Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Helmet-Cam Retrospective

Let me start by saying that, in general, I think it’s kind of pretentious to do a retrospective-year-in-review-type post, because doing so implies that a) the blog is more important/has a bigger audience than it actually does, b) the year was somehow exceptional or notable, which it really wasn’t (with the obvious though admittedly not-world-shattering exception that it was the first year I had a helmet-cam), c) even if it was an exceptional year, that I would somehow be in any way more qualified than any other Average Joe to, er, retrospect it, d) that the visual content of this blog somehow merits review/re-posting, and e) I think they always come off as a wee pit pretentious.

But, I’m doing it anyway, because a) I’ve been looking at a bunch of old helmet-cam clips this past week, which have really highlighted the remarkable changes in the living world over the course of the year, b) it allows me to get a post up during this quasi-nether-week without doing any real* research, and c) I guess, if we’re completely honest, I am just a wee bit pretentious.

*Just to be clear- the issue here is that I am lazy- not that I am unimaginative, or in any way out of cool post ideas. In fact I have a great two-fer brewing for next week, about a cool predator and hearing.

I get this weird thing about seasons every year. In the Summer I’ll be walking around in shorts and a T-shirt, maybe hiking or biking past some spot in the woods up in the mountains, and I’ll think that in just a few months, the forest all around me will be leafless, freezing cold, and under several feet of snow. And while I know it consciously, I just can’t really believe it. It just doesn’t seem intuitively possible that the same place could be so different in such a short time. Then 6 months later, skiing or what-not in the backcountry, I’ll have the exact opposite experience, looking around at the frozen silent forest, trying to imagine it green and leafy and warm and full of flowers and hummingbirds and dragonflies, and I just can’t really believe that it’ll be that different so soon. That all this snow will somehow melt away and the dead forest will just come back to life.

Tangent: I’ve been fascinated by the place-change effect of seasons for a long time, since long before starting this project, or even knew anything about forests. In the summer of 2001 I decided to photograph the same spot on the same trail weekly throughout the Summer/Fall. I didn’t see it through, but still have some of the old photos, reposted below.

Johns Slide

During past winters I’ve sometimes reality-checked myself by looking through photos from the preceding summer, which helps, but a still photo is just that- a still. But this year, looking at old video-clips, I’ve found a connection to the past cycle of seasons I never managed to experience before.

So anyway, I started to do a kind of a month-by-month helmet-cam retrospective, intending to document the change of seasons and be all kind of artsy and such, but by the time I got to May, I thought, “Man, this is a lot of singletrack through leafless scrub-oak footage…” So instead, I’m just going post a bunch of my favorite helmet-cam clips from 2010. Here we go:

The Clips, Already

Some of the best early season clips I got were down South. This is a portion of the descent of Upper JEM outside of Hurricane, UT, traversing the upper 3 members* of the Moenkopi formation. The trail is lined mainly with Blackbrush and the occasional Utah Juniper up top, with Rabbitbrush and Mormon Tea joining in lower on down. I love the flow of this clip, the way the land changes color as we tranisition between geologic members, the weird light and ominous clouds. Pine Valley Range in the distance.

*Upper Red, Shnabkaib, Middle Red

Tangent: Yes, that’s right. The helmet-cam was my Christmas present last year. What’s that? What did I get this year? Well, I received several nice gifts, eyeclops but one of the most interesting was a pair of Eyeclops Nightvision Infrared Binoculars. They’re not real night vision binoculars, like the kind of light-amplifying devices used by the military and such, but rather an infrared flashlight attached to a camera-viewer. It’s a fun little toy and I hope to use it for things like night-time bug-hunting, maybe checking out scorpions and such down in the desert come spring.

But in playing around with it (pic below, left = living room chair viewed in darkness) , I discovered a curious and unexpected side effect,Chair in IR which is this: it appears that artificial hair coloring doesn’t show up in infrared light. [I actually have a great photo that displays the effect, but unfortunately I can’t post the photo here, for reasons I can’t really get into.*] Meaning that when you look at someone with colored hair through the infrared viewer, their hair looks gray or white. You can actually pick up the viewer, scan a room full of people, and instantly see who’s dying their hair- Isn’t that freaky??

*Because Awesome Wife would likely leave me if I posted it. If you’re a real-world friend and want to see it, email me- it is way, way freaky.

Back in March I was in the same area with the team, and filmed this clip of the road descent into La Verkin with Teammate-Perry. I like this one for the rush of speed, as well as the physio-geographic significance: We’re crossing the Hurricane Fault here, dropping off the very, very Western edge of the Colorado Plateau and into the Basin and Range country, which extends clear to the Sierra Nevada.

Further down in the Mojave, this clip is from outside Blue Diamond, just outside of Las Vegas. The riding is slow and light dim, but I love the otherworldly feel of this ridge, following the faint singletrack, as well as the sense of solitude and open space just ~20 miles from the spawl and noise of the city. The tall yuccas alongside the trail are Spanish Dagger. Spring Range in the distance.

OK, this one isn’t helmet-cam, but I’m including it anyway. It’s driving across a wash in the Mojave, specifically Beaver Dam Wash, the lowest point in Utah. I love the blast of sun and green and water all together way out in the middle of this dry, spiky expanse of desert.

Tangent: What’s that? You’re wondering what else I got for Christmas. Well I got whole bunch of great books on my latest obsession, er, I mean interest- history of the first peoples in the Americas, and in the Great Basin in particular. (My recent rock art encounters have piqued my curiosity.) And I got some CDs and some more of that quick-drying underwear, and oh, yeah, this:

tallboy OK, so I bought myself that one…

Back up in Utah, this is one of one of my favorite stretches of Gooseberry Mesa, the South rim. Following Hunky Neighbor here, we’re rolling across the Shinarump Conglomerate, which marks the transition from Moenkopi to Chinle formations. About a minute in we roll up onto the next Chinle member “up”- the Lower Sandstone Member. We’re passing by Blackbrush, Mormon Tea, Cliffrose, Turbinella Oak, Utah Juniper and Singleleaf Piñon. Little Creek Mesa in the distance.

Closer to home, a couple of May bird-sightings. Here’s a male Black-Headed Grosbeak singing alongside the Shoreline Trail up above the Capitol…

And here’s a soaring Red-Tailed Hawk from Jack’s Peak. Oquirrh Range, Great Salt Lake, Antelope Island and Salt Lake Salient* in the distance.

*No, I haven’t explained this yet- it’s the geologic formation that comprises what I generally refer to as the “foothills” at the North end of Salt lake Valley. We’ll get to it when I do my Geology of the Wasatch post. (And yes, I will do a Geology of the Wasatch post one day and it will be awesome- my veritable Wasatch Opus. You will not want to miss it.)

