Take a carpet square. Lay it over a tennis ball. See how the fibers separate? Well, thanks to the 5000 feet of compressed salt underneath this park, the same “fins” that form on the buckled carpet square will form in real life in the Entrada sandstone when a salt dome rises underfoot. Salt, under tremendous pressure, acts more like toothpaste than like a solid. It will flow into fissures and cracks along fault lines, and then push upward on whatever is above it. Sandstone, being more brittle than a carpet square, will fracture along parallel lines. As water seeps in the fractures, freezes, pushes the rocks apart, and repeats that process a zillion times, the edges of the fins begin to erode. Eventually you have something like a zany loaf of sliced bread, made of rock. Today I went in between the slices. Oh, but there is one small detail: many of the slices are dead ends, and there is a lot of crumbled eroded rock in there, and there are NO maps, NO cairns, and NO water. Good thing I had Ranger Carrie.
Driving to the Fiery Furnace, one sees a huge depression called “Salt Valley.” It is an area where the salt flowed (was squeezed) out from beneath the underlying rock, and the overlying strata collapsed upon itself. It is dramatic, and you can see how the edges would have met up at one time long ago. We begin our climb from the top, scrambling across boulders the size of garages, and across narrow ledges that are actually the tops of eroded fins. We squeeze through slots just wide enough for a human being, and crawl through baby arches that have just met the requisite 3 foot dimension (in any direction) for becoming a named arch. Ranger Carrie lets us name any arch we find, but nobody comes up with as good a name as its real one: Kissing Turtles Arch. We discover potholes laden with mosquito larvae, hear stories about the discovery of large Surprise Arch overhead (it was the park superintendent, so imagine his surprise!), and marvel once again at the mild temps blessing the area this spring. From the name, one might surmise that it can feel like a blast furnace in there, but honestly there is more shade than anywhere else due to these rock slices of bread. It got its name from how it glows a brilliant red at sunset, for which only the name ‘furnace’ is suitable.
A teen-aged girl behind me in the group kept saying things like, “It is so restful in here,” “I just love being in here,” “I feel like I am in another world,” and “Wouldn’t this be an awesome place to paint or read or take photographs?” She looked like a city-slicker and I challenged her to make wilderness a part of her life on a regular basis. And then I challenged myself to do the same. We ALL need wilderness.