Concluding unscientific postscript to The Gulch post – in fragments

Further notes on The Gulch hike:


Down the narrows

At the narrows there is a section of non-solidified mud and sand that washed into the bend in wetter times. It is in defined layered and stratified sediment and stands about eight to ten feet on top of the soldified Wingate Sandstone. In these layers there are two sections about 6-8 inches each with what appears to be charcoal. I even picked out some finger length sticks and branches that were clearly burnt. My very limited understanding of geology leads me to the conclusion that this area was once wet and more vegetated. As the climate dried, this material burned and got flooded into the muck downcanyon. I would think that as the climate heated it caused the vegetation to dry and burn. Simultaneously, the heat melted the glaciers capping Boulder Mountain forcing a torrent down the canyon and since there was no vegetation to control the erosion it was deposited in places like this curve in the river. It is not surprising that it collected right at the curve in the river where the water dives into the slot. Since then, the water coming down the canyon has not been nearly as high, so this nice section of outwash has remained and shows evidence of a major fire event. Of course I neglected to take a picture of this so an actual geologist or climate scientist can’t prove me wrong.



Balanced Rocks Photo: Zach Schwing

I mentioned these boulders in the main post, but I like the geologic narrative behind them. These basalt boulders are present throughout the canyons. They are the remnants of an ancient lava flow from about 20 million years ago. In this region, they are rounded to basketball-sized boulders by ice age glaciers that rolled them around like silly putty. Further, I read that the boulders over in Capitol Reef had been dated and there are no boulders that date to the most recent glacial period – interesting. This family was broken up and deposited here with the melt water running off the bench. This fact alone is interesting enough. Now the matron and patron of this particular gaggle became bonded to the underlying Navajo Sandstone probably by mud and other debris, or perhaps some sort of geologic duck tape – hey it could happen. Perhaps Noah came along during the great flood and at this point needed to dump all the animal ‘leavings’ overboard and a bit of it landed just here and in the midst of the flood, the boulders became lodged on that bit of goo. It is no crazier than believing the Navajo themselves are one of the lost tribes of Israel – hint: a rather sizable cult inhabiting this region actually believes this. The truth of this story is so much more amazing than some ancient Jew with a boatload of stinking animals.* As these bits of dinosaur era lava sat on the wetted sandstone they fused. Then 10-15,000 years of blasting winds and water eroded the softer stuff underneath them leaving the parents of the herd standing above their flock. There are three things that really impress me here: 1. Zen philosophy is sometimes frighteningly aligned with the natural world 2. There was about eight inches more sandstone on this bench 10,000 years ago and extremely fine silt pieces of it are probably out somewhere in Baja at this point 3. The second point reinforces the first.

*Thank you so much to Emily for the proposed Noah hypothesis here. It is a valid hypothesis until a preponderance of evidence proves otherwise…oh, wait…




The western bench of the Gulch is named the Brigham Tea Bench. No, this is not some obscure reference to a moment of weakness of the great Mormon leader in the face of a caffeinated beverage. Brigham Tea is better known as Ephedra. I did not specifically see any of the allergy treatinging plant, but most of the flora were just barely starting to green this first week of April. The real striking vegetation right now was the Atriplex, or salt bush. Its bluegreen leaves are clearly evident amidst the the evergreen junipers, the red sands and the skeletal grays of early spring vegetation. I also like its pungent sap. This odor, along with the fresh smell of broken desert grass and moistened sand in the bottom of a crack says “desert canyon” every time I smell it.

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