Around the 1st week of June the forests around 7,000 – 8,000 feet practically explode in greenery. Here’s a clip from up in Pinebrook. The leaves (mainly Maple & Aspen) are only partway out, still that light, lime green color, and the underbrush (mainly Ninebark & Snowberry) though green, is still low, only recently freed from the weight of the snowpack.

Just 2 weeks later, on the eve of the solstice, I took this clip from the Northern (and best) stretch of the Mid-Mountain trail, passing through several Aspen groves. You can’t see it in the clip, but the trail is lined with blooming Sticky Geranium and Wild Rose.

I did some cool summer road trips this year. This clip is from along the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, riding the Rainbow Rim Trail. The tall conifers are Ponderosa pines. In stretches we pass through stands of Gambel Oak and New Mexican Locust. Out at the point we roll by a couple of Colorado Piñons, and finish off with a corridor of blooming Cliffrose. This section smelled fantastic. (At 2:27 I glance into the inner gorge.)

This clip turned out cool. It’s the full moon rising over the Paunsaugunt as I pedaled the bike path back to camp. There are all kinds of cool conifers on the Paunsaugunt. It’s hard to tell in the dark, but I’m pretty sure we’re passing through Douglas Fir and Ponderosa.

OK, another non helmet-cam clip, but a good view of Redfish Lake up in the Stanley Basin of Idaho.

Earlier that same day, here’s a clip from up on the ridge on the West side of the lake (so on the right side of the previous clip) with some nice views of the lake. The trees on this stretch are Douglas Fir, and geologically I suspect I’m rolling over a glacial moraine, not from the last glacial advance, but from the one before, likely ~100,000 years ago.

Later on that vacation, here’s a clip from our campsite on the Lochsa River up in Northern Idaho.

Tangent: I just realized that reading the 2 previous tangents, you probably think that the only thing I care about around Christmas is getting presents. I assure you, nothing could be further from the truth. For while I certainly enjoy receiving gifts, I certainly know what really makes Christmas a truly unique, special and magical time, which of course is Making Fun of People’s Holiday Cards. Oh come on, you know you do it too. Every family has a Crazy Aunt or some such who sends out a whacky form letter every year that you and your significant other just can’t wait to get.* Actually, in all seriousness, I like Christmas card-form-letters**. Yes, sometimes they have a lot of detail, but they’re a great way to get caught up on the lives of friends and family you don’t get to see very often.

*Sadly, my own Crazy Aunt stopped sending us her card/letter a few years ago. I can’t figure out if she stopped doing it altogether, or somehow got wind of me making fun of it and took me off the list. It’s a shame, I loved it. It was always written in this super-happy upbeat tone, but kept mentioning things that seemed borderline inappropriate for a Christmas card. Actual line from a past edition: “After breaking off his engagement, Tad*** bought a VW Rabbit and moved to California…”

**Except for the downer ones. You know, the ones that go, “It’s been a year of challenges for the Hetzweigs; Hal lost his job in May, Betty’s back in rehab, and we had to put down Rasputin this year, but we’re hopeful little Petey will learn to cope with his deep anger issues…” Gee, I’m sorry it’s been rough, but did you have to dump all this on us the week before Christmas? Couldn’t you have emailed me or something back in October?

***Not his real name.

The truth is, there’s only one type of holiday card that drives me batty, and that is the Card With New, Unidentified, Unannounced and Unexplained Family Members. I’m not talking babies or pets here- I’m talking adults. Several years ago one of my cousins sent us all a card with a picture of him, his wife, their 2 teenage sons, and… another teenaged boy. We don’t see this cousin but every few years, but so far as we knew, he’d always had 2 kids. Could we have somehow missed one over the years? We doubted it. The card had no explanation, and we chat so infrequently with him, his parents or his siblings that there wasn’t a smooth way to just call him up on some other pretext and say, “Oh, BTW, who’s the other teenager on your Christmas card?” And because we felt awkward asking, by the time the next year’s card came around (again, with mystery teen) it was too late to ask, and so… anyway it was like 2 or 3 years before we were clued in*.

*He was a teen from a troubled home who played basketball with their sons and whom they took in and became his legal guardians. A totally awesome, inspiring story. I just wish they’d noted it in the card so we weren’t scratching our heads (and then semi-faking like we already knew) for so long…

This year, we got a card from AW’s cousin, a single(?) man with a young son. The card said, “Happy Holidays from the Jones* Family” and had a photo of the cousin, his son, a middle-aged woman and 3 teenaged girls. Who are these people? No note, no names, no nothing**. None of these women were in his card last year. We hadn’t heard of a wedding or even a serious girlfriend and suddenly we get the Brady Bunch Christmas card… We are totally clueless…

*Not his real name.

**Which is ironic, because this is the kind of Christmas card that totally merits a lengthy detailed form-letter…

Closer to home, the Wasatch Crest always makes for good video. This clip is from SkiBikeJunkie, Coryalis and my 83-mile Fourth of July Super-Crest tour. You can tell by the low brush/grasses and the light Aspen leaves that it’s still early in the summer. In addition to the usual Wasatch characters, we pass a number of Limber Pines between around 1:00 and 1:20.

For comparison, here’s a piece of that same stretch, exactly 2 months later. Check out how much higher (and drier) the grasses are, and how the Aspen leaves are now a dark, mature green.

This next clip I like- even with the problematic lighting- because it’s one of my favorite stretches of Great Western Trail, and also because it’s my only helmet-cam clip of, er, me. SBJ was kind enough to film it later during the Super-Crest ride. The conifers in the shady sections here are mostly Engelmann Spruce, which do real well on these North-facing slopes*

*And have been doing even better following a century+ of fire suppression in the Wasatch.

Here’s part of that same stretch 3 months later, the trail now lined with fallen Aspen leaves. Passing through the darker Spruce stands, the golden underbrush seems almost to glow, lighting up the forest from below.

The colors peaked in mid-October. Here’s another stretch of Mid-Mountain, about 2 miles North, and 4 months after, the Solstice-Eve clip up above.

Later in the Fall we returned to Gooseberry, where I took this clip following Fast Jimmy through Piñon-Juniper along the rim, with glimpses of the banded Moenkopi formations below.

In mid-November I followed Cory on this high-speed descent down into City Creek. The oaks and maples are bare, the grasses wilted and brown, the sky gray. The landscape is practically begging for snow. We’re rolling over conglomerate soils here, eroded down from the tertiary conglomerate cliffs above. I’ve been trying to keep up with Cory on the downhills for 15 years now, and he just seems to be getting faster. We hit 29.9mph on this stretch.

