Utah’s Desert Paradox

Utah's Desert Paradox: Upheaval Dome Courtesy Wikimedia Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Upheaval Dome
Courtesy Wikimedia
Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Have you ever wondered why the redrock landscape of Southeastern Utah ebbs and flows, why the exposed layers of sedimentary rock seem to rise and fall in crests and troughs like so many waves across the surface of the sea? Well, the answer, surprisingly enough, can be found through investigating the ancient seas that once covered vast swathes of Southeast Utah more than 300 million years ago.

Utah's Desert Paradox: Salt Diapir Courtesy Geology.com
Salt Diapir
Courtesy Geology.com
Back then, the allotment of Earth’s crust that would one day become the Beehive State was located along the western edge of a chain of islands that rose above a shallow, equatorial sea. 15 million years of sea level rise, recession, and evaporation left behind layer upon layer of salt deposits that would eventually measure nearly a mile thick. These salt deposits were subsequently covered and crushed by vast layers of sediment, rock, and debris eroded from the flanks of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains. Under the tremendous weight of these additional layers, the now lithified layers of salty stone softened and squirted west like toothpaste through a tube until they collided with deep tectonic faults. Here, they erupted upward, forcing the younger, denser rock layers into anticlinal arched domes, called diapirs, resembling the crests of waves. This phenomenon works much like a waterbed across the landscape: heavier rock layers squirting salt into thinner layers of rock that then bulge upward before they are subsequently squashed downward again by even more sediment, rock, and debris. The subterranean movement of salt through rock layers becomes a game of geologic whack-a-mole.

Utah's Desert Paradox: Cane Creek Anticline Canyonlands National Park Courtesy USGS, Public Domain, Photo id: 249988
Cane Creek Anticline
Canyonlands National Park
Courtesy USGS, Public Domain, Photo id: 249988
I recently visited Dead Horse Point State Park between the town of Moab and Canyonlands National Park. On the eastern edge of the rising mesa on which the park is located, one can look out across millions of years’ worth of sedimentary deposits toward the Cane Creek Anticline, an obvious salt diapir that seems to rise straight out of the Colorado River. Perhaps the most famous (and most contested) salt diapir in the area, though, is that of Upheaval Dome, located in Canyonlands National Park. An alternative theory to the creation of Upheaval Dome maintains that an ancient meteor impact created the crater where Upheaval Dome is located. However, the fracturing of the younger Wingate Sandstone that occupies the higher rock layers is indicative of a salt diapir formation. Yet, debate rages on!

Utah's Desert Paradox: Paradox Basin Overview Courtesy & Copyright Buffalo Royalties
Paradox Basin Overview
Courtesy & Copyright Buffalo Royalties
Funnily enough, the discovery of this layer of ancient salt deposits that wreaks so much havoc below the Earth’s surface was made in the collapsed center of an ancient salt diapir. In 1875, geologist and surveyor Albert Charles Peale, at the time yet unaware of the salt tectonics at work beneath the Colorado Plateau, noted the paradoxical course of the Delores River. As Peale and his colleagues would find out, the geography of the collapsed salt diapir caused the river to chart a perpendicular course through its valley as opposed to a parallel course as is most often taken by rivers. This paradox of fluvial geomorphology gave the place its name, Paradox Valley. Likewise, the subsequent discovery of an entire basin of ancient salt deposits borrowed the name “Paradox.” Now, we know the salty layer as the Paradox Formation of rocks found throughout the Paradox Basin of the Colorado Plateau.

Paradox Valley Courtesy & Copyright GJhikes.com
Paradox Valley
Courtesy & Copyright GJhikes.com
This paradox of fluvial geomorphology can also be found where the Colorado River cuts a perpendicular course across the Spanish Valley of Moab and is indicative of a vast layer of ancient salts below the surface, waiting to further morph the landscape into crests and troughs of rocky waves that ebb and flow across the landscape. The next time you venture into this part of our great state, stop and consider the remnants of ancient seas below your feet that project their image into the surface of the redrock above.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:

