"Could I have this dance for the rest of my life?" - Anne Murray

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Lake Powell is a spectacular place, and when we were here last, in Fall of 2011, we spent most of our time exploring the lake and the area close to Page, AZ.  This time we are passing through for just three days on our way to Zion National Park. The water in the lake is significantly lower than it was last time we were here, so while it is still beautiful, it is also kind of severely so. More rock - less water.

We are parked in the Wahweap Campground, Loop D, the newest loop.  Only half the loops are open, as this is still pre-season, though you're never know it by the weather and the crowd at the swimming pool. Many tourists from out of the country are here with their children, most staying at the motel/resort.  The campground is fine, but feels very impersonal. It's run by for the National Parks by Aramark, so it's all about the business. 

To see something of the area that we hadn't yet, we headed for the Grand Staircase-Escalante (GSENM) Visitor's Center in Big Water, just a bit northwest of Wahweap. There we got some really helpful information from the ranger. I think he must have been a geologist, because he was all about the rocks. He explained about the three sections of the GSENM (the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Basin and the Escalante Canyons); sold us a nifty little book, the Geology Road Guide: Cottonwood Canyon; gave us an excellent map and sent us on our way with confidence that we had made the right choice for a day trip. Yes, we were warned that the Cottonwood Road was not passable if it rained.  So, with no rain in sight, four new tires, new battery, plenty of water, and snacks, we were off.

The guide book stopped us every few miles to explain the geology of what we were seeing. That made the drive even more interesting, but it did take a lot of time.  By mile 5.8 we were in what's called the Tropic Formation, or the "Moonscape".  Who knew there were cows on the moon?

The moonscape is made of grey/green bentonite and gypsum, and it's the bentonite that makes the road so difficult when it gets wet. The guide book told us we had to get out and look for gypsum crystals,  so being good students, we did. I found some desert paintbrushes that were a lot prettier than the gypsum.

The road twists and turns through the bentonite hills and then through a boulder field of rock fallen from the Straight Cliffs Formation. 

Then through the Paria River floodplain.  Here the colors of the surrounding hills start to get rosy, creamy and orange, which is indicative of the East Kaibab Monocline, or the "Cockscomb." You getting all this? The Cottonwood road runs right along the "Cockscomb" formation which is a major fault line and upheaval of the rock strata. If you're curious about the geology of this area, check out this incredible blog, Written in Stone…seen through my lens.

Cottonwoods grow along the Paria River. Nice green contrast with the surrounding pink rocks.

We got as far as mile 12.9, where we walked around these immense outcroppings of Entrada Sandstone, and felt it was time to turn around. I'm absolutely sure the next 17 miles to Grosvenor Arch would be just as or more interesting, but we thought it would be wise to get home by sunset. Besides, I'm not sure AAA comes out this way. ; )

The drive back was just as beautiful, but we didn't stop as often. After a hearty spaghetti supper back at Lake Powell I caught the last light on a walk way down to the water.

Tomorrow we drive a couple of hours west and north to Virgin, Utah where we'll stay at Zion River Resort for a month. Finally we'll let a little moss grow on our wheels. (Probably the wrong metaphor for the desert, but you know what I mean.)

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