The Geology of Canyonlands National Park

Chesler Park
Canyonlands National Park
Photo Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, Photographer

Chesler Park
Canyonlands National Park
Photo Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, Photographer

Baked by time like some multi-layer geologic tort, Canyonlands National Park in southeastern Utah features a landscape cut by canyons, rumpled by upthrusts, dimpled by grabens, and even pockmarked, some believe, by ancient asteroids.

Just outside of Moab rises a kaleidoscope of tilted and carved geology laid down over the eons. There’s the red and white Cedar Mesa sandstone, the grayish-green Morrison Formation, pinkish Entrada sandstone, and tawny Navajo sandstone, just to name some of the geologic layers. Stacked like pancakes, they help make Canyonlands the most rugged national park in the Southwest and, quite possibly, if you find yourself deep in the park’s Maze District, in the entire Lower 48 states.

In each of the park’s districts — Island in the Sky, Needles, Maze and Horseshoe Canyon — the remarkable effects of geologic time and its endless erosion on this sedimentary landscape rise about you.

If you could turn back the geologic clock, you would see the landscape flooded by oceans, crisscrossed by rivers, covered by mudflats and buried by sand. At various times through the millennia, the climate has resembled a tropical coast, an interior desert, and everything in between.

For hundreds of millions of years, material was deposited. Layer upon layer of sedimentary rock formed as buried materials were cemented by precipitates in the ground water. Each layer contains clues to its origin, such as patterns or fossils, which reveals the environment when it was deposited. For example, the colorful Cedar Mesa Sandstone occurred when periodic floods of iron-rich debris from nearby mountains inundated coastal dunes of white sand.

Along with sedimentation, movements in the earth’s crust altered surface features. The North American continent migrated north from the equator and the local climate and environment here changed dramatically.

Peer into the ragged maw of Canyonlands from the Island in the Sky District on the northern end of the park, and it’s no mystery how the park came by its name.

Spend the night at the Squaw Flat Campground in the Needles District and a morning hike into Chesler Park surrounds you with Creamsicle-hued minarets towering high above, like a king’s crown.

Though Canyonlands covers less than 350,000 acres, which is less than one-seventh the size of Yellowstone National Park, it feels much larger. No doubt it’s the park’s vastness and openness — you won’t find any forests here. Indeed, one old timer said that, “On a clear day, you can see the back of your own head.”

Spend a few minutes contemplating the natural forces, and the hundreds of millions of years that laid down these sediments and compressed these layers of rock. It’s really only recently that these layers have eroded to form the remarkable landscape seen today in Canyonlands National Park.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Credits:
Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text:     Kurt Repanshek, NationalParksTraveler.com.


Additional Reading:

Canyonlands National Park, National Parks Service,

Exploring The Parks: Musings From Island In The Sky At Canyonlands National Park, NationalParksTraveler.com Article – Lee Dalton – 06/24/2014

Exploring The Parks: Musings From The Needles District In Canyonlands National Park, NationalParksTraveler.com Article – Lee Dalton – 06/19/2014

Reflections Of Time In Canyonlands, NationalParksTraveler.com Article – Lee Dalton – 06/19/2014

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/search/apachesolr_search/canyonlands, NationalParksTraveler.com Canyonlands Articles

An Arizona Road Trip Back Into the Past

Montezuma Castle, Courtesy US NPS
Montezuma Castle
Courtesy US NPS
 
Location of Hubbell Trading Post NHS in the Southern Colorado Plateau Network,  Courtesy US NPSLocation of Hubbell Trading Post NHS in the Southern Colorado Plateau Network
Courtesy US NPS
 
Hubbell Trading Post, Courtesy US NPSHubbell Trading Post Interior
Courtesy US NPS

Arizona is rich in history — from the 1800s all the way back to the Late Triassic Period. You can stitch together a road trip that winds out of Flagstaff to Montezuma Castle National Monument, to Petrified Forest National Park, and ends at Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site. Along the way you’ll experience fascinating chapters of geologic and cultural history.

At Montezuma Castle, 45 minutes south of Flagstaff and just off Interstate 17 (Exit 289), a short walk places you in front of a 5-story-tall cliff dwelling that offered safety from invaders: it stands 100 feet above the valley floor, nestled into an alcove.

The site was misnamed Montezuma Castle in the late 1800s by whites who thought the structure had been built by the Aztec people. The original owners, members of the Southern Sinagua (seen aug wah) people, called this area home from roughly 1100-1425 A.D.

