Sunday, April 19, 2009

Salt and Pepper in Red

As we hiked through Red Canyon (near Bryce Canyon, Utah), we found it difficult to think in terms of hundreds of millions of years of geological activity that preceded our experience.

Geologists believe that for much of the past 600 million years the land that is now Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area was the bottom of a deep ocean basin and the western coast of North America was in present day western Utah.

A rich variety of marine life flourished in those waters and left behind deposits of shells and skeletons more than 9,000 feet thick. These deposits were eventually compressed into limestone and similar carbonate rocks.

Over several million years the area went through transitions from a swamp that left behind layers of salt and gypsum to a desert that had as much as 2000 feet of sand.

Exposure of the sediments to the atmosphere allowed some of the minerals to oxidize, resulting in red and orange colored rocks. These shifting sands were buried by other sediments, and eventually cemented into sandstone by iron oxide with some calcium carbonate.

While the geological history of the Canyon is interesting, it is its present day beauty that is truly captivating. Whether it is a dying tree or a fallen tree branch, all the components of the Canyon seem to fit together perfectly.

Grasses seem to have reserved just the right place along a path, and trees seem to have positioned themselves so as to invite the viewer to see these components the way Mother Nature designed the scene.

This was one of the few named formations that I've read about. Called "Salt and Pepper," these hoodoos could be seen from many different viewpoints behind the Visitor Center.

On the days we visited Red Canyon, the entire "cast"--sun, blue sky, white puffy clouds--had joined the rock formations to create postcard images.

While Red Canyon may seem to be an introduction to the more well-known Bryce Canyon, we saw it as a destination in and of itself.

Wide, comfortable trails took us directly to sights that could only be viewed from significant distances at the overlooks or after hiking strenuous trails in Bryce.

Red Canyon is a beautiful, user-friendly gift.

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