I saved my favorite clip for last. It may seem like an odd pick, and my feelings aren’t hurt if you don’t like or get it. It’s slow and meandering, I’m alone, the scenery is unspectacular, and the trail rather undefined. It’s the descent of a side trail* off Mid-Mountain trail during the peak bloom of Serviceberry on the day before the summer solstice. The video’s slow and poky, but when I watch it I feel the sun on my neck and smell the brush all around. I feel the Serviceberry brushing my arms, the Sagebrush scratching my shins, my flexed stomach flat on the seat and the braking-burn in my forearms**. For me, this clip is Summer.

*Lower Finesse.

**Because yes, I am a Luddite and ride with v-brakes. Or rather rode. Did I mention my new bike?

It was a good year. The next one will be great.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Best Gift Ever

For weeks Awesome Wife has been bugging me to tell her what I want for Christmas. Clothes? Gear? Books? What do I want? She thought she’d come up with a great gift idea when I lost my camera, but her hopes were dashed when Fuzzy found it the next day.

The problem is that I’ve reached that age where, if there’s some thing I want, well I generally just go buy it. I really have pretty much everything I need. Of course AW and I still buy each other nice gifts, but generally, whatever major gift we give one another at holidays is something we’ve pretty clearly specified.

Thinking about this recently, I thought about how it’s one of the things I miss about being a kid. Remember how, some years, you’d get a Christmas gift, and it was something you completely didn’t expect, maybe hadn’t even thought of, and yet it was totally the Best Gift Ever? Remember how incredibly happy that made you? That’s what I miss about being a kid at Christmas.

The ideal Christmas gift would be something that made me feel that way, that didn’t cost a lot, and that I never had even thought of. Oh, and it would have some kind of connection to baby Jesus, too, since, well you know, it’s Christmas.

Yesterday when I got home from work, the package from Fuzzy had arrived. Just as he’d promised, it contained my camera which I’d lost on Luke’s Trail, now safe and sound.

Side Note: Probably the nicest thing* about recovering a lots camera is recovering the photos you hadn’t yet uploaded off it when you lost it. I’ll share just a couple here.

*In fact, from a financial standpoint, losing the camera wouldn’t have been as big a deal as I’d feared. Over the last year or so prices on point & shoots have plummeted. If you’re looking for a last minute Christmas gift, you can pick up the updated version of my camera for about $110. I’ve had it for 18 months, abused it thoroughly, and it’s still working great.

A nice view of the Little Grand Canyon of the San Rafael River:

IMG_8304 Here’s a cool zoom from along the rim of Good Water Canyon. The circled area shows an apparently recent cliff-break/slide KanyonKris spotted, which you can make out from the bare, vegetation-free slopes below.

Good Water Slide Here’s a better shot of the “pavement-slab” formation in a broken-off chunk of Carmel rim rock:

IMG_8320 From a bit later in the day, here’s a better close-up of the “angel” anthropomorphs down at Buckhorn Wash:

Angels On the way out we had a nice Pronghorn* spotting:

Pronghorns East of Castle Dale 12 14 10*I blogged about Pronghorns in this post. Man, it is like I have a post for everything.

This shot from Price (top of Luke’s Trail) isn’t great, but it clearly shows the relative rockiness of the pediment mantle which the trail lies atop of. We’re looking West, and in the background the line of the Book Cliffs is bending around to the South.


The Gift

But the package also contained something else- a bumper sticker. And not just any bumper sticker, but one that was the absolutely best, most spot-on, perfect-est Christmas gift for me ever*.

*And which will nicely compliment my existing stickers.


sticker cut Thanks Fuzzy! And Merry Christmas, everybody. Remember, don’t make Baby Jesus cry; fix your bike already.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Filling In Blank Spots

Speaking of filling in blank spots, that’s what I did last Tuesday. KanyonKris and I played hooky from work, meeting up before dawn at the Orem Park & Ride and heading South, then Southeast, over to Price, then South to Castle Dale, where we turned off the highway and drove East toward the San Rafael Swell.

Geo-Side-Note: This was my first time heading South on Highway 10 from Price. The road follows a broad valley across the Mancos Shale which has a similarly drab appearance and ground-cover to the (unnamed) valley between Green River and Price. These 2 valleys make sort of a big crescent, in which Price sits at the junction. On the West side of the valley are high cliffs, and in fact these are the very same Book Cliffs we looked at in the last geo-post, which run up to the Northwest from Green River, then bend clear around Price and start heading South past Huntington and Cast Dale, where they form the Eastern edge of the Wasatch Plateau. So when you’re driving up out of Price toward Soldier Summit on your way back to the Wasatch Front, you’re driving up through the Book Cliffs.

According to “Fuzzy”, the owner/proprietor of Fuzzy’s BicycleWorks in Price, this bend in the Book Cliffs creates a sort of precipitation “hole” right around Price, such that they rarely get snow in and around town. But we’ll get to Price riding and Fuzzy in a little bit…

Like most Utahns, my usual exposure to the SR Swell is via the Eastern edge, which is specifically the San Rafael Reef. The SR Swell is a large (40 x 75 miles), 2,000 foot high, ovaloid uplift in Central Utah. On the Western edge, this uplift has tilted and cracked huge wedges of Navajo sandstone in a nearly 75 mile-long line of giant cliffs and “flatirons”. This wall/reef has been eroded by countless little stream/washes into dozens of fantastic, tight slot canyons*.

*I blogged about a hike with Bird Whisperer through 2 of these- Ding and Dang Canyons- a couple years back.

Extra Detail: The Swell was uplifted during a geologic episode known as the Laramide Orogeny, which was a 30 million year-long period of mountain-building in Western North America starting around 75 million years ago. The Laramide Orogeny produced the Rocky Mountains, as well as- closer to home- the Uinta Range.*

*Interesting geo-factoid: the Uintas are roughly 4 times as old as the modern Wasatch Range. But that’s a story for another post.

But when you approach the Swell from the Western side (Castle Dale), your introduction to it is very different. Instead of sighting this massive wall on the horizon, you just sort of roll along through open scrublands, first over Mancos Shale, then down onto the Cedar Mountain formation, working your way gradually lower, but mostly just rolling along over a not very interesting gray & brown landscape. Then you get a little lower still, the road gets a titch more squiggly*, and Junipers and a few Piñons appear, and then all of a sudden, the world… falls… away…

*But still graded and excellent. The roads in this area are the best-condition unpaved roads in the state.

