FARTHER AFIELD: Utah Rocks!

It’s all about geology in Utah. This post zeroes in on the impressive variety of rocks that can be seen in southern Utah. Between April 3rd and 13th, we drove from the far southwest corner of Utah to Torrey, a small town in central Utah near Capitol Reef National Park. We put about 1680 miles (2703km) on our rented SUV, traveling on highways, two-lane local roads, and rough, unpaved roads. We walked through canyons, up cliffs, and along mountain ridges. It was a rock odyssey, from the enormous, ancient formations layered into the distance to the red rock dust on our boots and in our noses. In Utah, the shapes, colors, and textures of rock run the gamut from subtle to bizarre. Going back and forth between spacious, soul-satisfying vistas and mesmerizing details, it was a ten-day orgy of aesthetic pleasure.

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1. Along the highway near St. George, in the southwesternmost corner of Utah.
2. Detail of a rock face on the Hickman Bridge Trail, Capitol Reef National Park.
3. Pebbles, Capitol Reef National Park.
4. Along Cathedral Road, Capitol Reef National Park.
5. Temple of the Sun, Capitol Reef National Park.
6.
7. Snow Canyon State Park. The dark areas are sharp, medium-sized rocks; I believe they’re basalt lava flow. The dull green areas are covered with tough, desert plants.
8. For thousands of years people have inscribed signs and symbols on rocks to communicate. Over the years, different cultures made their marks on these rocks at Parowan Gap in Parowan, Utah. Interpretations of petroglyphs vary depending on who you’re talking to. To a modern-day Paiute elder a particular series of glyphs may tell a story that’s totally different from the message that a European-American scientist sees.
9. Depressions worn into the rocks hold the scant water that falls here, allowing it to become a lifeline for wildlife.
10.
11.
12. How could people resist putting rocks into these holes worn into the vertical faces of a canyon? Capitol Gorge, Capitol Reef National Park.
13. Capitol Gorge, Capitol Reef National Park.
14. Capitol Reef National Park.
15. Along the Burr Trail, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. I think these hills are bentonite.
16. Along Notom-Bullfrog Road. We made a long, dusty loop by driving from Torrey on Highway 24 to Highway 12 (a rather remote two-lane road) to Burr Trail Road (more remote) to Notom-Bullfrog Road (seriously remote) and back to Rt. 24. Road conditions and weather must be checked before you set out. Plenty of water and food must be on board too, just in case. We passed only a few vehicles on the more remote sections of the route. The grandeur of this landscape made the strongest impression on me the day we drove that 120-mile (193km) loop.
17. Burr Trail Road rock and juniper trees. It may look like soft sand but walk up to it and you’ll see that it’s really solid rock. The Burr Trail Road passes through Boulder, Utah, a tiny town so remote that it was the last place in America to get mail by mule train. In the early 1930s, a road was built and residents began receiving mail carried by wheeled vehicles instead of pack animals.
18. View from the Hickman Bridge Trail, Capitol Reef National Park.
19. Rock detail, Hickman Bridge Trail, Capitol Reef National Park.
20. Along the Burr Trail, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.
21. Rock detail, Rt. 24, Capitol Reef National Park.
22. Context of the photo above: at the bottom of the frame you can see juniper trees. Most of these trees are taller than people. Imagine how high this cliff towers over park visitors.
23. Bryce Canyon National Park.
24. Some of the rock at Snow Canyon State Park (near St. George) is wrinkled like an elephant’s skin. This is cross-bedded, 173-million-year-old Navaho sandstone.
25. Along Cathedral Road, Capitol Reef National Park.

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Southern Utah’s landscape is harsh, forbidding. Maps tell the story of settler’s reactions with plainspoken names like Box-Death Hollow Wilderness, Rattlesnake Bench, Tarantula Mesa, Hell’s Backbone, and Last Chance Desert. Summer is hot, winter cold, and spring rains can bring floods. But the beauty beyond all that, between the dust blowing in your face and the endless miles of cracked earth, is truly sublime. In the last letter he wrote before he disappeared forever, Everett Ruess recalled riding “over miles of rough country, forcing my way through tall sage and stubborn oak brush, and driving the burros down canyon slopes so steep that they could hardly keep from falling.” He enjoyed the beauty of the wilderness and the vagrant life he was leading, preferring “the saddle to the streetcar and the star-sprinkled sky to a roof, the obscure and difficult trail, leading into the unknown, to any paved highway, and the deep peace of the wild to the discontent bred by cities.”

