Do you remember from my first of this month’s post—Stacked Arches—where I said, “There’s enough to photograph within the park’s boundaries to fill a small picture book?” Well, there is—and I have—so I did. This short particular midweek post announces my latest book—Snow Canyon.
They haven’t released it yet; that will happen sometime next week on Amazon. It’s available in two versions. The first is a hardcover with a dust jacket. The paper I used was the best offered, so I expect the photos reproduction to be outstanding. The second variation has a soft cover and is printed on upgraded paper stock.
It’s a self-published book, like my others, so, unfortunately, its cost is prohibitive—unless you want to buy 100 copies or more. However, I wanted you—my subscribers—to enjoy it, so I’m providing a link to a free version in PDF format as a way of saying thanks for hanging out with me.
Once you download the PDF (2MB), you can read it, print it, tape it to your fridge, or line your parrot cage. It’s yours to do as you wish. Get your copy by clicking on the cover shot above or on this link: Snow Canyon—The Book.
I hope your New Years’ celebration is safe and sane. I’d like you to be around next year when we go to many exciting new places.
Now, we will return to our regularly scheduled programming.
Christmas, along with the rest of the solstice holidays, is almost over. I hope that Santa brought you something better than the lump of coal I got. Queen Anne is on the couch in her bathrobe and tiara with a box of Kleenex. She’ll be useless until Amazon Prime stops showing Christmas movies. Since we won’t be back before then, we’d like to wish you the best New Year in 2022. Things have got to turn around eventually, so let’s give it a go one more time.
Today, I will finish up the year, and our visit to Snow Canyon State Park by talking about the other rock found there—basalt from recent lava flows. If wind, water, and ice sculpt sandstone, the cooled magma is geology’s Etch-a-Sketch reset button. The black rock covers the softer sandstone and forces water to change course. The runoff carves different canyons, like in the park.
As you explore the park’s north side, you’ll see basalt-covered cliffs. They used to be the canyon floor, but 27,000 years ago, the lava forced the drainage west and carved a new floor—now a couple of hundred feet lower. Snow Canyon has a couple of trails that wander through the jagged black rocks; the Lava Tube and the Cinder Cone trails. The latter is interesting because you can hike to the cone’s rim and look into the extinct caldera. However, the track is uphill, and on the east side of State Route 18, so we skipped it.
The Lava Tube Trail is shorter, level, and leads to two lava tubes—which are places where the hardened surface fractures releasing the still molten magma inside to flow away. The remaining caves are sometimes big enough that you can crawl into and see where the bats and spiders live—I’ll pass. The above photo is the smaller tube, and visitors— braver than I—crawl into it.
I find basalt a challenging subject to photograph. It’s like taking a picture of a black cat in a coal mine. To get any detail, you need to over-expose, which washes out the rich depth. Fortunately, and is the case with this week’s picture that I call Lava Grass, there’s enough green lichen growing on the rock to prevent the shadows from completely blocking up.
I feel lucky to have spotted the tuft of dried grass surviving in the barren rock. I concentrated hard on staying upright as I hiked the trail in the early morning. The jagged basalt is not skin-friendly and will likely draw blood if you fall on it. And—silly me—I left my bicycle helmet at home.
You can see a larger version of Lava Grass on its Web Page by clicking here. Next week we start a new year, with a new project in a new location. Be sure to come back and see where the road takes us.
I’m going to pause our Snow Canyon State Park tour for a couple of paragraphs so that we can run over to the coast. Don’t worry; we won’t have to put up with any of those weird Californians. Where we’re going, they don’t exist yet. We’re not traveling far—maybe a foot or two. However, we are breaking every law in physics to travel back in time one-hundred eighty million years ago—to the Jurassic era. You can turn around now and take in the Sundance Sea, right here in southern Utah (how old is Robert Redford anyway). Don’t go in the water. There are big things in there that will eat you like you’re a gummy bear.