No really, I mean it. The road ends at a spot called the Wedge Overlook, where what you are overlooking is the so-called Little Grand Canyon. No, it’s not as “grand” as the actual Grand Canyon, but it’s still absolutely, thoroughly and spectacularly awesome. Here it is:

LGC Still1OK, now at this point in the post, I know what you are thinking. You are thinking: “Why does this photo suck so badly? If the view is that great, shouldn’t he have taken a decent photo instead of just cropping some still from his helmet-cam?” To which the answer is yes, I should have and indeed did so. In fact I took a dozen+ wonderful shots. But, later in the day, I lost- yes lost- my camera. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Tangent: Long-time readers will recall that I have a long, sad history of losing/ destroying cameras. In fact when I purchased this one, I broke my own rule and bought the super-duper extended warranty* that would cover any kind of impact/breakage.**

*Because warranties are a form of gambling, with the odds similarly stacked against you. So is insurance, I guess, but I do buy that because not doing so- ironically- turns out to be a bigger gamble. Still, I actually have a long, complicated and reasonably-well-thought-out (for me at least) Half-Baked Theory as to why we’d all be better off if automobile insurance were outlawed***, but I’ll save that for another footnote in another tangent in another post.

**Unfortunately you need the actual camera to collect on the warranty. KanyonKris helpfully pointed out that broken cameras are often offered for parts, etc. on eBay, and that I could possibly procure a “stand-in” on the cheap, but that would’ve broken my Rule of Crime****.

***In my younger days, I actually- and I am not making this up- had an extended version of this Half-Baked Theory that applied to banks, but it fell apart once I managed to accumulate $100 and needed to put it someplace.

****Which is not what you might assume. My Rule of Crime has absolutely nothing to do with ethics or morality (although I am personally ethically and morally opposed to crime- that’s beside the point) but rather the logic of crime. The Rule is that you should only commit crimes that you will only need to commit once. One time. So for instance, stealing $10 million out of a bank vault, or the Mona Lisa out of the Louvre***** is a sensible crime, because you do it and then presumably you’re set for life. On the other end of the spectrum, holding up a liquor store is right out, because you’d need to rob them practically weekly to maintain any sort of a reasonable income, and then the odds would doom you to death or incarceration in short order. Similarly, petty fraud sits down on this Low/No end of the Crime-Rule spectrum. I should point out BTW that KanyonKris strikes me as exactly the kind of logical, creative, smart and ultra-resourceful guy who would make a Fantastic Master Criminal if only he weren’t So Darn Nice.

*****Leaving aside the whole fencing issue, of course.

But here I am, losing yet another camera. So if you don’t know me in real life, you are probably thinking, “I am never loaning him anything…” but really, this only happens to me with cameras. And in my defense, I bring my camera absolutely everywhere and take tons of photos with it. So I think you should give me a little bit of slack, at least until you read how I lost it.

The Little Grand Canyon looks so different than the Eastern edge of the Swell- the Reef- because it’s not all crazy-tilted. It’s just been eroded down into countless little draws and canyons as the Swell has uplifted. It’s sort of a little Colorado-Plateau-within-a-Colorado-Plateau (which in this case happens to the actual Colorado Plateau.) The geology here includes a number of formations we’ve looked at previously; I’ve marked the main ones in this photo*.

*Courtesy of KanyonKris, who is exactly the kind of guy who doesn’t lose things like cameras.

LGC Geo captions Our reason for visiting the Wedge Overlook wasn’t just to see the view, but also check out a new mtn bike trail we’d heard about. The Good Water Rim trail departs from the overlook and follows the rim of Good Water Canyon- a network of small canyons feeding into a bigger tributary to the main San Rafael Little Grand Canyon- for 15 miles of singletrack. The ride was mostly level*, not at all difficult, and provided wonderful views. Sometimes the views would be of the deep canyon reaching out to the San Rafael River…

*Would be a great singlespeed ride.

…and other times it would just be of the shallow Navajo-lined side washes.

Side Note:, whose reviews of trails are usually spot on, gives this trail borderline-ecstatic reviews. KanyonKris and I enjoyed it very much, but were not quite as enthusiastic. While interesting, the trail is almost completely non-technical. The views are great, but after 30 miles out & back, well, you’ve seen the same view quite a bit. Don’t get me wrong- it’s a very enjoyable trail. But if you’re a mtn biker planning a first trip to Utah, there are a few dozen trails I’d ride before of this one.

Regardless of aspect, the trail stuck to the same geologic layer: AFO GWR 12 14 10the Carmel Formation. The Carmel is a “mid-Jurassic” formation, separating the (early-Jurassic) Navajo from the (late-Jurassic) Entrada. It formed in a shallow marine and peritidal environments in seven distinct “depositional cycles”. The marine environment which led to its creation was a shallow inland sea extending from Southern Utah to Southern Alberta, called the Carmel Seaway. The formation consists of various layers of limestone, siltstone, sandstone and evaporates*.

*Mineral sediments concentrated by evaporation. Closer to home, the mud flats around Great Salt Lake are full of ‘em.

Carmerl Slab caption So wait a minute. If the Carmel separates the Navajo from the Entrada, why didn’t I mention it back over in Moab, when I was going on and on about those formations? Because it doesn’t occur over there; the Carmel Seaway didn’t reach that far East*. In any case, the trail rides over, and makes good use of, an abundance of remarkably flat gray slabs- limestone members of the formation. Some are small- like dinner plates, and clatter, jump and sometimes even flip under a bicycle tire. Others are massive, living-room-sized slabs. How are they all so flat, and on the same level?

*“East” is relative here, since what is now Utah was in a different spot on the globe in the Jurassic than it is today.

Carmel Dinner Plates caption Extra Detail: I couldn’t figure out which limestone member; there are 3. A big one occurs near the tippy-top of the formation, an even bigger one in the middle, and a small/narrow one down at the bottom.

The answer becomes obvious when you look at the breaking-away chunks of the rim. Each massive car-sized boulder is comprised of a series of 2-3” thick horizontal plates. When one is eroded away, the next is right there to take its place.

Carmel plate formation captionThe Carmel as a whole is relatively erosion-resistant layer when compared with the softer underlying Navajo. When the Carmel is finally removed, the Navajo quickly erodes into deep washes and canyons.

The Carmel and Ancient Marine Life

The Carmel appears to have played an interesting role in the evolutionary history of marine life. The limestone layers created what geologists carbonate hardground, which means a lithified (turned to rock) seafloor. These hard seafloors favored life forms that with hard, protective exteriors, and/or “encrusters” that formed hard, protective shelters or tubes, over critters that burrowed into softer/sandier soils for protection. The Carmel- and other Jurassic period hardgrounds- saw an explosion of various bivalves (oysters, clams, scallops, etc.) and other encrusters, such as serpulid worms, which construct and reside in hard little tubes.