This desert land touches your soul.

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25. A view from the Burr Trail, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

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Quotes from Rusho, W.L. (1983). Everett Ruess, A Vagabond for Beauty. Peregrine Smith Books.

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75 comments

  1. Wow Lynn, what spectacular photos! I love all of those desert colors, reminds me of our trip through Arizona and the painted desert. Your background stories are wonderful and I was particularly taken with your comments on the petroglyphs and the stories they might tell depending on the POV. Wonderful post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, some places are a lot like the Painted Desert. There’s so much variety, it’s just one jaw-dropping view after another. I hope to elaborate a little on the petroglyphs. Thanks for stopping by, Lynn – I bet you’re enjoying spring!

      Liked by 1 person

    • It’s interesting to hear what sparked your interest, Ken. It was a great road trip and we’d love to go back – but we would need a good strategy for the altitude, which continually wore us down. Still, I guess you can see by this that it didn’t keep us from seeing the sights. 😉

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  2. Fantastic post, Lynn! You’ve done such a great job celebrating the unusual rock formations and patterns. Really amazing. Images 4&7 are very cool. Your attention to detail along with the more expansive landscapes have told a compelling story.
    I vividly remember the first time we drove the Grand Escalante Staircase and reaching a high point in the road and both sides of the mountain just kind of fell away and we felt like we were teetering on top. It was thrilling and scary! Glad you had a great trip. 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s exciting that you picked out #4 – it doesn’t necessarily fit that well with the rest of the images but it’s one of my favorites. As you know, it’s fun to see how abstract you can make a photo that was originally fairly straightforward – and what a perfect place southern Utah is to do that. My scariest moment on this trip was going down the Burr Trail switchbacks – a very rough road, hairpin turns, sheer drop-offs, and no one else around. Not to mention the stories of herders losing cattle that they used to drive up and down those switchbacks. I like hearing about your drive in Grand Staircase-Escalante. There are so many places we didn’t get to….you know how it is! Thanks so much for the vote of confidence. I appreciate it very much.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Wow. What spectacular scenery.
    Thanks for taking us along on your journey. Your superb compositions continue to inspire and enrich my artistic eye. People sometimes forget that the small details can be just as interesting as the majestic vistas.
    Must have been amazing to see those tall rock formations appear on an otherwise flat landscape.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was a lot of eye candy! That part of Utah doesn’t have a lot of really flat land – it’s all folded and tilted and full of mountains and canyons. Someone compared it to parts of Australia but I don’t know which parts – Australia is so huge. Thanks for the nice comment, Vicki, I appreciate it and hope you’re doing well these days.

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  4. Sorry for writing in german.
    I think you know what i meant.
    Utah is huge.
    I would certainly be lost.
    This week i Was in the botanical garden in Würzburg on two different days , with a result of more than 2000 pics.
    In the nineties i travelled utah and shot maybe 50 to 80 pics.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 🙂 No problem, I think it’s after 0100 where you are!! I understand about making so many photos these days, compared to before digital technology. I was pretty good because I only came home with about 1,000. That’s still a lot to go through! There’s something about botanical gardens though – they cause me to take “a zillion” photos, too. Lucky you!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Most of all I like the spare beauty of #s 3 and 4. They’re not quite minimal; maybe the word for them is essential. . . . Lava flow! How exciting. Your naming it—and the fact of its existence—make me imagine these mountains erupting with volcanic action. Wow. . . . Your landscape photos are appealing—very appealing (especially #25) —and I’m glad you didn’t get so wrapped up them them that you forgot the wonderful details (#s 9, 10, 11, 12, and 21). . . . I don’t know whether #s 14 and 16 qualify as landscape or detail, but I like their abstract quality very much. . . . This is another really wonderful collection, Lynn, and I swear I can feel the joy you had in taking these photographs and getting them ready for our enjoyment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This is good, that you like #3 & 4. It’s tempting to do a post with photos like those that have the same atmosphere or feeling. But in the end I chose to focus on rocks in general so the photos have a big variety of “looks” – some bright and high-contrast, some more subdued. So many ways to go, right? I considered digging into the geology but it’s just too overwhelming. There are many different forces and kinds of rocks in that area, too many to sort out. Volcanism is just one thing that was happening. For me it was better to allow myself to let go of the idea of including solid information about geology and just skim. #14 & 16 are both big views of landscapes but yes, they could be details. What a world Utah is for the aesthetically inclined!!! There was pain (the altitude, the lack of sleep, the low humidity) and joy (just wow!) but the joy is what I remember. 🙂 Thank you for being here.

