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.
Until next time — jw