Water, Salt, Time and Us, Part II

From the Great Plains over the Continental Divide we meandered through forests and valleys to Moab and thanks to Dave’s planning our third day was spectacularly beautiful with geological diversity. After Lamar we drove 75 miles southwest on Highway 10, the straightest, flattest, featureless road imaginable, miles and miles without a house or barn. I did not realize that eastern Colorado is part of the Great flat Plains. A lot of it was empty open range, but as we approached Walsenburg the snow covered 13, 000 foot, Spanish Peaks came into view. We headed west on US 160 over the La Veta Pass heading toward Alamosa and lunch at The Rubi Slipper. With our draft beers and sandwiches we had Calabacitas a local ancient Mexican, concoction of squash, corn, onions, tomatoes, garlic, and secrete ingredients the owner would not divulge all grilled in butter. After lunch we visited the Scenic Station of the Rio Grande Railroad.

Highway 160 turned northwest following the rail line and river of the same name; the Rio Grande was draining southeast to the Gulf of Mexico. At South Fork Colorado we pickup highway 149 which followed the river on a scenic path through the Rio Grande National Forest to the town of Creede where the road a 180 turn in the foot hills of 14,000 Saint Luis Peak. The river and road next to the river goes north on one side of a valley into Creede then turns south on the other side. After ten miles 149 turns north over the continental divide at 10.900 foot Spring Creek Pass. After a mile or two through thousands of dead and dying Quaking Aspen trees we went over 11,361 foot Slumgullion Pass.   The trees were being cut and piled into huge ricks for burning. It appears Cankers were killing whole stands of my favorite western trees.

Highway 149 headed north through the Powderhorn Wilderness. The road followed the Lake Fork of the Gunnison River on our way to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River. After a brief visit to the National Park in the rain as it was closing, we decided to spend the night in Montrose and return in the morning to get a good view. We had a very good meal at the Stone House Restaurant with its beautiful hand carved wooden doors.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison was a real wonder even in a light morning rain. The dark rock faces of the 200 foot rack faces are streaked from bottom to top with a white and cream colored pegmatite bands, which had squeezed up through cracks and weaknesses in the dark rock. The black walls were either 1.7 billion year old sediment or volcanic lava that was barred deeper and deeper by subsequent sediment. After millions of years of pressure and heat the original rock was altered into fine grained schist which became gneiss when more heat and pressure had been applied. The different appearance and texture depended on the original rock and the amount of heat and pressure.

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The dark gray walls with streaks of white and the raging Gunnison River

This canyon is on the eastern edge of Colorado plateau that sprawls over the Four Corners of Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah. The plateau was titled up by successive mountain building episodes. The violent force of water born sand and gravels dug the canyon deeper until today the Gunnison River still cuts into the black rock like liquid sand paper so that the river is 480 feet lower in just 48 miles. This drop of is more than the change in elevation of the Mississippi River in its 1500 mile journey from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.

 

Leaving the park Dave headed us south to Ridgeway and on to scenic Highway 62 over the Dallas Divide always on the lookout for Elk which a gasoline delivery driver said are common along the way. At Placerville we took Highway 145 north with a brief stop at Naturita, a sad little place were Tom and Dave were once forced to spend the night. Soon we were on our way to Highway 90 and High way 191 in Utah; we were in Moab too early to check in at our hotel.

Moab was a very quick visit. One purpose of our trip was to pick up Tom’s son Matt at get him back east for his winter job of photographing counties to make it easier to assess property values. We hoped Matt would be able to show us from the air some of the places we explored five years before. He was able to arrange a four hour flight. It was a thrilling experience. The flight gave a view of the immensity  of the varying layers and colors of the sandstone and limestone landscape.

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The Devil’s Garden, The Grabens and Needles fissures formed in the 290 million year old Cedar Mesa Sandstone as the underlying salt slide of over millions of years toward the Colorado River. The original cracks filled with water which froze and deepened the cuts; the softer rock was worn away by time, wind and glaciers, leaving the spectacular scenery of much of the Southwest.

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Rainbow Arch

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The Maze

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Matt gave us a close ups of the panicle formations in Monument Valley on the Navaho Reservation. He pointed out a few of the towers he climbed.

When we finished the flight Matt had one more thing to share, Dinosaur foot prints. As we headed back from Canyonlands Airport to Moab Matt turned west on to a dirt road to the parking lot of Mill Canyon Dinosaur Track Site which was protected by the Bureau of Land Management and recently opened to the public. There in the 100 million year old Jurassic mud are clear 3 toed foot prints of 3 types of dinosaurs and the track of an alligator type animal. We were looking at a comma on page 728 of Richard Leakey’s 1000 page history of planet Earth. Dinosaurs dominated Earth for over 135 Million years. I wonder if Homo Sapiens, (Us) will dominate it for that long. We have been around for only 2.8 million years, but in that short period of time we (Us) have made more irreversible changes to the Earth than any other life form except for the earliest oxygen producing plants on page 526 of Leakey’s history book.

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-Jack Riordan

 

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