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing the story of your trip through Utah. I enjoyed the pictures of the many rock formations that you found on your way. Unless it looks like a desolate place, it’s one of great beauty. Many greets, Rudi

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great trip! You must have had a great time, out there with your camera.. 🙂 The Dutch Jury picks nr4 as the winner.. Nr14 reminded me of some shots I took in Iceland; but here it’s dry and with a total different color palette.. Nr24 is also great; feels like a wave.. Thanks for sharing, Lynn!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really is the perfect place for a photographer. Endless possibilities. And lots of fallen trees! 😉
      #4, yes, as you may have seen above, I like that one, too. I can see how #14 could remind you of Iceland. Yes, it’s super dry in Utah, so dry our noses were bloody the whole time! It was so much fun to climb around the rocks in the park where #24 was taken. They’re rough enough so you never slip and you just keep going up and down and around. A very playful landscape. Thanks!

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    • Exactly! I’m glad that we can get there without too much difficulty. The next time I see photos of Australia that make me envious I have to remind myself of Utah. 😉 Thanks, Jo, I hope all’s well with you.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. This post is a beautiful journey through some of the many textures of the “skin” of this planet that are always something to discover. Without a doubt, this visited area will be, geologically speaking, one of the richest and most beautiful.
    The shared landscapes, details and the emotion of the words reveal how it was a trip that will stay well in the memory and heart, whether for what was seen or for the adventures lived. Beautiful images!

    (How can the human race be so indifferent to the beauty that exists and destroying this planet? 😢)

    Liked by 1 person

    • The skin of the planet, yes, that’s what one is most aware of in this part of the world. I’m glad you enjoyed the images, Dulce and I can only agree with you in wondering how such beauty can be destroyed. At least that part of Utah is mostly public land and is well protected.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I find the feeling of macro and micro fascinating and beautiful in this set of photos. It’s nearly impossible to guess the scale in many of the images. I was astounded when you captioned the one with ‘taller than people’ trees at the base of the cliff and it soared into the heights before my very eyes. I’m so glad you got out on the road for an extended trip. Thanks for sharing it with us!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great, we’re playing with scale, one of my favorite activities. 😉 It seemed like the right time for a road trip and it was. Of course it was spring break for a lot of kids so there were families roaming around the parks but once we got to the Capitol Reef area it didn’t feel busy at all. Now I’m getting back into travel mode, thinking about other trips we can make that aren’t too far away. It’s nice to have a taste of that return to normalcy (whatever that’s going to look like!). Thanks for being here, Sheri.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I just love this Lynn ! Fabulous post . It is a wondrous landscape . I can sense you had an amazing full to the brim and beyond Lol trip and with the outstanding memories stories and photographs you are sharing here Utah really comes alive !
    The scale of those canyons in #22 the sketchlike appearance of those enormous range of mountains in #4… the top of those formations in Bryce Canyon in #23 are quite something in sunlight aren’t they taking on a luminous transparency …
    So much is familiar here from our trip way back Lynne so I must dig into the archives for a look … Pucker Pass eek .. Goblin Valley … walking up to Delicate Arch…but not yet . We’re right now packing for a trip to Scotland 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • A wondrous landscape indeed, one for poets and people with imaginations, like yourself. Yeah, I’d say it was full to the brim! I’m glad you like the look of #4 – that’s a direction I like to go in but it doesn’t happen as often as I’d like. You saw Goblin Valley, not far from where we were but we just didn’t get there. As you know, it’s a big expanse of rock!! We skipped Arches too, because I was afraid it would be too crowded and not worth the extra time to get there. It was a good decision to spend the bulk of our time around Capitol Reef, a very big, varied park that is relatively off the radar. There’s so much more to see there. But Scotland, that’s great! I would love to see it, so would Joe. So many places… 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Looks like you had a wonderful time in this climate very different from your home. I like that you found equally interesting details like the pebbles at Capitol Reef. I went there with a friend a few years back. We set out for the ‘Temples’ in the dark to be there at sunrise and had quite an adventure when we followed a bad map and made a wrong turn! You’re captures have a wonderful sense of place!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It couldn’t be much more different, which is why so many PNW’ers love the southwest – but the altitude was tough! I can imagine making a wrong turn out toward the temples at night would be enough of an adventure for a year or so. And oh, those washboard roads! THanks for your comment, Denise, I appreciate it. I hope spring is beginning to blossom all around you. 🙂

