Leaving Bryce Canyon on Scenic Byway 12, we drive 100 miles of designated, “All American Road”, one of only 10 such roads in the U.S. Crossing through 1.9 million acres of the last place in the continental U.S. to be mapped, we cruise by the last river to be mapped, the Escalante River. In 1872 while Powell’s 2nd Expedition mapped the Green and the Colorado Rivers, Powell’s sister, Botanist Ellen Thompson and her husband mapped the Escalante River and Henry Mountain.
While Bryce’s rocks formed its’ pink sandstone and limestone in a fresh water lake system 35-50 million years ago, they are relatively young. The rise of the Colorado Plateau 15-20 million years ago, exposed the sediment to erosion, forming fins and hoodoos. Capital Reef however, of harder Navajo Sandstone, is Permian rock, as old as 275 million years old and Cretaceous rock, as young as 80 million years old (…and does that make a 59 year old feel like a baby!) Maybe instead of getting old with phrases like, “60 is the new 50”, we should see our age as young compared with other “young” but enduring monuments. How about, “60 is the new 80 million”? Oh yeah, Baby, I am feeling like a young pink rock!)
I digress, back to geology…the Colorado Plateau that exposed young and old rocks is the largest monocline (stair step fold) in the U.S. No where better can this be seen than at the Waterpocket Fold in Capital Reef, running 90 miles in length, and exposing rocks standing 7,000 feet higher on the west side of the buried fault. The Chinle Formation exposed by the fold extends over most of the Colorado Plateau. It’s layers show massive sand dunes 190 million years ago, meandering and stagnant swamps 210 million years ago, and limestone formed when the area was covered by a shallow ocean 270 million years ago.
Although an older and richer display geologically than any site on the Plateau, hiking through the Grand Wash in the Waterpocket Fold as Rebecca and I did in the 80’s, is less dramatic visually than the massive monuments to the north in Cathedral Valley, rivaling Monument Valley in Navajo lands to the South.