Photos: Paradox Basin Overview, Courtesy and Copyright Buffalo Royalties
Upheaval Dome Courtesy Wikimedia, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:UpheavalDomePanorama.jpg
Salt Diapir Courtesy Geology.com, https://geology.com/stories/13/salt-domes/
Paradox Valley Courtesy GJhikes.com, https://www.gjhikes.com/2017/10/long-park.html
Cane Creek Anticline Courtesy USGS (Photo id: 249988 – Canyonlands National Park, Utah. Cane Creek anticline, looking northeast toward the La Sal Mountains from Dead Horse Point. The Colorado River cuts across the crest at the middle right, above which is Anticline Overlook. A jeep trail and part of Shafer dome lie below. Figure 13, U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 1327. – ID. Lohman, S.W. 10cp – lswc0010 – U.S. Geological Survey – Public domain image)
Text: Josh Boling, 2018

Sources & Additional Reading

Davis, Jim, Glad You Asked: Why Does A River Run Through It?, Glad You Asked, Utah Geological Survey, https://geology.utah.gov/map-pub/survey-notes/glad-you-asked/why-does-a-river-run-through-it/

What is a Salt Dome?. Geology.com, https://geology.com/stories/13/salt-domes/

Cougars in Utah

Cougars in Utah: FemaleF43, Butterfield Canyon, 2009 Courtesy and Copyright David Stoner
Female F43, Butterfield Canyon, 2009
Courtesy and Copyright David Stoner
Cougars are more widely distributed in Utah than many residents realize. These shy cats are found across the state. They roam from the high Uinta Mountains to the dry southern deserts.

David Stoner, assistant professor in the Department of Wildland Resources in the Quinney College of Natural Resources who has studied cougars for the past two decades said, “[Cougars] are common in terms of their distribution, but are rare in terms of their numbers. They live in many places but there are never a lot of them, typically occurring at densities of 1 adult per 20 square miles.

Stoner continues, “They’re just a big cat. Most of us are familiar with a house cats, and know how they behave, their movements, and idiosyncrasies. The main difference is their size. Cougars can be as large as humans [males usually range between 110 to 180 lbs.] They have evolved to take prey larger than themselves. You see this in the size of their muzzle – the mouth, nose and jaw. All of that is much larger in a cougar relative to its own body than a house cat. This becomes even more dramatic in the really big cats like tigers and lions with very large muzzles.

Stoner partnered with Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) to study cougars in two Utah areas, one of which was Monroe Mountain in Fishlake National Forest.

Mother named F61 (face showing), daughter (F58c) (facing away) Approx 1.5 yrs old in January 2011. Location: Kennecott mine, Bingham Canyon in the Oquirrh Mountains, Utah Courtesy and Copyright McLain Mecham, Photographer
Mother named F61 (face showing), daughter (F58c) (facing away) Approx 1.5 yrs old in January 2011. Location: Kennecott mine, Bingham Canyon in the Oquirrh Mountains, Utah
Courtesy and Copyright McLain Mecham, Photographer
The researchers noticed an unusual movement pattern of juveniles on the mountain. When the young were ready to leave their mothers they could have migrated in any direction to find good habitat but they disproportionately chose to go either NE or SE. This perplexed the researchers.

At about the same time the cougar research was winding down, DWR was starting a mule deer monitoring program.

Stoner said, “We were very fortunate. What DWR found was the Monroe Mountain deer herd were mostly migrating NE and SE. I looked back at our data and found the cougars who were leaving Monroe were going in the same direction as the deer migrations, the young cougars were tracking the deer herds.

Due to their hunting methods and nutritional needs, cougars require large home ranges. Researchers gathered data from NV, UT and AZ to represent a wide range of environmental conditions from very dry systems close to Las Vegas to relatively wet systems along Wasatch front.

Stoner explains, “We found the size of the home ranges…varied with precipitation. The wettest areas the cougars had the smallest home ranges, because of the abundance of prey in these highly productive systems. Females tend to have ranges strictly based on the food they need. The male’s range is much larger because they are looking for breeding opportunities, so they overlap numerous females. These ranges can be quite large. One collared male had a home range of over 2,500 square miles, which was visible on maps at the scale of the entire western United States.”

