Tom Ross: A trip through time
Escalante toadstools offer an exotic experience
April 20, 2010
Steamboat Springs — Most Steamboat families are on spring break this week (unless they planned a trip to London or Paris), but we've just returned from vacationing on a distant planet.
If you doubt my claim, consider the photograph accompanying this column. I would submit that the geologic toadstools that can be found in Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument are as bizarre as anything found on Pandora. And they're just a short hike from U.S. Highway 89.
Greetings from Planet Utah.
It's a funny thing about leaving Steamboat for spring break — almost no matter where you go, you run into another Routt County-ite. Not so this past week, which we spent bouncing around high-desert towns such as Torrey, Escalante, Big Water, Hurricane, Cannondale and Kanab. Now that we're well-established empty nesters, we're in another vacation cycle than most 'Boat folk.
It's not that we're trying to avoid you; we just couldn't wait to get the heck out of Steamboat Flats and scramble over the slickrock.
I can pretty much connect the dots all across the Colorado Plateau by now. But I had never slowed down enough on the high road to Page, Ariz., long enough to check out the toadstools (I actually prefer to call them hoo doos) that are barely 1.5 miles from the Bureau of Land Management Paria (pronounced Pa-ree-yah) Contact Station.
The Paria Station, along with a BLM visitors center in nearby Big Water, are must-stops for adventurers. The rangers there can bring you up to date on backcountry road conditions (you don't want to know what a tow truck costs) and the amount of water flowing through the slot canyons.
As you might have guessed from the photograph, the toadstools are created by erosion, but you might not have guessed that the dark chocolate mushroom caps rest on stems that were created 60 million years earlier.
The caps are from the Dakota formation that was formed about 97 million years ago, and the pillars they rest upon are from the Entrada formation, deposited 160 million years ago.
In a way, they symbolize the Grand Staircase, the 1.9 million-acre national monument that was established in 1996. As the name implies, human explorers today can climb up the stairwell of time in the region surrounding the monument.
The rim of the Grand Canyon is at the same elevation as the Virgin River Valley, beneath the 4,000-foot sheer cliffs of nearby Zion National Park. The top of Zion is at the same elevation of Bryce Canyon National Park.
Even if a spring break outing in Escalante isn't really the same thing as interplanetary travel, it's definitely a trip back in geologic time.
My best night in Escalante last week was spent sleeping on my cot without a tent in Cottonwood Canyon. When I poked my head out of the sleeping bag, I could watch the stars wheel past the Navajo sandstone fangs of the Cockscomb looming over our lonely campsite.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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