Turn back this way and look down the shoreline. Massive dunes—hundreds of feet high—go on for hundreds of miles. Until now, it’s been hot and dry here along the Equator, but the climate is changing. It’s becoming muggier and swamp-like. The oceans are rising, and soon (in geological time), the water will cover the sand and pile more sediment on top. The pressure on the dunes will bind them into stone—never to be seen again.
Things would have stayed that way except our stupid captain rammed the North American plate into the Pacific Plate, and there goes the neighborhood. The crash spun us around, raised the Rockies, the Sierra Nevada, and all the other little wrinkles in between. The resulting damage cracked the mantle so bad that volcanoes could form and eventually raise the Colorado Plateau. Then the Californians move in—can it get any worse?
The crash shoved our peaceful little seaside village up a hillside. We no longer live in a basin where sediments collect. Now our water flows to a place far away. It peels back layers of rock—like an onion when it does. After erosion uncovers parts of the great dunes, we’ll see them again here in St. George, Zion, and north of Escalante. Now they’re as hard as a rock.
Ok, you can snap out of it now and come back to reality, where we’re standing on the Petrified Dunes Trail. Because it’s all rock, the only clue you have to follow is the path worn smooth from countless boots. It’s easy to leave it, but that’s fine because you’re not going to damage anything. The rock grips like—well—sandpaper, which makes it easy to scramble up and down the slopes. As you wander across the uniformly fractured rock, you begin to examine the exceptions.
That’s how I found this week’s picture. The round wells in the picture are places where water collected and had a chance to freeze. As the ice expanded, it fractured the sandstone and chipped it. These spots get deeper; they’ll hold more water and bore into the stone faster. Eventually, they’ll be so deep that they’ll split the block until it reverts to sand grains again. I think the shapes of the cups are cool, but I really like the rich and varied colors in the stone. When you get a close look like this, sandstone has a lot of depth and texture.
You can see a larger version of Cup Holders on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week when I’ll tell you about the times the stupid captain left the kettle on too long and spilled hot lava all over the park.
When you were a child and thunder was new to you, did your mother try to console you by explaining that the noise was just God and the angels bowling in heaven? My mom did that. I believed her because she’d never lie to me, and she knew I’d catch her (although I don’t understand why Santa stopped sending me $20 at Christmas when she died). She always told people that I was their peer, although there may be more intelligent children. Well, what her exact words were is, “He sure ain’t the brightest kid in the class.”
This memory comes to mind because I think I’ve captured the scoreboard that the angels used. It’s visible in this week’s picture—the rows of distorted cribbage holes. If one of the bowlers threw a strike, a lightning bolt would cause a tree to burst into flames. Then they’d advance their marker into the next hole. The one that got their rock in the last spot won. It’s that simple.
I did a lot of online research to prove my thesis, but I found nothing. Instead, the experts call this kind of erosion honeycomb weathering. It’s not clearly understood, but it’s an alchemy of rock, salt, rain, freezing, and expansion. You also have to hold your tongue just right while you’re making it. I saw this type of erosion before in Canyonlands National Park when we visited too long ago, so I assume that it’s shared across Southern Utah’s sandstone formations.
This example of honeycomb weathering is in Utah’s Snow Canyon in a place they call Jenny’s Canyon. It’s at the end of a half-mile (round trip) trail near the park’s south entrance, and it was the shortest and the most rewarding of the side trips that we took. The trail leads to a slot canyon in the sandstone, but not the usual slot. Unlike Antelope Canyon near Page—where running water has cut a course into the sandstone—this is one of those stacked dunes (see last week’s picture) with a gap between the layers. Jenny’s Canyon begins as a typical slot, but dead ends in a short cave. I took my shot from inside the cave.
If you think some weird bacteria are growing on the cave walls, let me explain the color. Like wearing a pair of rose-colored glasses, when the sunlight bounces off the red sandstone, it adds that color to the reflected light, and that’s why the back wall seems to glow orange. Other photographers have successfully captured this phenomenon at Bryce Canyon, but I’ve been unlucky so far. “Damn you, Bryce. I’ll get you one day.”