When it comes to human interactions with cougars, Utah has been very fortunate. In the past 100 years, no humans have been killed by a cougar. In hopes of maintaining this record, DWR keeps safety tips on its website. The most important tip is to never run from a cougar, this will cause them to instinctively think you are prey and begin the chase. If you have a child with you pick them up. Stand firm and look intimidating, let it know you’ll fight back. Your goal is to scare them off.

With the wise actions of humans, Stoner and DWR hope this majestic cat will continue to flourish in Utah.

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

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright © David Stoner
Audio: Courtesy
Principal Investigator: David Stoner, https://qcnr.usu.edu/directory_cv/D.Stoner_CV_10-2016.pdf
Text: Shauna Leavitt, USGS Utah Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Sources & Additional Reading

Greene, Jack, My Cougar Encounter, Wild About Utah, January 16, 2017, https://wildaboututah.org/my-cougar-encounter/

Strand, Holly, Mountain Lion, Wild About Utah, March 4, 2010, https://wildaboututah.org/mountain-lion/

Boling, Josh, Wild Cats, Wild About Utah, December 10, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/wild-cats/

Löe J. and E. Röskaft. 2004. Large Carnivores and Human Safety: A Review. AMBIO: A Journal of the Human Environment Aug 2004 : Vol. 33, Issue 6, pg(s) 283-288 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/8328070_Large_Carnivores_and_Human_Safety_A_Review

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Mountain Wildlife Field Book, Utah Master Naturalists, https://extension.usu.edu/utahmasternaturalist/files/UMNP_Mountains_Wildlife_Book_booklet.pdf

More From The Hidden Life of Trees

More From The Hidden Life of Trees: Urban Trees Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Urban Trees
Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
In the book, The Hidden Life of Trees, Forester-Scientist Peter Wohlleben reveals some amazing characteristics that are generally unknown by the humans casually walking by the trees in a forest. This is part two highlighting this book and I highly recommend you consider searching for it in bookstores or online.

Wohlleben states that trees communicate with each other by using scents. It seems that various trees can release toxins into their leaves when being eaten by herbivores looking for a meal. But these trees also warned nearby relatives of the same species by releasing gases as a signal they were being invaded. Those neighboring trees quickly pumped those same toxins into their leaves to prevent an oncoming attack.

Mountain Trees Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Mountain Trees
Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
It was also learned that sometimes trees can identify the insects that are eating their leaves by tasting the saliva being secreted by those attackers. The trees can then release scent-based pheromones to warn neighbors that they are being assaulted, but also summon beneficial insects which then prey upon those original assailants. These new findings imply that trees can determine certain scents, and if they can interpret different insect saliva they must also have a sense of taste.

These warnings to neighboring trees aren’t always carried through the air. Consider days when there is no wind. They can also be sent using chemical signals sent through the fungi around their root tips. Serious problems can occur when trees lose these skills as well as their ability to defend themselves. This is one important reason to maintain undisturbed sections of old-growth forests. Wohlleben also cites a study in Australia when it was observed that the roots of grain seedlings oriented their root tips toward the origin of sound frequencies of 220 hertz. Can trees taste, smell, respond to electrical signals, and hear sounds? It seems incredible, but how much do we really know about trees?

Consider the many benefits trees provide for humanity and other life forms: Of course they can be used for building or fuel, but they can raise property values by as much as 15%; they take in Carbon Dioxide for growth and release Oxygen; they help moderate the climate; they purify the air of toxic substances; they produce fruit and nuts; they provide habitat for insect-eating birds; they provide cooling summer shade and reduce heat-islands in urban settings; they reduce noise levels and light pollution for scenic night skies; they provide soil stability to reduce erosion; and they provide scenic green-screens for privacy. Research has also shown that urban tree areas have lower crime rates, and hospitals report that recovery from physical or mental issues are improved and hastened by having trees in their landscape.

There is much more to learn from the book, The Hidden Life of Trees. And Fall and Spring are the ideal times to plant these quiet, scenic wonders.