Stroll the short trail that loops around a vegetated landscape below the “castle,” and you’ll find great views as well of the remains of Castle A. That dwelling once rose 60 feet and was home to about 100 residents.

From Montezuma’s Castle, it’s 95 miles via Arizona 87 to Winslow, and then 34 miles east on Interstate 40 to Holbrook. Finally, another 19 miles southeast on Arizona 180 leads you into Petrified Forest National Park and its unusual landscape.

There’s no lodging within the park, and you have to leave by sundown, so you will need to make some tough decisions if you have just one day. Do you take time to tour the Rainbow Forest Museum with its dinosaur displays, or hike out to Agate House?

A building built of petrified wood is pretty cool, so stretch your legs with a walk to the house. Then head north and deeper into the park to the Crystal Forest Trail. Wander this path and you’ll find yourself surrounded by petrified wood with its hues of yellow, red, and green, black and white.

Blue Mesa is another great stop. There’s a trail that takes you down into another colorful landscape of badlands and chunks, logs, and even slabs of petrified wood in shades of red, blue, yellow and black.

The northern end of the park road is anchored by the Painted Desert, a great place for sunset photos. Here you’ll also see the Painted Desert Inn, which some day could put the Park Service back into the lodging business but today is just a museum piece.

Back on Interstate 40, drive 22 miles east to Chambers, and then north on U.S. 191 for about 38 miles to Ganado and Hubbell Trading Post. This authentic trading post was opened by John Lorenzo Hubbell in 1878 on the Navajo Reservation.

Although it was added to the National Park System in 1967, Hubbell is not a museum piece but an active trading post. As such, it still holds richly woven Navajo rugs, jewelry, and other Native American artworks for purchase.

Schedule your visit to Hubbell Trading Post for May and you just might be able to attend the annual Native American Art Auction. Check with the park (928-755-3475) for the exact date.

If you have a little more free time, you could extend your your trip by heading 39 miles north on 191 to Canyon de Chelly National Monument.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Credits:
Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text:     Kurt Repanshek, NationalParksTraveler.com.


Additional Reading:

Montezuma Castle National Monument, NationalParksTraveler.com, http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2012/03/visiting-montezuma-castle-national-monument-arizona9636

Montezuma Castle National Monument, US National Park Service, http://www.nps.gov/moca/index.htm

Geographic Area covered by the State of Deseret and Utah Territory, International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers, http://www.dupinternational.org/dyn_page.php?pageID=54

Capitol Reef

Fruita and the Wingate Cliffs
Capitol Reef National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS

Orchard
Capitol Reef National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS

Early settlers to the landscape we know as Capitol Reef National Park in south-central Utah planted cherry, apricot, peach, pear, apple, and walnut trees as a cash crop for survival along the Fremont River bottoms. Visitors today are often surprised by the fruit trees in light of the surrounding desert climate, and campers can pick apples and peaches from their campsites in the orchards. But the green fields and fruit trees also attract deer, marmots, and other small critters, which are easy to spot and are comfortable with humans in their environment.

Though the deer roam free in the tall grass between apple trees, there are other species that are a bit more dangerous lurking nearby. Mountain lions and black bears skillfully stalk around this historic district of Fruita without being seen. Mountain lions have been spotted within a half-mile of the popular campground, yet little is known about the species within the confines of Capitol Reef. With so many questions unanswered about the predator and prey relationship in the unique landscape, the park has received a Disney Nature Impact Grant to enlighten us.

Lori Rome, the park’s chief of interpretation, says, “We are setting up 10-20 infrared motion detected camera traps in surrounding areas. This is a non-invasive way to learn basic information about the species.”

The cameras will provide useful evidence and reveal the patterns of the quiet predators in the park. The public will be engaged through a citizen science project using social media and public interpretive programming, for example helping to survey deer populations.

If you’ve seen Disney Nature’s movie Bears, you, too, helped contribute to the Disney Nature Impact Grants program. Fourteen national parks are receiving funding via proceeds from the movie. Disney Nature has pledged a contribution to the National park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, through the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, for each person who saw the film during its first week in theaters.

This type of support helps preserve and protect Capitol Reef and the rest of the National Park System. The Disney Nature Impact Grant enables parks to conduct much-needed conservation projects, such as studying mountain lions at Capitol Reef.