The Carmel was one of a number of Jurassic carbonate hardgrounds that formed during the Jurassic, and later the Cretaceous. But for a long, long time before- throughout the Triassic and Permian, practically no such hardgrounds were formed. The next most recent hardground-forming era was back in the Silurian* and earlier Ordovician periods, and interestingly, this was the time-span that saw the rise of the echinoderms**, which include all sorts of spiny things, such as sea stars, sea urchins.

*We looked at the supernova hypothesis for the Silurian extinction back in this post.

**We looked at echinoderms- and specifically Brittle Stars- last spring down in Mexico in this post. Man, it is like I have a post for everything.

After the ride, while we were in the area, we drove down to the bottom of the Little Grand Canyon and the San Rafael River crossing, an easy drive which I strongly recommend. This whole area is both beautiful and remarkably accessible; come Spring I’ll be returning with the Watcher family for sure.

On the drive down we passed one of the best rock art sites in this part of the state- Buckhorn Wash. Buckhorn is a huge cliff-side panel, some 160 feet long, chock-full of large anthropomorphic figures dating back several thousand years. The style/period is Barrier Canyon, which we’ve looked at previously, so I won’t repeat the background here, but mention just a couple of cool/unusual things about this site.

Several of the figures are holding curious staves, snakes or other objects. Some of the anthropomorphs are winged, like weird, shamanistic archaic angels. 2 of the figures, oddly, seem to be over-painted with a yellow pigment; it’s not clear when or by whom, or even whether it was in historic or prehistoric times. (This site BTW is almost all pictographs, meaning painted figures, as opposed to petroglyphs, which are pecked/carved figures. The last rock art site we visited, Thompson Wash in the Book Cliffs, features a mix of both types, consistent with the multiple styles/periods found there.)

Buckhorn Panel captions But the weirdest thing is that most of the anthropomorphs have later, deliberately-pecked holes in their chests. What does this mean? Were later visitors trying somehow to deface the site, or remove or later it’s significance or power?

Extra Detail: Buckhorn, like Thompson Wash, is another restoration success story. The site was similarly trashed until the mid-90’s. There also another, unmarked, Barrier Canyon site some 3 miles up-canyon of the main Buckhorn panel of which KanyonKris and I were unaware, and which I’ll be sure to visit on my next trip. Slifer’s book has detailed directions.

We headed back to the highway at Castle Dale, gassed up and did “lunch” at the Huntington Maverik, then raced North toward Price to catch a quick ride while we still had daylight.

Ode to Maverik

Tangent: Lunch was Crunchy Cheetoes, a Rock Star and a Maverik chocolate chip cookie. It is time for a trailer-trash Confession: I love Maverik (pic right, not mine*). I love the cheap gas, I love that the sunglass tree is always well-stocked (for the countless times I have forgotten/lost/destroyed sunglasses in the backcountry) and I love their fresh-baked cookies**. maverik1 There. I said it. I love Maverik and I don’t care who knows it. When I roll into the outskirts of a rural Utah hamlet after days camping, backpacking or biking in the backcountry, and I spot that cheesy red and white sign ahead in the distance, my little heart practically sings for joy; there it is, everything I need in the civilized world, a proud little bastion of organization, resources and logistics, the very essence and ultimate triumph of Western civilization, conveniently packed into one little store. I swear, if I’m ever camped out alone in the desert and a flying saucer lands and aliens get out and ask me to show them the crowing achievement of our civilization, I am taking them straight to the nearest Maverik. Ah, Maverik! (If only they stocked better beer…)

*I pulled it from the Convenience Store News website. Man, it is like there is a website for everything.

**99 cents, and totally, decadently and awesomely delicious.

Price has a nice singletrack network on the north side of town running over a series of low hills or mini-mesas that collectively form sort of a long “pre-bench” leading up to the Book Cliffs. Price sits, as I mentioned, atop the Mancos Shale, and the pre-bench just above is also of the Mancos, but of an upper member, the Blue Gate. Though silty and fast-eroding like the rest of the Mancos, the Blue Gate Member seems to have just a bit more “spine” than the lower members, and actually forms modest-tough-beautiful minor cliffs and hoodoos in the side canyons in the pre-bench (pic below= crappy helmet-cam still).

Blue Gate Cliffs Most of the trails are accessed via a brutal jeep-road-climb or hike-a-bike up onto the pre-bench, but once on top, the trails are great, all twisty, windy* and fun. Lower down, close to the edge of the pre-bench, they’re mostly smooth and stone-less and open, but as you get higher and “Norther”, Juniper and Piñon appear, creating a non-Mancos-y woodland, and the trail starts to feature occasional boulders, intermittent rock gardens, and coarser, larger-grained, and distinctly un-Mancos-like soils. What’s going on?

*As in they wind around a lot, as opposed to there being lots of wind.

What is going on is that the Blue Gate pre-bench is overlain with a very different soil formation, called pediment mantle. A pediment in geology is a broad, gradually sloping area at the base of mountains or cliffs, covered with a relatively thin layer of fluvial gravel which is the product of erosional (not depositional) processes. Where does stuff come from? From the Book Cliffs, which as we saw in our last geo-post, are gradually eroding their way North across the land.

Big Price Geo Map caption The pediment mantle here is of uncertain age, thought to be laid down mainly sometime over the last 10 million years, probably more recently near streambeds, and consists of a “poorly-bedded”* mix of silt, sand, pebbles, stones and boulders.

*Although this sounds like a term from the Urban Dictionary, it is in fact geo-speak for “all jumbled up”.

The pediment mantle atop the Blue Gate member forming the “pre-bench” North of Price is only between 10 and 150 feet thick, but it’s enough to dramatically change the character of the surface. The land is covered with Piñon, Juniper, and well-established Sagebrush, and the trails corner well, hold up under moisture and feature intermittent interesting little rock gardens.

Price Geo Trail Zoom What’s cool about the Price-pediment-mantle is that it’s a great example of geology in action. While all this rock and sediment stuff sounds geeky and esoteric, here’s a clear, real-world example of how geologic processes and history change the land you ride across and the experience of the ride. Mountain biking in Utah is always fun, but until you understand what you’re riding on, you’re really just pedaling in the dark.

Pressed for daylight, we climbed steadily to the top of Luke’s Trail, then turned around and zipped back down. The descent was a delight- a bit too twisty to rip it, but interesting enough to keep you on your toes, constantly weaving and ducking your way under and around Piñon/Juniper limbs, and S-curving your way across pretty sagebrush-filled meadows.

