Skip to main content

'Best in Show:' Wild Canids in the Canyon

The reader might be familiar with the semi-recent movie, "Best in Show." The spine of the plot is a dog show, but it is not really a 'dog movie.' Rather, it's a comedic mockumentary about their neurotic human owners.

Today's hike in Zion country (southwestern Utah) turned out the opposite: it was the humans who were acting sensibly, and the dogs who were nuts. We had five dogs in our party, eight humanoid-companion-units, and a neighborhood dawg, Blue, who tends to join any frolic taking place on her BLM land.

As we drove up, I thought my kelpie, Coffee Girl, was going to crash through the windshield with excitement when she saw all these playmates. All of the dogs, no two alike and weighing from 10 to 80 pounds, got along beautifully. I get really charged up by the frantic synergy of dogs. You could think of this walk as a linear-BLM-version of a dog park.

Vertical wall of a red sandstone arroyo. What could cause such a weird bend in the whitish layer?

Up we all went, up the arroyo towards one of the famous mesas of the area. I was surprised to see puddles and mud on the arroyo floor. After about a half mile, we saw a tiny spring fast-dripping water down into the arroyo. Upstream, the floor was completely dry. I've never actually caught a desert spring "in the act" before!

Ahh dear, if only we had had a geologist along. (And you know who you are.) We saw the remains of interesting and scary collapses of sedimentary rocks into the arroyo. How can you know how close you were to being a victim of one of these events?

Atherosclerosis (plaque buildup and fibrosis) on the walls of the red sandstone canyon?

Our little tribe of RV-outdoorsmen put a couple more clicks on the ratchet wrench today, as John and Susan (and Carli and Jake, their canine companions) joined in their first outdoor frolic with the rest of the tribe. I thought of Star Trek: the Next Generation. Remember the "Borgs", who were always trying to swallow up (assimilate) human populations? "Resistance is FYOO-tile."

Looking from the inside of a void (in a red sandstone canyon wall) to the outside.

Then the dogs started acting like aliens from outer space. Debbie's dog, Rupert (half miniature poodle/half wire-haired Jack Russell Terrier), tried serial suicide attempts. His best one was getting on top of a 20 foot high embankment that was too steep to come down, especially the last 6 feet of vertical drop. He slid down to John or my outstretched arms several times, but he just wouldn't trust us and come into our hands.

Just then, Blue, the neighborhood loaner dog, climbed up to Rupert from an easier direction. She went right to him, turned around, and made an easy descent back down to the floor, as Rupert followed her. Say what you want about goofy dog-people anthropomorphizing their dogs, Blue deliberately rescued Rupert.

I braced myself as we approached what looked like a raven resting on a wooden post, and studying all of us. We were no doubt putting on quite a show. We decided that it was a mostly black red-tailed hawk. Most unusual. My dog, Coffee Girl goes nuts over ravens and sometimes, hawks. The next time we looked in that direction, she was on top of a 15 foot high vertical bank. She leaped off, onto a steep lower bank. She made quite a kerplunk when she landed but she was not injured, probably for the same reason a ski jumper survives as he lands onto a steep slope. But my goodness, how does a dog practice a stunt like that? What gave her the idea to be so reckless. (Rupert, probably.)

Break in the morning clouds just catches the topographic curvature.

On the way out we found a weird slot canyon through some grey sedimentary layer. Mark is threatening to go back there and ride down the dry waterfall and then down the slot canyon. Once again, the Rupert-effect is twisting one of the tribal members.


Hey Boonie, I'm not sure who the geologist might be, but I'd like to try my hand at your photos.

The first photo is an outstanding picture of an SSD, or soft-sediment deformation structure (we're talking sedimentary structures for all of these photos except the last one). It's what happens when one layer is loaded with another heavy layer while the first one is still wet. The heavier sediment squeezes the lower one and can result in what you see. There's a beautiful example down in Capitol Reef about three miles up Spring Canyon (from the river) called the Elf's Slipper. It's big and looks just like its namesake. Well worth the hike if you can cross the Fremont. The white is a calcite layer.

The plaque buildup is a case where parts of the layer were harder than others and thereby weathered out differently. This particular example is caused by differences in cementation and is called an alveolar structure, so your names were close.

Your last photo is an anticline (a fold that's convex-up). I also use the mnemonic of "it sinks in the middle" to remember the diff between that and a syncline. Of course, without knowing the underlying structures, it may be something else.

The one inside the void appears to be overshadowed by either a flying saucer (maybe related to the Mothership that recently paid me a visit) or perhaps a well-made hat brim. Being a believer in Occam's Razor, I vote for the latter.

BTW, Mark had a nice photo of what he called a sandstone layer that looks to me to be a limestone lens. These are the remnants of oases in the immense Navajo erg, which is kind of mind blowing, as the Navajo was a huge aeolian desert. They're the only places that any fossils to speak of have been found in the Navajo, including dino tracks.

Great photos and love the thought of dogs flying (as long as they're not hurt).
Jim and Gayle said…
Appreciate the geology lesson.
But a geology lesson IN PERSON would be even better.
The "geologist" gets kind of flustered in person and forgets everything and just starts making stuff up. :) But mid Jan I head south.
Jim and Gayle said…
Those photos look suspiciously postcardish.

Teri said…
Great rescue story about the dogs.