The second image that I included to illustrate my post is the sky from Jenny’s slot canyon. I’ve seen photos like this, and I wanted one of my own. I think the blue against the glowing orange and dark walls look like torn craft paper glued on one another as a collage. I consider it an abstract because it has no story of its own.
You can see a larger version of Arch and Honeycomb Weathering on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next week to see the next trail that we explored. It’s not far up the road.
Queen Anne and I drove out of the Sonoran Desert to the frozen north this week. No, I don’t mean Alaska or even Canada, but the land of young men dressed in white shirt black tie uniforms that ride bikes in pairs and come to redeem your soul—and don’t even bring cookies to sell. Of course, I’m talking about Utah. When we arrived, we found the same weather we had at home. It’s December—what happened to the snow?
We made the five-hour drive to St. George specifically for this month’s project. A couple of years ago—after I published my State Route 12magazine—one of my cronies said, “Have you been to Snow Canyon. You ought to go—it’s beautiful.” I had never heard of it, but I was impressed enough to add it to my destination list after doing some online research.
I love shooting on the Colorado Plateau, which takes up most of Utah and the excess spills into neighboring states. People have even complained I spend too much time shooting there. Much like a wine snob will order a glass of ABC (Anything But Chardonnay). But, the plateau is addictive for me. It’s too easy to get compelling images there, and you all know how lazy I am.
St. George is along Interstate 15 (initially a Mormon trade route), at the western edge of the Colorado Plateau. It’s a pretty community nestled among several mountain ranges, but we’ve never spent time there for a couple of reasons. First, we only passed through to somewhere else, and second, on our honeymoon, I had to stop and buy a tire there … on Sunday … at a Chevron station because the whole state closes on the Sabbath.
The town has changed over the last 33 years; from an agricultural center to a full-blown resort. The downtown, around the Temple, still has an old mid-west charm, but the mansions that line the cliffs and surround Snow Canyon are right out of Aspen, Snow Mass, or Sedona. Utahans see St. George as their Riviera, so there seems to be a rush to build a second home there. The views are essential, so they’re stacking McMansions side by side along the ridgelines. Their views must be spectacular, but from below, it’s vulgar.
In the middle of this wealth and consumption is Snow Canyon State Park. Originally called Dixie State Park, officials created it in 1959 by combining donated BLM land with a $20,000 ranch purchase (sigh). The state later changed the name to honor Mormon elders. You probably have seen it if you’ve watched Butch Cassidy, Jeremiah Johnson, or the Electric Horseman movies. The entry fee is $8.00, and there are over 30 campsites available starting from $30.00 a night.
My first impression of Snow Canyon was, “Gee, this is small.” The north-south road is approximately 11 miles between the two entrances. But, the park floor climbs a thousand feet in that distance, and there are 12 hiking trails along its length. Packed into that relatively small area is a miniature version of the Escalante Grand Staircase. At the bottom is the reddish-orange sandstone layer common to Kanab, and that’s topped with white Navajo Sandstone as you see in Zion National Park. Black lava flows are mixed with the colorful sandstone, and Signal Mountain provides a grand backdrop. There’s enough to photograph within the park’s boundaries to fill a small picture book (hmmm, there’s an idea).
This week’s picture is a teaser. I took it from the park’s top looking south at petrified dunes stacked up like records in a Wurlitzer jukebox, so I called it Stacked Dunes. The dunes are along the park’s west wall and rise a thousand feet above the valley floor. I couldn’t help but dot the sky with some happy little cirrus clouds as icing. Can you blame me?
You can see a larger version of Stacked Dunes on its Web Page by clicking here. Come back next when we show you pictures of the trails we explored (that’s right, I got Anne out of the truck and down a trail). We’ll start at the park’s south for December and work our way north. It’ll be fun.