Sunday, August 22, 2010

Moab Solo

Last weekend I just needed to get away from the mess, the heat, and the lack of a kitchen sink.  Our rental condo in Moab needed a check since we've had renters there almost non-stop since we were down last in April, so I headed south.

Our place in Moab is nice. At this point, even an organized silverware drawer is a welcome site.

But the place in Moab really is beautiful.  This is the morning scene.

There is a resident bunny

and a praying mantis. I love them.

I was looking forward to a relaxing weekend of puttering around the place, fixing a few things,

and maybe a bike ride and/or hike.

But in the middle of the first night there, a mouse came and visited me in my bed, on my shoulder!
I chased it into the laundry room and locked him in there for the night.  I set out traps the next day, but by mid-day, no takers.  I went to do a load of laundry and...
Eeeeek!  So I captured him in a plastic container
thinking that I would humanely transport him > 2 miles away to safely release him when I went for a hike later in the day.  He was a really cute little bugger.  But first, some quality pool time.
The pool is fabulous and I had it all to myself for a couple of hours.

I came back to the condo to find that my plastic storage container was more air-tight than I had thought.  The mouse was feet-up dead.  I am a bad, bad person. Will the karma gods forgive me for this tortuous suffocation death I inflicted on an innocent rodent?

I had a beer and tried to forget about him.  When I went out that night after dark to watch the Perseid Meteor shower, I took his corpse to the edge of a field, where hopefully a bird or coyote will be able to honor his little soul.  Even though the peak viewing was a few days earlier, I still saw lots of big meteors.

Monday, I got up at 6 AM.  Let me restate that. I got up early, to go biking, by myself.   I am not a naturally early riser (major understatement), but I wanted to do Flat Pass, a 3 to 5 hour loop, and the forecast was for hot, so I knew if I didn't want to fry, I'd need to be back by noonish. 

Turns out it was really windy and there were thunderclouds already building by 7 am, so I drove to the trailhead and did the ride as an out and back, 2-hour, solitary, at-my-own-pace, take-pictures-when-I-want, glorious ride.

I spent the rest of the day cleaning and fixing stuff at the condo, swimming in the pool, cooking (with a functional stove and kitchen sink) and blogging. 

Tuesday after cleaning and a final dip in the pool, I set out for home, but I just couldn't bear the thought of returning to the mess, so I went for a hike in the burning hot sun during mid-day on Moab Rim.  It was still better than heading home.  

Moab Rim trail is accessed from Kane Creek road, which runs along the south side of the Colorado River where is exits Moab Valley on its way to the confluence with the Green River.  The first thing I noticed when I turned down Kane Creek Road from Moab was the color of the river. Wow! It was as as red-brown as the Windgate Sandstone and as thick as mud.  The thunderstorms that were in the area the previous day (August 16) and evening must have dumped hard rain somewhere upstream.  See how red the river is in this video, and notice the twigs and branches floating along.

Indeed, when I returned to Salt Lake I looked up the data for the gaging station upstream from Moab and sure enough, there had been some flash flooding the evening before, raising the stage (height) of the river about half a foot and increasing the flow by almost half again what it had been. 

Interestingly, the conductivity of the water, a measure of how much sediment and dissolved minerals are in it, initially decreased, I'm guessing because of the influx of "clean" rain water, and then increased because of the influx of sediment carried by the flood(s).

I hiked up the dip slope (bedding plane now tilted at an angle) of the Kayenta Sandstone on a popular 4WD route, looking back a the silt-laden Colorado River. The Navajo Sandstone forms the cliffs to the left.

The trail goes to an overlook where the entire Moab-Spanish Valley lays out before you.  It is really incredible. I sat for a while trying to figure out which geologic units I was looking at, really just stalling before I had to return to drive home.  I later looked up the geology of the area on my coworkers' geologic map and annotated one of my photographs to show you the incredible geology. 

Geologic units on this picture, from youngest to oldest
Qa – Quaternary unconsolidated gravel and stuff in the valley
Ti – Tertiary intrusive. ~25 million year old igneous rock emplaced a couple of miles under the surface as a laccolith and exposed by weathering in the last 10 million yrs as the Colorado Plateau uplifts.
Jn – Jurrasic Navajo Sandstone – giant desert dunes from dinosaur times
Jk – Jurassic Kayenta Formation – interbedded sandstone and siltstone from dinosaur times
Jw – Jurassic Windgate Fm. – wind-blown sandstone that forms the vertical cliffs bordering the valley
TRc – Triassic Chinle Fm. – mudstone and siltstone that has collapsed and gotten all jumbled up in the slope below me
 IPp – Pennsylvanian Paradox Fm. ~300 million years old – this is the salt formation that has mostly dissolved and caused collapse of the surface to form the Moab Valley

The cross section diagram below, from here, was drawn for a location a little bit north of where I was looking, but it explains the formation of the Moab Valley and has most of the rock units in the same place.

The Moab Valley exists because an underlying rock unit, the Paradox Formation, is made of salt.  Part of this formation has dissolved over time and the overlying rocks have collapsed to form the valley.  So cool.  Another cool factoid: the Paradox Valley, after which the Paradox Formation is named, is so called because early explorers thought it was odd and "paradoxical" that the Colorado River flowed almost perpendicular to these valleys. Typically, rivers form valleys, and they find their path by eroding the most easily erodible rock units.  Surely, a salt formation would be easy to erode and one would think the river would follow the trace of the salt formation.  The reason the Colorado cuts across this and other salt collapse valleys is because the path of the river was already in place before the Plateau started to rise.  As the land rose, the river had to keep up, and it became entrenched in its course. 

Alas, it was time to go back to reality, so I headed down and north to Salt Lake.


  1. OK, so first of all let me give credit where it is due: awesome, awesome post. The geology is great and I'm taking a copy of your Phenomenally Cool Moab Valley Geo-Graphic with me on my next Moab trip.

    However... although you explained to the Tragedy of the Mouse to me previously, I didn't realize at the time just how small and, er, AIRTIGHT the confining container was. I know you are a Woman Of Science, so I am scratching my head a bit at this one. And then you went to the pool? This is starting to sound like a "yuppie lite" version of one of those I-left-my-dog/kid/ailing-grandmother-in-the-car-while-I-worked-my-shift-at-Wal-Mart stories. Ouch. I need to go save another bat or something...

  2. The mouse deserved to die after surprising you in the middle of the night! What kind of rude mouse does that? He was on a suicide mission. Great photos... can't wait to share them with Tim. Hope you have a kitchen sink soon :)

  3. Watcher, that's what Drew said. I guess it is a good thing I don't have kids or ailing grandmothers that live nearby. I will find a way to redeem my mouse karma.