The Colorado Plateau

From a geologist’s perspective, the Colorado plateau provides a unique exposure of millions of years of geologic history. From a layman’s perspective, it’s just beautiful scenery. The plateau encompasses the corners of Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, and Colorado, and includes such marvels as Glen and Grand Canyons, Painted Desert and Petrified Forest, and the mesas and plateaus of the Navajo and Hopi Nations. I took a trip up there last week, and here are a few photos.

Navajo bridges. The steep, deep canyons of the Colorado River created a huge geographical barrier limiting travel between Arizona and Utah and Nevada. The completion of the first Navajo Bridge in 1928 solved that problem.

The reason for the deep canyons has to do with the uplift of the Colorado Plateau and the integration of the Colorado River drainage basin, but geologists still debate the details of this landscape evolution.

Prior to the bridge, people crossed the river at Lee’s Ferry. Yes, there really was a ferry here. Now, this is the last place with road access to the river upstream of the Grand Canyon and is the departure point for river trips through the canyon. The river gauge at Lee’s Ferry is also a very significant location for water management in the West.

An experiment to kill and remove invasive Tamarisk trees from Lee’s Ferry apparently failed. Here you can see Tamarisk branches sprouting up from the cut off stump of the tree.

Sadly,Tamarisk dominates the vegetation along the Little Colorado River.

One finds balancing rocks such as these common near Lee’s Ferry. These sandstone boulders fell down a cliff and landed on a weaker mudstone formation. The mudstone around them eroded away, leaving them balancing on pedestals. The boulder protects the mudstone immediately below the boulder from eroding away.

Summer rainstorms provide significant precipitation in isolated areas, while nearby areas remain dry.

This area is significant for California Condor re-introduction (look closely at the bridge truss).


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