When we popped back out on the dirt road we re-grouped and bombed down the steep, rutted half-mile back to town and the car. Loading up the bikes in the dusk, we laughed about what a great descent it had been and how we couldn’t wait to return. Then I noticed- my camera was gone.

As I’ve mentioned previously, I keep my camera in a small pouch (a cell-phone case) with a clip that clamps onto my Camelbak strap. CHolster205 When I first rigged up the system ~18 months ago (following my last camera/biking mishap) I used a piece of electrical tape on the open end of the clip as a failsafe. But over time it became tedious to constantly apply and remove tape for practically every ride, and I started mounting the case without the tape. After a few cautious rides, it seemed to be holding onto the strap just fine, and I soon forgot about the tape. And so things were, just fine as can be, till last Tuesday, when I found myself camera-less.

Kris immediately encouraged me to drive back up onto the pre-bench, where we looked around by flashlight at a couple of points where the trail intersected the road. It was hopeless of course, but that’s the kind of guy Kris is: patient, upbeat, generous with his time, happy and eager to help a friend out. Finally we gave up and drove back down to town in the dark. Kris mentioned that he’d spoken to “Fuzzy”, the owner of the local bike shop, earlier in the week to ask about trails, and that he’d call him in the morning and ask him to let us know if the camera turned up. I said, “Sure, yeah…” I knew he was just trying to help, but really, you drop a little camera in a woodland while descending at speed- it’s gone, off in the brush, never to be seen again. I might as well have dropped it in a river of molten lava... So it turned out to be a great day, but kind of an expensive one. I did my best to shrug off the mood as we chit-chatted on our drive back to the Wasatch Front.

Back home, the next day was a busy one, with plenty of catch-up work, email and phone-calls from the day I’d missed. After work AW and I attended a music program at school that Bird Whisperer and Twin B were part of, returning home home late and tired. Getting ready for bed, I noticed my phone was blinking. It was a text from KanyonKris. He’d heard back from Fuzzy. My camera was at the shop.

Note About Sources: Geologic info for this post came from Sedimentation, Stratigraphy, and paleoenvironments of the lower members of the Carmel Formation (Middle Jurassic, Southwestern Utah), Kirsten M. Banner, A carbonate hardground in the Carmel Formation (Middle Jurassic, SW Utah, USA) and its associated encrusters, borers and nestlers, Mark A. Wilson et al, and Geologic Map of the Price 30’ x 60’ Quadrangle, Carbon, Duchesne, Uinta, Utah and Wasatch Counties, Malcolm P. Weiss et al. (Crops of this map were used in the Price Geo-Graphics.) Archeological info came from Dennis Slifer’s Rock Art of the Utah Region.

Special thanks to Fuzzy of Fuzzy’s BicycleWorks and local riders in Price, UT. Fuzzy put out the word on my camera on the shop web page, and it was recovered inside of 6 hours. What a cool shop and biking community.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Heads Up: Eclipse Tonight

Yeah, yeah I know, I said my next post would be about desert mtn biking, new places and cool geology. But this one is time-sensitive, and so worth disrupting the blog-plan.*

*Yes, that’s right- the blog-plan. Because even though I know this whole project seems like a massive exercise in stream-of-consciousness, I really do have a plan. It’s just that I get distracted from it. Often.

Anyway, heads up: In case you hadn’t heard, there’s a total lunar eclipse visible tonight all across North America. In Mountain Time the show will last from 10:27PM tonight till 4:40AM tomorrow morning, but the real show, from the start the end of the umbral eclipse, will run from 11:32PM to 3:02AM. The super-cool part- the total umbral eclipse- runs from 12:40AM to 1:53AM.

First, the bad news: It looks like we won’t be able to see it tonight from practically anywhere in Utah. Now the good news: a fair number of people in North America outside of Utah read this blog, and some of you might well be able to see it, depending on your local weather.

Tangent: For example, you should have a good show from Phoenix. How do I know? Because Thursday night Bird Whisperer and I checked every long-range metro area weather forecast within about 800 miles, and came this close to buying 2 tickets to Phoenix. I ultimately balked (despite his serious pitching), thinking how foolish I’d feel if we blew a few hundred bucks, a day+ and ended up not being able to see it. But the forecast down there is holding for partly cloudy… we shoulda gone for it.

The deal with a lunar eclipse of course is that the Earth blocks the sun from the Moon, which can only happen during a full moon, which makes total sense when you think about it. Because moonlight is reflected sunlight, the effect to Earthbound observers is to make the moon markedly dimmer. There are 2 stages of this dim-ness. The first is when the moon enters the Earth’s penumbra, which is the part of the shadow in which only part of the light is blocked. This stage isn’t terribly spectacular, but the moon does get noticeably darker.

Lunar Eclipse Bodies Shadows The second, way cool, stage is when the Moon enters the umbra, or region of complete shadow. The moon in this phase is a deep blood-red, which is cool in and of itself, but isn’t- in my opinion- the coolest, or even second-coolest thing about a total lunar eclipse.

The Coolest Thing

The coolest thing is that, in the dimmer light, the moon looks really, really 3-dimensional, in a way that can’t be described until you see it. It’s like, you see the eclipsed moon, and there it is, this round ball in the night sky, and you suddenly realize that all the other times you looked at the full moon, it was just a flat disk. I can’t explain or describe it any better than that- you just have to see it.

The Second Coolest Thing

The second coolest thing is to watch the shadow of the Earth crossing the moon as it enters (or leaves) the umbra. Because the curvature of the Earth’s shadow across the face of the moon shows you exactly how big* the Earth appears from the Moon, which assuming you won’t ever travel to the Moon**, is the best sense of the view you’ll ever get first-hand.

*Really big. The view must be awesome from up there.

**No flying cars, no moon-vacations, no robot-friends. This whole “Future Thing” has turned out to be a phenomenal disappointment, as I mentioned (OK, whined) previously in this post. Man, it is like I have a post for everything.

I’m setting my alarm for midnight*, on the off-chance it clears up enough to catch sight of the Moon. I’ll probably just look at the window at the cloudy sky and go back to bed, but if I do luck out, midnight to 1AM will be the best part of the show. I’ve seen 2 great lunar eclipses since I’ve been living in Utah; I’m bummed that I’ll most likely miss this one.

*Again, for out-of state readers, that’s Mountain Time.