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

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

Additional Reading

Hellstern, Ron, The Hidden Life of Trees, Wild About Utah, August 26, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/the-hidden-life-of-trees/

Wohlleben, Peter, The Hidden Life of Trees, Jane Billinghurst, Translator, Greystone Books Ltd., 2016, https://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Life-Trees-Illustrated/dp/177164348X

Wohlleben, Peter, The Hidden Life of Trees – The Illustrated Edition, Jane Billinghurst, Translator, Greystone Books Ltd. 2018, https://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Life-Trees-Illustrated/dp/177164348X

Noe, Alva, A Web Of Trees And Their ‘Hidden’ Lives, National Public Radio, September 23, 2016, https://www.npr.org/sections/13.7/2016/09/23/494989594/a-web-of-trees-and-their-hidden-lives

Kuhns, Michael, https://upcolorado.com/utah-state-university-press/item/2130-a-guide-to-the-trees-of-utah-and-the-intermountain-west

Rock Art

Rock Art: Fremont Petroglyphs in Nine Mile Canyon, UT: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
Fremont Petroglyphs in Nine Mile Canyon, UT: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
What did we do before radio—before cell phones, television, newspapers, and books? How did we tell stories, share news, warn of danger, or otherwise communicate with anyone beyond those around us? What did we do with words and thoughts when there was no one with whom we could immediately share them? The wilds of southern Utah can provide one answer—if you’re willing to look.

Rock Art: The Great Gallery Pictograph Panel in Horseshoe Canyon, UT; Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
The Great Gallery Pictograph Panel in Horseshoe Canyon, UT; Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling, Photographer
As far as pictograph panels go, Horseshoe Canyon’s Great Gallery isn’t terribly difficult to find. It’s also one of the most spectacular and well preserved panels of rock art in the state. Naturally, then, it’s fairly well-known and has seen an increasing number of visitors in recent years despite its remote location. Incidentally, I happened upon it by accident—had no idea it was there and would have passed right by if not for a chance glimpse of a ghostly set of eyes peering at me through cottonwood boughs. The Great Gallery’s ‘Barrier Canyon’ style of rock art is characterized by haunting silhouettes of human, semi-human, and animal figures painted on and pecked into the canyon walls of the Colorado Plateau. They are surviving remnants of an unnamed and unknown culture of hunter/gatherers that roamed Utah’s canyon country between 7,000 and 1,500 years ago—pieces of information whose meaning is lost to us now. We may never know why these people painted the “Holy Ghost”—the 8-foot-tall figure with empty, gaping eyes that startled me out of my hiking stupor.

Newer panels of rock art produced by more familiar cultures are a bit more discernible, though. The nameless wanderers who produced the Barrier Canyon style were followed first by the Fremont whose artwork appeared around 1,500 and 2,000 years ago and then by the Pueblo peoples we now refer to as the Anasazi. Both the Fremont and Pueblo styles portray relatively clearer themes—stories of hunting parties and the game to which they gave chase; spirals and directional glyphs which indicate water; people, animals, and the elements whose interactions are now carved into the canyon walls for us to find, decipher, and celebrate.

The author, adventurer, and local rock art expert Jonathan Bailey refers to rock art as “a vision of a…cultural landscape”—a story continuously told by people who lived close to the land long after they’ve passed. Some stories are secret, hidden away in forgotten crevices of the Colorado Plateau, meant only for those who already knew their meaning. Others are more democratic: a water glyph is meant for me as much as the hunter/gatherer that pecked it into the sandstone. It beckons every traveler to come and sate his or her thirst.
Einstein said time is relative. Looking up at the Holy Ghost, the artistic center of the Great Gallery, I felt I could reach through time and connect with the people who wandered this landscape before me—to see it and experience it the way they did.

I’m Josh Boling, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Josh Boling
Sound: Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text: Josh Boling, 2018

Sources & Additional Reading

Mozdy, Michael, Bold Figures, Blurred History: The Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon, Natural History Museum of Utah, October 2, 2016, https://nhmu.utah.edu/blog/2016/09/29/bold-figures-blurred-history-great-gallery-horseshoe-canyon

Nine Mile Canyon, Natural History Museum of Utah, https://nhmu.utah.edu/places/nine-mile-canyon