Each park selected to receive a grant through this program had to demonstrate a clear need for the money, and how it would make a profound difference in habitat restoration, wildlife protection or conservation research. With this assistance, we should be able understand predator’s actions in Capitol Reef National Park.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Credits:
Image: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text:     Kurt Repanshek, NationalParksTraveler.com.


Additional Reading:

Capitol Reef And 13 Other National Parks Receive Impact Grants From Disney Nature’s Movie “Bears”, Submitted by Carli Jones, June 26, 2014, NationalParksTraveler.comhttp://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/2014/06/capitol-reef-and-13-other-national-parks-receive-impact-grants-disney-natures-movie-bears25263

Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/park/capitol-reef-national-park

Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/index.htm

Mammals in Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/mammalchecklist.htm
Amphibians in Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/amphibians.htm
Fish in Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/fish.htm
Birds in Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/birds.htm
Reptiles in Capital Reef National Park, http://www.nps.gov/care/naturescience/reptiles.htm

Arches Wildlife

Western Collared Lizard
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS

Spadefoot Toad
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS

Red Fox
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS
Lee Kaiser, Photographer

Western Scrub Jay
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy US NPS
Neal Herbert, Photographer

Petroglyphs
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, Photographer
NationalParksTraveler.com

The Organ
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, Photographer
NationalParksTraveler.com

Stairs to Window Arch
Arches National Park
Photo Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, Photographer
NationalParksTraveler.com


As with its neighbor, Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park conceals most of its wildlife from visitors. That said, lizards are easy to spot, as are mule deer in the cool times of the day. And if you spend a little time before breakfast, or after dinner, you just might see coyotes, porcupines, desert cottontails, black-tailed jackrabbits, and many songbirds.

Because of the high heat during the summer months, most of these animals will be most visible when humans are not typically out and about. Desert animals have a variety of adaptations to deal with the hot weather and aridity. A key adaptation is that most animals are nocturnal, being most active at night. Nocturnal animals in Arches include kangaroo rats, woodrats (also called packrats), and other small desert rodents, skunks, ringtails, foxes, bobcats, mountain lions, bats and owls.

Some desert animals are “diurnal”, or primarily active during the day. These include rock squirrels, antelope squirrels, chipmunks, lizards, snakes, hawks, and eagles.

Many animals have are only active in certain temperature ranges, and they alter their active times of day depending upon the season. During winter months, snakes and lizards are in an inactive state of “torpor,” or sluggishness or even dormancy. But they become active during the day during the late spring and early fall, and then become “crepuscular,” or active mainly during the nighttime hours, to avoid the daytime heat of summer.

Insects, too, alter their times of activity. Mosquitoes, as you no doubt know, may be out from dawn through dusk, depending on the temperatures. But they are not active after the sun goes down.

In spite of Arches’ rather inhospitable appearance, almost 50 species of mammals live in the park’s landscape. But the hot climate and lack of water favors small mammals. Because of their size, these animals are less able to migrate, but have an easier time finding shelter, and require less food and water to live. Rodents are numerous: there are eleven species of mice and rats.

Desert bighorn sheep are one of the larger mammal species to be seen. They are frequently spotted along Highway 191 south of the park visitor center, and call Arches home all year long. They roam the talus slopes and side canyons near the Colorado River, forage for plants, and negotiate the steep, rocky terrain with the greatest of ease.

While Arches may not be considered a prime bird watching hot spot, 273 species have been seen in the park, which includes seasonal, year-round residents, and migrants.

Much of this diversity is due to the riparian corridors like Courthouse Wash and the Colorado River (which forms the park’s southern boundary). Mornings along these corridors often are filled with birdsongs during spring and summer. You might spot blue grosbeaks, yellow-breasted chats, and spotted towhees. Listen carefully and you’ll hear the trill of the canyon wren echoing from the sandstone walls. Great blue herons hunt the shallows for fish, while Cooper’s hawks deftly maneuver through the tangle of trees beyond the riverbanks.

There is life in the desert, if you know where, and more importantly, when, to look for it.

For Wild About Utah and National Parks Traveler, I’m Kurt Repanshek.

Credits:
Images: Courtesy US NPS
Images: Courtesy and Copyright Kurt Repanshek, www.nationalparkstraveler.com
Text:     Kurt Repanshek/Patrick Cone, NationalParksTraveler.com.


Additional Reading:

http://www.nationalparkstraveler.com/browse/Arches%20National%20Park

http://www.nps.gov/arch/index.htm