Sunday, August 31, 2008

Below the Wingate

Today I had the chance to be in my favorite part of the Colorado Plateau. It's not a specific place but rather a place in time. In many places throughout the canyon country of Western Colorado and eastern Utah, there is a cliff-forming formation called the Wingate Sandstone. It seems in Triassic times, this area was quite the sandy desert, reminiscent of the Sahara desert of modern times. This wind blown sand accumulated a few hundred feet of depth before the next major climatic change came in to produce the Kayenta Formation, a great caprock keeping the Wingate from blowing away...again.

These reddish cliffs make a heck of a barrier when trying to cross the area and there are only select places where you can safely make your way through the cliffs.


The cliffs themselves are the greatest red color and show remarkable cross bedding indicating their origins as sand dunes. Today the desert varnish colors the walls with stripes of black making amazing works of art. I just wish my camera would do justice to what I really see.

As I get older, desert hiking is quickly replacing my mountain adventures as what I do for entertainment. I enjoy walking through the canyons and dissecting their geologic history. I can look at the cross bedding and conchoidal fractures way up on the wall and I can understand how the sand grains were moved by wind those long eons ago... but, when I reach the bottom of the Wingate and start walking through the Chinle, I also just get mesmerized by the beauty in the rocks. So, when you get a chance, spend some time, even a night below the Wingate and you will see what I mean.

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