A year ago I experienced an unusually powerful example of "aesthetic evolution" near Socorro, NM. Explaining it seemed like a big project. And we all know what people do when they are dreaming things up into a big project. They procrastinate. Since I returned to this area recently let's see if it I can knock it down to size, this time around.
I went into a certain area along a dirt road. My expectations were very low. In fact I remember henpecking myself about the choice of road and the waste of gasoline. It was a complete surprise to encounter some sexy and naked "structural geology."
It's an RV blog cliche to rhapsodize about geology in other contexts, such as red rocks in Utah. Red certainly is a nice color and very impressive if you are looking at it for the first time. But after standing there (like a dope) looking at red rocks, you must eventually admit that it was red rock 265 million years ago, yesterday, tomorrow, and probably hundreds of millions of years from now. So what are you supposed to do about it, exactly?
Anything static quickly becomes boring regardless of how postcard-ish it seems, initially. That is why many people love rivers; fast running wildlife, horses, and dogs; a trickle of water dripping out of a rock in arid country; and rapidly developing clouds and storms. It's also why some people (like me) consider photo cliches like mountains, oceans, wildflowers, and sunsets to be boring after a few seconds.
If you agree with any of that, even just for the sake of argument, you must wonder how I can see geology as interesting. Talk about "static"! Layers of rocks have been standing there with the same stupid look on their faces for hundreds of millions of years, Ice Ages and volcanoes excepted.
Actually though, I'm admiring "structural geology": the change of rather uniform layers of sedimentary rocks into photogenic topographic sculptures by means of differential erosion from water, in a dry country! Trying to imagine those processes does not seem boring and static.
How did these weird shapes in the landscape get here?
At first they seemed like volcanic dikes, which are vertical wall-like extrusions of lava out of cracks in the earth. If the surrounding material erodes away, the "wall" is left by itself. My favorite example is near Shiprock, west of Farmington, NM. St. George/Hurricane UT also have some fine examples.
But a hike revealed that those wall-like structures in the second-to-last photo were sedimentary layers that were upended at exactly 90 degrees. How does that happen?:
But whatever you do, don't think about the stupid color or pretty shapes -- think about the process that might have created these strange structures.
At the bottom of the arroyo the rocks became rounded. That's the usual thing in arroyos. It makes a great impression on you to be stepping on sharp rocks and cacti, while feeling guilty about how all this must feel on your dog's paws. And then, over a distance of a step or two, the rocks turn smooth and white:
Perhaps the soft curves in arroyos are easier to believe if we stop thinking of them as being "rounded by water", and think about a water-borne slurry of abrasive rock particles wearing the bigger rocks smooth.
No wonder I procrastinated a year. This post is already long. Part 2 will wrap this up with what I experienced this year.