For those of you reading from afar- best of luck. I hope your weather holds up and that you have a spectacular show.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Friday Helmet-Cam Filler/Teaser

I was hoping to get another post up this week, but I think it’ll be Monday. Theme will be Filling In Blank Spots, with some way cool geology, mtn biking and archeology to boot.* Here’s a quick teaser-filler, starring KanyonKris:

*Oh, and it’ll also have a bunch of tangent-footnotes related to my current and past Half-Baked Theories on Crime, Warranties, Insurance and Banking, which I already know because that’s what got me bogged down and behind schedule.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Thanksgiving Part 4: Book Cliffs, Rock Art & Graffiti

Back on US191, we sped North back toward I-70. After you pass the Moab airport, all the cliffs and domes and faults and anticlines and all the rest of the geo-drama is left behind, and the road is lined by endless, dull gray scrubby rolling plain. Even the “scrub” is sparse; mostly what you see is a lot of gray dirt. This is the layer above* the Morrison formation, the Mancos Shale.

*In many areas, there are 1 or 2 more narrow formations in between the Morrison and the Mancos: the Cedar Mountain and Dakota Sandstone formations.

Unlike so many of the Utah geologic formations we’ve looked at so far, Mancos doesn’t form any cliffs or smooth waves or arches or alcoves. It doesn’t form spires or bridges or slot canyons. It isn’t the centerpiece of any national or state park, monument. And yet, you probably see more of it driving around Central and Southern Utah than you do any other formation.

BCliffs Formations cut Part of this is because there’s so much of it. Mancos is a mudstone, laid down in shallow seas during the Cretaceous, and in many places it lies a few thousand feet thick. But the other reason is that many roads tend to follow it. Mancos doesn’t form any of those spectacular features because it erodes so easily, and quickly comes to rest in broad, gently undulating lowlands, perfect for routing a highway. If you drive from the Colorado border to Price, UT, you’re on Mancos the whole way.

Once you get off the asphalt, Mancos is both wonderful and horrible. In dry conditions, graded dirt roads across the Mancos are often smooth and fast, allowing a passenger car to zip comfortably along at 40 or 50 MPH. But when wet, forget it. Mancos roads become a thick, gloopy stew that’ll quickly snare your 4WD vehicle.

Extra Detail: Often times when you’re tooling along some Mancos track you’ll see deep tire ruts left over from someone drove the wet road. If you check out the deep ruts, you’ll often see that they have marks from tire chains, which is how the ranchers get through when it’s wet. I used to carry around tire chains in my old pickup for just this reason, but eventually decided it was just less hassle to stay off Mancos/clay roads when potentially wet.

I always find Mancos a bit un-nerving, partly because I’ve encountered it wet, but also because it seems so bleak, and borderline lifeless. Why so few plants? Smectite Expansion[4] This part of the state is dry for sure, but other nearby soil types generally don’t look so bleak. Another reason is the high concentrations of selenium in Mancos soils*, which are problematic for many plants. But probably the most important reason is that Mancos is an expanding clay**, which increases its volume dramatically when wet. The frequent moisture-induced expansions and contractions of the Mancos make it very tough for seedlings to gain a toehold in the soil.***

*I covered selenium content in soils, plants and people in this post.

**I covered expanding clays in this post.

***And now that I think of it, I don’t think I’ve ever seen fully developed cryptobiotic soil on Mancos. (Though maybe I just haven’t looked hard enough.) I covered cryptobiotic desert soils in this post. Man, it is like I have a post for everything.

As you approach I-70, you’ll see a massive wall of high, beige cliffs on the North side of the freeway. These are the Book Cliffs, formed from the Mesaverde formation, layers of sandstones interspersed with shales and limestones.

I’ve driven past and along the Book Cliffs (pic left) probably a couple of hundred times. Embarrassingly, with the exception of a few quick forays over a decade ago in Colorado, IMG_8231 I haven’t explored the area at all. And what’s interesting, is that with the exception of a few hunter-friends, practically no one I know in Utah has spent any time in the Book Cliffs. The reason is that because Utah has so many more spectacular places to visit, hardly any of us bother with the area. It’s part of the Utah irony: this state has so many amazing features which if you picked up and transported to say Michigan or Nebraska, would totally merit national park status. But here in Utah, we don’t even really notice them. That’s a shame, because when it comes to the Book Cliffs, there are at least 3 really cool things about them.

Tangent: Thinking about the Book Cliffs got me noodling about the broader issue of geographic blanks spots. By blank spots in this case, I’m not talking so much about faraway places I’ve never been to, say like Madagascar or New Caledonia, but places I’ve been right by over and over again, but never checked out. The Book Cliffs are one example. Another is- or rather was- Jack’s Peak*, until the Trifecta and I climbed it this Spring. The Canyon Range West of Scipio, the Pine Valley Range North of St. George, the Uintas West of Mt. Agassiz- all are blank spots on my mental map of Utah. Closer to home there are still dozens of draws and minor peaks in the Wasatch and Oquirrhs I’ve yet to explore, and even within 2 or 3 miles of my home there are side streets I’ve never turned down. As you think about your own home “turf”, it’s likely you can think of similar blank spots that you’ve passed by time and again for years or even decades without checking out.

*Speaking of Jack’s Peak, Since I’ve become (at least marginally) geologically-aware, I’ve learned that the peak, and the ridge leading up to it, is actually its own little anticline.

Nested Tangent: When I think about blank spots, I tend to construct an image of them in my head- how the landscape looks, the vegetation, the aspect, etc. We all do this- think about an upcoming vacation. Say you’re going to Hawaii, to a hotel you’ve never been to before. You have an image in your head of the hotel, your room, the pool, maybe the lobby. Maybe the image has been influenced in part by photos on a website or in a brochure, but it’s still in your head; when you actually get there, they layout of the place will be somewhat different.

I do this all the time in ordinary business travel. I visualize the airport, the hotel, the offices of the company I’m going to visit. Closer to home I do it when I’m going to check out a new trail; I have an image of what it will look like, which stays in my head until I get there and actually see it.

Most of the time these “blank spot visualizations” are instantly swept out of mind by the actual, real-world image once I actually get to, see, and “fill in” the blank spot. But sometimes, when I finally reach a blank spot that I’ve thought about for a long time, such as the Newfoundland range or Cerro Piñones, the visualization lingers for a bit as my mind seems to try to somehow reconcile the two. I’ve mentioned before that I have frequent dreams of “wrong geography”, where I see landscapes or actual maps that are different than real world. I wonder if the source of such dreams is the countless “blank spot maps” my mind is continually creating and discarding…

In my ideal life, I’d dedicate a day a week to checking out, and filling in, blank spots. And if I ever (unlikely) managed to fill them all in, then I guess I’d move someplace else and start over again.