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    • Oh, I bet you could stay there for weeks, Simone, it’s amazing. We would both love to return. This was just the beginning. I’m glad you enjoyed the photographs. I’m going to switch to a post about what I’m seeing where I live next but there will be more from Utah, too. Have a great day! OK, evening by now!

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  12. Today the pictures grabbed me before I even read two sentences of your text, dear Lynn – which is very rare.  And I’m also commenting now, without further reading. It will only follow afterwards.

    What an incredible, pristine, deserted landscape!  It lies before our eyes in stillness and peace and is filled with pure existence.  Any question of meaning seems ridiculous and small.

    For me, this post contains two sets of photos: those with the sky and those without it.  Both groups are linked by a common, slightly dusty, subdued color scheme.  The group without a sky comes closer to my emotion, perhaps because the other one seems too big, too overwhelming.

    Where you let the sand and stones speak for themselves, I enjoy an almost endless abundance of structure and pattern, I read the story book of our earth and learn a few lessons in masterful image composition.

    Even if the landscape in Utah makes it easy for the photographer, the pictures still show her creative handwriting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for following your intuition and commenting on the images before finishing the text because the qualities of pristine stillness, peace, and pure existence that you saw are what I see there, too. It makes me happy to know you find those qualities here. That “pure existence” feeling is what moved me so much the first time I went to southern Utah and why I wanted to return. Sometimes the air is so pure and the landscape so still that the silence rings – it’s hard to describe but there can be a high, zinging sense that might be sound or might be something felt through another sense.
      And yes, it’s big!! What a pleasure it is to drive down those roads and find a new landscape around every bend stretching out as far as you can see. Having the photographs brings the pleasure back home and allows it to be shared. I’m privileged to share it with you.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The “high, zinging sense” like a sound, I know very well from completely silent situations when climbing in the Alps shortly after dawn in a former life.
        I feel thankfully happy taking part in your trip, dear friend.

        Liked by 1 person

  13. My friend,
    Thank you for allowing us to go with you – the images reminded me of walking/driving through a vast area of drained ocean. All was going well until you gave us extra time to view the petroglyphs, and it was nice of you to understand why I wanted to bail out and not go another inch – but remain behind and study the petroglyphs for another six or so months!

    Was it hard to leave some of those sights?

    As always, you capture and showcase the beauty in all that you see. What a gift!

    Liked by 1 person

    • A vast area of drained ocean, that’s interesting! Of course, there’s lots of sandstone and much of the area was covered by the ocean long ago. It struck me that many of the rock formations have a fluid quality, too. I hope to do a post about the Parowan petroglyph site one of these days – there are hundreds, if not thousands of signs and symbols and pictures in the rocks at that gap. It’s a landscape feature you couldn’t miss because for a long time the most convenient way to get from a to b was to walk or ride your horse through that gap. Oh, the wind there! Crazy!
      Was it hard to leave? Yes, always. 🙂 Hard to leave specific places, hard to leave the state. Maybe we’ll go back again. I’m so glad you enjoyed the feast, amiga! There will be more – a post about the plants is imperative, no? But first, there will be a post about what I’ve been seeing here on the home front as spring unfolds. Thank you!

