (forming above the surface) equivalent of granite (which is intrusive or forming below the surface). This rock formed from the solidification of ash from a massive eruption of a large volcano known as the Turkey Creek Caldera about 27 million years ago.

Anyway, in my opinion, the most interesting thing about the rock at Chiricahua are the “pinnacles” that I mentioned previously. These pinnacles formed from erosion over time to form structures known as “hoodoos”. These structures occur elsewhere, like as the famous hoodoos of Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah. Generally, the base of the rock erodes more easily than the top so spires form.

The rhyolite pinnacles of Chiricahua National Monument in Southeast Arizona.

Some hoodoos are similar to another geologic feature known as the Precariously Balanced Rock (PBR) because often, the difference in erosion between a lower area on the hoodoo and the upper part is so intense that it appears to be precariously balanced. Though not a true “PBR”, these so-called pedestal rocks are strikingly similar in appearance.

Pinnacle Balanced Rock at Chiricahua National Monument (a pedestal rock) formed when erosion undercut the base.

I like to think about natural phenomena and how they relate to things that I encounter through the human experience. One such thing that these pedestal rocks at Chiricahua reminds me of is how I often struggle with finding balance in things. Whether that be my work-life balance or how intensely I pursue a new interest or activity, I often find that I engage in an all or nothing sort of mindset. So, through making small changes, planning, and just generally trying to do things in a more moderate way, I’m slowly getting better at finding balance.