First Cool Thing About The Books Cliffs

First, the Book Cliffs are the longest continuous unbroken IMG_8272escarpment on the planet. That’s right- you can drive from Grand Junction to Helper and be alongside them the entire way. There’s no other place on Earth with a similar feature of such length and continuity. Isn’t that amazing? And yet I don’t think there’s a sign or a pull-out or anything that points that out…

Second Cool Thing About The Book Cliffs

Secondly, the Book Cliffs have a rich human history, reflected in the incredible archeological wealth of the area. IMG_8253 The draws and side canyons of the area are practically rotten with rock and art and graffiti, dating from archaic to historic times. Nine Mile Canyon is the classic example, but Range Creek, an area which just became known to the public in the last decade, is even more amazing. (Later in the post, we’ll visit yet another example of such archeo-booty.) Even in the modern day, the Mesaverde formation is significant, in that it houses all of Utah’s currently mined coal seams.

Third Cool Thing About The Book Cliffs

And third (and as always, I have saved the coolest thing for last) the Book Cliffs are moving. No, no, no- I’m not talking about moving as in continental plates, yada, yada moving. Yes, of course they’re moving like that- everything is. But the Book Cliffs are moving faster; they are practically walking North across the land.

More specifically, they’re eroding across the land. In many posts we’ve looked at various example of geologic erosion. But what’s interesting in this landscape, where the geologic layers are more or less flat and non-convoluted, is that the primary direction of erosion is not vertical, but horizontal.

Book Cliffs Walking As the exposed Mesaverde cliff faces are assaulted by wind, rain and sun, they slowly crumble and fall away. Millions of years ago the Book Cliffs stood far to the South of where they are today, and millions of years in the future they’ll stand much further North.

On I-70 we turned East, away from home, and proceeded to the Thompson Springs exit, where we left the freeway and wound our way North a few miles to the base of the cliffs.

IMG_8270 Side Note: Past the gas station Thompson Springs is a borderline ghost town- the perfect setting for an apocalypse/end-of-world/zombie movie. It knew better times in decades past as a home for coal miners and a stop for travelers, but the last half-century have dealt it a double-whammy. First, the interstate bypassed the town, which lay astride the old US6, and then passenger trains ceased stopping there in favor of Green River. Today it’s sort of creepy and fascinating- kind of like Mancos Shale.

At the mouth of Thompson Wash, a modest draw in the Book Cliffs, lies an outstanding rock art site. Over the years the petroglyphs have been heavily vandalized, but restoration efforts in the 90’s removed the worst of the offending modern graffiti. Today it’s well worth a stop. Just a few miles from the freeway, the site is festooned with art spanning possibly as far back as 5,000 – 7,000 years, including at least 4 distinct periods/styles.

IMG_8267 Botanical Side Note: As you approach the base of the Book Cliffs, the vegetation changes, becoming better-established, taller and richer. One reason I think is that the Mancos is now covered by sandier, less-expanding/contracting soils, which are debris from the eroded Mesaverde cliffs. A second reason, specifically near the mouth of the Wash, is probably just greater moisture.

Sagebrush appears North of “town” and increases in height as you approach the cliffs. At the mouth of the Wash it forms small shrees, reaching over your head (pic above, right, Twin A for scale). IMG_8259 Sagebrush (which I blogged about a long, long time ago) can be a bear to ID down to the species level, but whenever it gets as big as you are, chances are its Big Sagebrush, Artemisia tridentata. Fremont’s Mahonia, which we looked at a couple hundred miles to the South back in October, also reappears here. I’d never checked it out before in late Fall, but the leaves turn a beautiful lavender color (pic left).

The first is Barrier Canyon, an archaic motif we talked about down in the Grand Canyon, and which dates back as far as 4,000 or maybe even 6,000BC. Thompson Wash is one of the classic Barrier Canyon sites, just fantastic in both details and accessibility. The main Barrier Canyon panel includes 19 large anthropomorphs, up to 7 feet tall.

BC Panel Caption The second is Chihuahuan Polychrome Abstract, which dates from 700BC to 300BC. This style, which occurred across the Great Basin (further West it’s known as Great Basin Abstract) features geometric designs and patterns. One hypothesis is that the patterns represent entoptic phenomena, which are visual effects whose source originates within the eye itself. “Floaters” are an example of an entoptic phenomena.*

*“Floaters”, specifically myodesopsia, are the results of anomalies or deposits in within the vitreous humour, which is the (otherwise) clear gel filling the interior of your eyeball. The actual floaters that you see are the shadows cast by these anomalies on your retina. I see floaters occasionally, but only when looking at bright and empty clear blue sky.

CPA Panel caption Third is Fremont, the dominant culture across Utah from about 400AD – 1300AD. Fremont also features anthropomorphs, but they look more “bling-superhero” than the “creepy ghost-guys” of the earlier Barrier Canyon style. Fremont anthropomorphs are broad-shouldered, trapezoidal figures often equipped with weapons, shields and headgear. Fremont rock art has been subdivided by archeologists into six regional divisions. The Book Cliff sites, including Nine Mile Canyon, fall under the Northern San Rafael style, which features more animals and abstract patterns. This seems to be the dominant style at Thompson Wash, but one large panel here depicts anthropomorphs more in the Southern Rafael style, which runs across Southern Utah from Moab to Escalante.

Fremont Panel caption0 The fourth style is Historic Ute*, which features such obvious post-Euro-contact elements as horses, but also sometimes incorporates elements of earlier rock art traditions. Ute panels seem to be more narrative than abstract- like the artist was telling (or recounting) a specific story. Ute Panel captionIn addition to the Indian rock art, there is, as I’ve mentioned, a fair amount of Euromerican graffiti, and some of this is interesting in its own right, dating back to at least the 1880’s.

*I gave an overview of the Utes in this post.

Several thousand years, at least 4 distinct cultures/styles, mixed in with elements of neighboring styles- everything I’ve described her lies within about a 100 yard radius. And that’s the way cool thing about Thompson Wash.

Fremont Barrier Panels Positioning A little tucked-away stopover/ retreat along the world’s longest unbroken embankment, it’s been a crossroads of cultures for thousands of years. It’s like our own little Middle East/Holy Land right here in Eastern Utah. Right off the interstate, where I’ve passed dozens and dozens of times over 2 decades, I finally stopped to check it out. Filling in blank spots pays off again and again, and I’m going to do more of it this coming year.

That was a great Thanksgiving.

Note about sources: Geologic info came from Halka Chronic’s Roadside Geology of Utah, Lehi F. Hinzte’s Utah’s Spectacular Geology*, the Inn On The Alameda website and Info on Thompson Wash rock art came from Dennis Slifer’s Rock Art of the Utah Region. Info on “floaters” came from Wikipedia and Awesome Wife (who’s been plagued by them for some time.)

*A fabulous book with one glaring flaw: no index. Really? A geology book with no index? Are you kidding me?