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  14. You drove 2700 km? Wow, your country IS big! The landscapes are impressive, intriguing. I heard from people, how fascinated they are from the desert. It must be special. I like all the rocks and peaks, but I ask myself if I wouldn’t miss the fresh green. I know there is some green, but not our opulent green of spring, right? On the other side you probably get used to the colors and they get more intense the longer you stay there. 500 shades of sand 😉 What I like most here are the structures. So different and so amazing. 8, 12 and 19 are my favorites. The petroglyphs are wonderful, so diverse. I never saw such a variegated “picture” before. The different rocks you show here are like sculptures. I am sure they tell / told stories to some people, to ancient people for sure 🙂 Fascinating how the wind and the other elements formed all these shapes. I suppose the landscape carries you away. Thank you for showing us this beauty with your artistic eyes!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry for the late reply! Yes, the US is very big. 😉 If you can ever go to the desert, it’s worth the trip. It’s so different. I’m sure I would miss rain if I lived in the desert and I’d get tired of it being dry all the time but visiting is such a treat, especially when you live in a mostly cool, wet place. These photos only show a few of the impossible number of different structures in the rocks in southern Utah. Yes, like sculptures. 🙂 It’s just a very different kind of a place and we’re both very glad we took this trip. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I think I would get interested in the tiniest of living forms there. Like your interest in lichen. There must be other interesting forms in the desert. Yes, a trip must be nice, but then returning to our green fields and woods must be wonderful too. A book of Utah structures would be great. 🙂

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  15. Pingback: LOCAL WALKS: The Bliss of Transience « bluebrightly

  16. Pingback: in a SW sort of mood… | Movin' on

  17. Well, you did it. Had me itching to dig back into my SW collection. That whole wider four corners section of states is such an incredibly beautiful wonderland. Any which way you look, there’s Mother Nature the Artist at her very best. The colors, the petroglyphs , the skies, the clouds… it’s so utterly expansive. It looks like you did it proud! 😊 I bet between just the two of us could fill up blogs…… 😏

    Liked by 1 person

    • I still haven’t been to New Mexico….and I’d love to go right back to Torrey and spend another week or more in that area, there is just so much to see. It felt good to get away from the business of the area around Cedar City/St. George/Zion. The Parowan petroglyphs are definitely the best we’ve ever seen – lots of variety, no one else around, and very accessible. Thank you, Gunta, and thanks for the pingback – I will get to your post soon!

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      • I would love to spend more time in the New Mexico area. It has its own special flavor distinct from the other three states that touch that four corners region. I’m afraid that the SW corner of UT suffers from its growing popularity these last several decades. Good idea to head out to Kolob and Grand Staircase and best of all… Capitol Reef. I’m thinking there are still plenty of out-of-the-way places to explore in that region.

        Liked by 1 person

        • There are. Maybe not Kolob Canyon so much but the whole area around Capitol Reef, I think both north and south, is big enough to get lost in. Google the Burr Trail Rd. to Notom Rd – that is an incredible trip, over 100 miles of expansive, ever-changing views.

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    • It’s one jaw-dropping scene aftrer another, Peg. If/when you go, the Capitol Reef area has far fewer crownds than the parks east and west of it – there is so much to explore there! Thanks for commenting.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it was a good choice for getting back to taking road trips, except that the altitude was really tough on us. But it’s so, so interesting and it’s good to spend time in open country where the nearest grocery store is at least a 30 min. drive away. 🙂

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  18. While I am not fond of flying, I’ve been seeing a lot of posts/videos about Utah and Death Valley lately and am getting just a tiny bit of wanderlust. I enjoyed the closeups as well as larger views of the rocks in Capitol Reef. The one time I did fly was to San Francisco and our path took us over Utah and the landscape did intrigue.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Death Valley is raw and rough and magnificent. The southwest is amazing in general, with so many gorgeous sights, but Capitol Reef is particularly wonderful because it has varied topography, it’s huge, and it’s more lightly traveled than other, similar NP’s. Flying gets worse every year though…maybe a looong vacation and a serious road trip? 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve considered that road trip and you would certainly be included in the itinerary. 🙂 The jump in gas prices is a deterrent right now but, despite my history of enjoying driving, as I age it has become less appealing. Probably more appealing than flying though. It’s always something in the back of my mind.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I have to agree about long drives, too – I guess you have to bite one bullet or another! My brother, who lives in northern VT, keeps talking about doing a cross-country road trip following US Rt. 2. He would miss all the good southwestern stuff and would have to do it in warm weather but I bet he’d find some interesting things along the way. Here’s another idea – I have a book called “Wild Orchids Across North America.” Make an itinerary from that! Oh, to be 25 with unlimited funds and time.

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