The Colorado Plateau

000000The Colorado Plateau: Colorado Plateaus Province US Physiographic Province Courtesy US National Park Service
US National Parksbr />
Colorado Plateaus Province
US Physiographic Province
Courtesy US National Park Service

If you have ever been to a museum you have witnessed historical items that may be hundreds, or thousands of years old. When we look outdoors at the natural geology of our planet earth, we may be witnessing things that are hundreds of thousands, or even millions of years old.

I realize that there are some people who disagree with the aging with which some scientists label various mountains and canyons, so let’s just settle on the fact that some of these places are very, very old.

There is only one place in the United States where a person can put his feet and hands in four different States at the same time, and that place is called The Four Corners. The story behind this incredible area deals with the formation of what is known as the Colorado Plateau. This area covers 130,000 square miles in Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. If you have ever been to any of Utah’s Mighty Five National Parks you are on the Colorado Plateau, but it’s much more than that. There are 3 national recreation areas, 10 national parks, and 16 national monuments all included in that amazing geologic formation.

Scientists say that millions of years ago tropical seas covered the Plateau region where layers of limestone, sandstone, silt and shale were continually deposited. When upheavals began to lift the plateau, and mountain-building events occurred, volcanic eruptions also accented the western area. Eras of various rivers, lakes, and inland seas continued to leave sediment deposits known as the Chinle, Moenave and Kayenta layers. Later, a huge desert formed the Navajo, Temple-Cap and Carmel formations.

Tectonic activity began to uplift the Plateau nearly two miles high and slightly tilt it to the west. Rivers and streams responded with increased downcutting and erosion which revealed scenic wonders from narrow slot-canyons to huge cuts in the earth’s surface. Perhaps you have heard the term “Grand Staircase” which describes the descent in altitude from Bryce Canyon down to Zion Canyon and further down to the Grand Canyon in Arizona. About ninety percent of the area is drained by just a few rivers including the Colorado, Green, San Juan, Little Colorado and the Rio Grand.

Why emphasize the geology? Besides climate, think how the soil and rock formations determine water retention and flow directions. How water and soil then determines the plant life in an area. And finally, how all three of those components determine what wildlife will exist in that same area.

So the next time you visit Utah’s Mighty Five: Arches, Bryce Canyon. Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, or Zion Canyon, try to picture yourself atop a huge natural table-top with incomparable scenery.

This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright Kevin Colver
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Colorado Plateaus Province, Physiographic Provinces, National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/articles/coloradoplateaus.htm

Geologic Provinces of the United States: Colorado Plateau Province, USGS Geology in the Parks, USGS, https://archive.usgs.gov/archive/sites/geomaps.wr.usgs.gov/parks/province/coloplat.html

Annerino, John, Colorado Plateau Wild and Beautiful, Farcounty Press, April 1, 2014, https://www.amazon.com/Colorado-Plateau-Wild-Beautiful-Annerino/dp/156037585X

Natural Quiet and Darkness in our National Parks

Natural Quiet and Darkness in our National Parks: View looking east in early summer from Cedar Breaks National Monument Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
View looking east in early summer from Cedar Breaks National Monument
Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
If visitors find locations in Utah’s National Parks, where very little man-made sounds are heard, it can be a breathtaking experience. A park visitor may canoe along riparian habitat and hear a variety of bird calls, or hike a trail and come around a bend to see a few deer jump over the sage-brush.

These types of experiences may also occur after dark when visitors participate in stargazing or a full-moon hikes.

The southern Milky Way visible during a star party at Cedar Breaks National Monument. We use red lights on the telescopes during star parties to help preserve night vision. Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
The southern Milky Way visible during a star party at Cedar Breaks National Monument. We use red lights on the telescopes during star parties to help preserve night vision.
Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
Mark and Sallie Shelton said, “Utah dark skies are our passion! The [dark] sky and quiet solitude are magical. Visitors, from around the world, are in awe when they get their first [heavenly] glimpse of [the Milky Way] and see the stars shining like diamonds on dark velvet.”

