Repeatedly, visitors to Canyonlands National Park make exclamations like “This is an amazing place!” or “There is nothing like it!” or “It has captured my heart!” I say the very same things, and I work/live here for that reason. People’s descriptions tend toward the hyperbolic because words are inadequate; “I’ve never seen anything like it” is the closest many can come to truth.
Visitors are captivated by our remarkable fauna, like the desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis), peregrine falcon (Falco peregrinus) or the collared lizard (Crotaphytus collaris). Visitors appreciate the resilient plants, adapted to harsh conditions that would wipe out most species; the fragility of the ecosystem boggles the mind. But what really strikes people with unspeakable awe — what really steals their heart — are the canyons, cliffs, and cake-layers of rock, with a backdrop of snow-capped laccolithic mountain ranges.
In a word, the geology.
Forget what you may have experienced in GEOL 101 in college, where a boring lecturer showed Ektachrome slides of lumpy things that all looked vaguely similar, accompanied by black-and-white stratigraphic columns with many zeroes down the timeline on the side. No. Just come and stand at Grand View Point for fifteen minutes. Let your eyes trace the intricate carvings through seven — SEVEN! — different sedimentary layers. Geology is storytelling at its best. Geology wows. Geology is what brings travelers back, over and over and over.
I’m just beginning to prepare my 30-minute formal geology talk, to be given at aforementioned Grand View Point, and I think it will dare to offer a comparison between rock layers and movements in a symphony. Stay tuned.