Buttes and Domes
~Saturday, April 23, 2022~
We were banking on clearer, cleaner skies after yesterday’s storms and boy did we cash in. Since our Island in the Sky visit the other day was ridden with wind generated dust and sand, we didn’t have the best views, nor the best photo outcomes. Plus we had unfinished scenery to feast our eyes on. So we took a drive back to Canyonlands. Today, we could see for miles making way for outstanding views…...the layer upon layer of red sandstone cliffs and buttes and the dramatic mountains behind that. All three mountain ranges…..The La Sals, The Henry’s and the Abajos were visible from every vantage point and all covered in fresh powder. When you feel like you can almost touch the mountains, you know that's a pretty darn clear sky.
While driving Hwy. 191 to the national park, we noticed that most trailhead parking lots were full, busy with eager hikers and mountain bikers. One particular spot, the Bar M Trailhead, just north of Moab, looked intriguing. Evidently, it offers riding opportunities for beginners to experts, all from the same starting point and offers views of Arches and Moab Canyon that can’t be beat. After trying out a few beginner trails of our own while touring the east coast, even though our bikes are meant more for paved trails, Jeff and I remember just how much fun that was, sparking the idea of maybe buying the appropriate equipment when we settle down. A new hobby perhaps? If we do, we’ll be sure to try them out in Moab for sure!!
What a difference a Saturday makes. Today, a 30-minute wait vs. the no wait Tuesday we had getting into the park. That’s what you get for visiting a national park on a weekend. First stop….the Green River Overlook. At 6,000 feet,
you get awesome views of the Green River making its way to the confluence 20 miles downstream to the Colorado River. The Green River is what divides the Island in the Sky District from the Maze District in Canyonlands. Surrounding the river is White Rim Sandstone (the hardest layer of sandstone) made of ancient coastal sand dunes; the evolution of this topography is absolutely mind boggling. And the changes keep happening. It’s always fun to imagine the future here as well. From just forming arches that have begun their erosion to teetering rocks that seem to balance by a thimble, it’s an ever changing scape.
Next stop…Aztec Butte a short, yet steep climb at that. Rising above the mesa, Aztec Butte overlooks sheer cliffs and
twisted canyons stretching in every direction. There are remnants of an unprotected stone structure, with its use unknown……storage or a home? But standing on top of the butte encourages you to imagine what life was like here for the Ancestral Puebloans. It’s obvious they were extremely industrious and hard working as we witnessed at the granary, an ancient pantry if you will. Scrambling up this steep terrain to store and retrieve water, seeds, food or medicine was no easy task. Well hidden, this sheltered alcove guaranteed survival.
And finally, the mystery geologic formation. Upheaval Dome still puzzles scientists to this day, though they’re gaining momentum as to what formed this huge depression in the earth. As we approached Lookout Point #1, we could see that the rock layers below the rim are fractured and tilted, forming a circular depression.
Apparently this “hole” is more than two miles wide. But how did it form? Scientists propose two potential causes: a salt dome that cracked and tilted the rock over time, or a violent meteorite impact that instantly fractured the rock. Recent findings support the meteorite hypothesis, but questions remain. Could both have contributed? Since rivers and wind are the main contributors to the Canyonlands topography, the meteorite hypothesis seems to make more sense. Without water (rivers), how else could you get a hole this deep and this wide that connects to nothing else?