Wednesday, October 13, 2010 Sunny and 62 degrees
Our plan to go to Capitol Reef NP today took a beautiful detour. First we stopped at the Petrified State Park just outside of Escalante (ess-kuh-lon-tay). We climbed the one-mile loop trail up 200 feet to the top of a mesa. Here "groundwater permeated buried trees, and because they were in an oxygen-deprived environment, the trees did not rot. Instead a silica solution replaced organic material in the tree, leaving the cell structure complete. The beautiful and varied colors are caused by the presence of other minerals during the petrifying process, producing oranges, reds, yellow, blues, blacks, and purples" in what had been the bark. It is quite a sight to see the colored bark turned to stone.
The tourist brochure for the Grand Staircase-Escalante NM reads: The GS-E NM extends over 1.9 million acres of sandstone canyons, plateaus, cliffs, and unique rock formations...that extends north from the Colorado River at the Grand Canyon to Bryce Canyon." This is a very inadequate description of what we saw as we drove UT 12N from Tropic to Torrey. We experienced sensory overload.
This is an expansive area of sandstone canyons, mesas, deep chasms, and narrow gullies. The salmon, cream, and tan colors swirl, band, and stripe the rocks that fill Box-Death Hollow Wilderness. Grooves and striations in some places are so regular that they appear to be machine-made. Looking from high above at the rugged, confounding scene, it is obvious why this was the last area in the Lower 48 to be mapped.
The shapes of the rocks are so varied that what follows is a lengthy list of what they look like:
spires; beehives; pillars; domes; ledges; caves; holes-in-the-wall; alcoves; niches; slot canyons; cathedrals; smoke stacks; timpani drums; chess pieces; stacks of tiles; huge urns; coils of rope; a ship's stern;
large and small rock crepes arranged in tilting stacks; red skull caps; the Sphinx; a walled city perched atop a long narrow mesa; the nose, fuselage, and wings of the space shuttle blasting into space from the canyon floor; a submarine's conning tower perched on a long ridge; and a fort reminiscent of San Cristobol in Old San Juan.
As if that were not enough, we saw even more rock formations as we drove along Burr Trail which wound through a narrow canyon. This time we were among the formations looking up at them instead of looking down on them from above.
Here there were: a giant pencil attached to a canyon wall; concert shells of various sizes; canyon walls decorated with sand paintings; red rocks on white rocks and white rocks on red rocks; canyon walls imprinted with paw prints; rock faces with holes resembling clay strawberry plant pots. Only our imaginations limited what shapes we saw.
Resuming our trip north we encountered a mule deer grazing near the road, and since this is an open range, cattle meandered along the edge of the road. Meanwhile the wind was blowing the yellow and orange leaves on the quaking aspen trees. So our detour turned out to be a wonderful experience.
TODAY'S ROUTE: from Tropic, UT 12N to Torrey