Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Geological interpretation in a biological world

We spent much of June exploring both front and back county areas of the Grand Staircase NM. Our journeys took us from Bryce Canyon to the Circle Cliffs. This is an amazing country and we are so fortunate that much of it is protected as a national monument.

However, it appears, to me anyway, that much of the interpretation of the natural world is done by biologists. We visited Bryce Canyon with its hoodoos of the Claron Fm eroding out of the plateau. As we walked about I was expecting that most interpretive signs would be about geology...but no. We did learn about the harsh conditions the trees are subjected to as well as how the animals survive in such a dry climate. While biology is quite important, I was hoping for more "rock" signs for obvious reasons. Nothing registered in my mind yet, that is until we visited Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. Once again, with "petrified forest" as the title feature I expected a geology inspired hike. Hiking up the marquee trail we found some cool basaltic boulders left over from eruptive excitement on the nearby Boulder Mountain. Later in the hike we observed handfuls of nodules eroding out of a Navajo Sandstone outcrop. And, of course, all along the hike we were treated to fossilized trees scattered over the hillside. Our little trail guide mentioned only one of these observations, that of the petrified trees. Interestingly, a team from Utah State University has created a fantastic geologic trail guide for the same trail, but copies were not available at the visitors center and I have only seen them online.

A new outreach goal of mine is to help our federal land naturalists with more geologic interpretation.

Bryce canyon at sunrise. The Eocene aged Clarion Fm is a colorful freshwater limestone.
A fantastic cross section of the area from my favorite Utah State Park.
Petrified tree eroding out of the Morrison Fm
nodules from the Navajo Fm
Basaltic boulders transported from nearby Boulder Mt and the Aquarius Plateau

1 comment:

Garry Hayes said...

Nice post. You touch on a sore point with me: many, if not most of our national parks were established for their geological wonders, but the NPS employs many times more biologists than geologists. Seems unbalanced in some way.