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  • Writer's pictureInger and Jeff Latreille

Numerous Formations

Wednesday, April 13, 2022~

Day 668

What?? 41 degrees. Yep…..that’s how chilled we got last night in the trailer. At least the insulation is keeping us from feeling 26 degrees. And it helps that we have our insulated, snap-on ceiling blankets. We think they add a 5 to 7 degree difference in comfort. The coldest we’ve ever felt inside the trailer was arriving in a snowstorm in Colorado Springs early on in our trip, at 37 degrees. Now that is COLD!! 🥶

Nice to have a morning where things are a bit more relaxed. Now to get oriented at Canyonlands. Per our usual, we headed over to the visitor center for that. The Bates Wilson Visitor Center is a beautifully designed, yet small building, fitting in well with its natural surroundings. The visitor center was named after Bates as he was the moving force that created Canyonlands National Park in the first place, becoming the park’s first superintendent. As we enjoyed the many displays and history about the park, we overheard one of the attendants giving trail advice to several visitors and boy did she know her stuff. Let’s hope she’s available for us when we’re ready.

The park is basically covered in sedimentary rock (sandstone) that was once an ocean, that is basically a seabed from millions of years ago. Since that time, forces like wind and water have been at work carving many interesting shapes out of the sandstone. Here are just some of the formations we’ll be seeing:

1. Mushrooms-mushroom rocks result when a hard cap rock (white sandstone) erodes more slowly than the softer layer (red sandstone) below. The hardness of a sedimentary rock depends on both its mineral content and the amount of cementing agent holding the sand grains together.

2. Grabens-unlike canyons, the grabens (level valleys between high walls; “ditches” in German) were not formed by stream erosion, but by land slipping down along underground faults created by unstable salt layers.

3. Formations-a checkerboard system of fractures is visible extending over this Cedar Mesa Sandstone. As it erodes over time, spires of rock, called needles, are formed. Thus the name of the sections.

4. Arches-sometimes parallel cracks erode, exposing long thin fins of sandstone. Thus the “mothers of arches” is born. If subjected to further erosion, the weaker sections of these fins wear away as nature slowly carves an arch.

The park is divided into 3 sections due to the Colorado and Green River’s convergence. In other words, these mighty rivers are what set the borders…….The Needles section (where we are), The Maze, and Island in the Sky.

We scored getting to talk to the Canyonlands guru, who not only knew her stuff about the park, but a lot about cars too. Evidently there is about 50 miles of off-roading available in the park, so she had a few suggestions that Hank could manage. With our long wheel base and all the weight in the truck, we can’t get too crazy out there. Moab and Canyonlands are where it’s at, if you’re an off-roader. Now I really wish I had a Jeep!! She also gave us a wide range of tips for great hiking, including another slot canyon. We love those slot canyons! Sadly, Sadie is unable to do any of this with us since we’re in a National Park. And we have no idea why. We’re talking lizards and birds people, no bears or deer, though they are trying to repopulate the bighorn sheep population. So maybe that has something to do with it. Jeff and I remember a few national parks that allocate a few trails for dogs (like Smoky Mountain National Park). It’s just too bad they haven’t done that here. We already knew the rules…..most national park trails are NOT dog friendly.

After the visitor center we went back to Needles Outpost to see about our refund. Today would be Lisa’s last day as she heads to the West Coast. So we’re glad we got to thank her again for her diligence in trying to help us out. It appears the owner will not bend the rules which we’re growing to understand. The cancellation policy is a 14-day advanced notice and is stated so right on our email confirmation. Lisa encouraged us to come back tomorrow when the owner would be back to talk face to face about it. But rules are rules, and none of this is their fault. Chalk it up to a hard lesson…..a $230 lesson. We’ll still be under budget for the month with our lodging since we’re doing a lot of dry camping lately. So it makes the “pill” a little easier to swallow.

Now with that crap behind us, it’s time for the short 7-mile Scenic Drive. First stop…..the Roadside Ruin Trail. Nearly 700 years ago, ancestral Puebloans survived here through their hard work and ingenuity. This short trail took us to one of their stone canopied structures, likely used for storage and ceremonial purposes. Few ancestral Puelbloan era structures are in as good of shape as this one; that is if tourists don’t break the rules. As we approached the structure, Jeff and I were in total shock that a family of 4 with 2 young kids were climbing past the wooden barricade to get closer to the ruin. Un frickin’ believeable. That’s why there’s a wooden fence there, idiot. Nice example you’re setting for your kids. If a ranger had seen it, he would have slapped him with a huge ticket and the way out of the park. It took everything to bite my tongue.

Next stop, Wooden Shoe Arch, appropriately named.

This formation has been in the works for thousands of years, yet the sedimentary rock is much older. Over time, the buried salt from what once was a seabed, started to shift and flow under pressure from the overlying red and white sandstone, breaking and splitting. Weathering along these cracks continues to form spires, fins, and arches just like Wooden Shoe Arch.

Pothole Point was an intriguing stop as it made us think twice about what could actually be living in these sandstone dimpled pockets of water. Wet or dry, potholes are tiny and sensitive ecosystems that come to life after rain. Its inhabitants…..fairy shrimp, tadpoles, mosquito larvae, snails, tadpole shrimp, etc. We peered into each one to see what we could see. Nothing today, except one little worm. But one thing’s for sure…..we will never look at a pothole quite the same way again.

Final stop….Slickrock Foot Trail. They call the sandstone, “slick rock”, but it’s actually not slick. It’s extremely grippy. Slickrock is a general term for any bare rock surface, and dominates much of the landscape in Canyonlands. The trail was marked with cairns (small rock piles) spaced at intervals, and it’s a good thing or we wouldn’t have known which way to go. We had to note them ahead of time in the distance to stay on track. Eventually, we came to our first side trail marked with Viewpoint 1, followed eventually by Viewpoints 2, 3 and 4. The viewpoints were amazing, pointing you in the direction of unique scenery all around. What’s intrigued us ever since we got here is the snow

covered La Sal Mountains (elevation 12,721 feet)How often do you see red desert buttes, mesas and arches in sharp contrast to peaks like La Sal behind it? What’s interesting to note is how both got here in the first place. La Sal came from within the earth, as opposed to Canyonlands coming from layers of sand, silt, clay and gravel that was once an ocean bed. Mother Nature is quite amazing, isn’t she?

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