Desert and Geomorphology in Utah

America is a country of which I’ve only scratched the surface, and particularly in terms of the extensive network of national parks. Last week I set out to remedy some of that, travelling to southern Utah with a friend. With 5 national parks and numerous national monuments and preserves, the proportion of land in some way protected in the park is amongst the highest of any of the US states. As a visitor, then, it makes for a compact (ish) trip to visit a number of these sightseeing meccas, and while they’re all ostensibly within the same near-desert / arid environment the forms and shapes of the different landscapes are highly diverse, driven by differing erosional processes.

The chief purpose of our trip wasn’t just to visit the national parks though. Hidden amidst the national parks is a small mountain range – the Henry Mountains. 140 years ago a USGS scientist, GK Gilbert, produced a report on the geology of this range, the last mountain range in the lower 48 states to be mapped. The report itself is not what one would expect from a modern scientific report; it’s qualitative rather than quantitative, and in many places nearly poetic in the style of writing. It also contains a concise description of the field I studied for my PhD – geomorphology. Many, if not most of the ideas that we are still working on today in the field are pretty well explained by Gilbert in the his report, so the trip was in some respects me trying to understand a little of the man who defined my field by visiting the mountains he studied.

The trip was a productive source of a number of ideas for writing, which I hope to work on over the coming weeks. As a brief summary, below are a number of images from this stunning part of the world.

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Bryce Canyon
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Grand Staircase / Escalante National Monument
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Mt Hilliers, from the south of the Henry Mountains
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Delicate Arch, Arches National Park
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The night sky over Canyonlands National Park
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Road through Canyonlands

 

 

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