Protecting the quiet and darkness of our National Parks has become a priority for many managers and researchers.

Four planets and the Moon are visible in the twilight sky over ancient Bristlecone Pine trees at Cedar Breaks NM Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
Four planets and the Moon are visible in the twilight sky over ancient Bristlecone Pine trees at Cedar Breaks NM
Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
Christopher Monz, professor in the Department of Environment and Society in the Quinney College of Natural Resource at USU joined with five other scientists who have all worked on issues of noise pollution and light pollution to compile the book, “Natural Quiet and Natural Darkness: The “New” Resources of the National Park.”
title=”Four planets and the Moon are visible in the twilight sky over ancient Bristlecone Pine trees at Cedar Breaks NM Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer”
The Summer Milky Way as seen from Point Supreme at Cedar Breaks NM. The landscape is illuminated by the light of a 1st Quarter moon. Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
The Summer Milky Way as seen from Point Supreme at Cedar Breaks NM. The landscape is illuminated by the light of a 1st Quarter moon.
Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer
Monz explains, “[We wanted] to compile, in one place, the best science on both the social and ecological dimensions regarding the importance of the resources of darkness and quiet, and the consequences of them slowly disappearing in our most precious protected areas – the national parks.”

The book gathered many interesting findings.

Visitors enjoying a quiet day at Hovenweep National Monument Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt
Visitors enjoying a quiet day at Hovenweep National Monument
Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt
One is the concept of “listening area” which is the distance an individual (human or animal) can hear normal sounds and calls that they’re evolved and adapted to. For a bird species it might be a mating call, for deer it might an alert response from a predator.

As noise increases the listening area may decrease dramatically.

Monz said, “In the United States noise from roads has increased three fold since 1970.”

A three decibel increase in noise results in a 50 percent decrease in listening area. If there is a 10 decibel increase, the result is a staggering 90 percent decrease in listening area.

Monz explains, “If you put noise into the environment there is the potential for significant ecological implications, particularly for wildlife. They can no longer be reliant on the sense of hearing to carry out normal activities…some species will move out of those noisy areas to quieter environments which creates a displacement effect.”

For humans, this means we have less opportunities to engage with the sights and sounds of nature.

One success story outlined in the book occurred in Muir Woods National Monument in California. Monz said, “Simply by putting up signs which raised the visitor’s awareness of the environment they were in, and the importance of quiet for other visitors, the noise decreased by 2 decibels. This gave folks an opportunity to experience better natural quiet environment and a little bit more biodiversity from the standpoint of hearing bird calls from the surrounding forest.”

The book also provides ideas for managing the resource of darkness in the National parks.

Guests enjoying Arches National Park Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt
Guests enjoying Arches National Park
Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt
Monz said, “Right now 80% of the world’s population lives in locations where there is some compromise of natural darkness…most will never see the Milky Way.”

Cedar Breaks National Monument, which has the highest star gazing site at 10,500 feet, received an award from The International-Dark Sky Association (IDA) for preserving its Dark skies.

The authors of “Natural Quiet and Natural Darkness” hope the book will get in the right hands to provide park managers with this easily accessible tool where they can find the best science and actionable ideas to increase quiet and darkness in our National Parks.

This is Shauna Leavitt and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos:
    Courtesy US NPS, Zach Schierl, Photographer, Education Specialist, Cedar Breaks National Monument
    Courtesy & Copyright Shauna Leavitt,
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Star Gazing, Cedar Breaks National Monument, US National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/star-gazing.htm

Cedar Breaks National Monument Designated as an International Dark Sky Park, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/learn/news/cedar-breaks-national-monument-designated-as-an-international-dark-sky-park.htm

Burkitt, Bree, Cedar Breaks recognized as Dark Sky Park, The Spectrum, https://wlna-webservice.gannettdigital.com/articleservice/view/98980850/michigan-state-spartans/24.3.57/iphone

Spotlight – The Cedar Breaks National Monument Master Astronomer Program, Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative, https://cpdarkskies.org/2018/10/17/spotlight-the-cedar-breaks-national-monument-master-astronomer-program/