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Imagine you face or faces inserted in this image and let's get started on another virtual hiking tour. . .

In case you missed it, the Capitol Reef diary brought attention to one of the truly most sensational topography layouts in southeast Utah, the Waterpocket Fold. (Recommend reading Some folks were irked this diary came and went so fast. But it's all about timing and no worries. . .everything is preserved in my profile's archives. Today's special supplement, however, covers just some aspect of this immense country. Notably, hiking in this convoluted territory. But I wanted to add something else in the way of a hike, which I have mentioned this locale a time or two in other diaries: The Wave. It's setting is somewhat found in this region. Then again, given the immensity of the Colorado Plateau one must always keep in mind the significance of that often used word, relatively.

Before you get started on these hiking adventures a word to the wise: hiking in desert-canyon terrain can sometimes be a challenge to mind, body and spirits. When hiking in tepid to simmering weather, the challenge is heightened, mainly because water, the elixir you always want to have with you, and eating munchies between sips can sometimes mean the difference between coherency and confusion. In an earlier diary, The Art of Backpacking, I presented sound tips for such an activity, including some sound medical advice. I suggest you read this diary even if you think you already know what you need to know about backpacking: For geology, here's another diary for those of you who are interested in rocks and identifying rock formations and geophysical stuff: Finally, for desert terrain ecology, some of you might find the substance of this diary interesting:

I posted these (among other similar diaries) for just such a purpose, sort of like a diary archives and reference source. That being said, if Dkos community readers have any questions or concerns about previous diaries and would like to post questions, I suggest contacting me only through my profile email, since I seldom review diaries posted so long ago.

Here, is are two photos where today's special tour will take you and so let's get started on the trail and try and beat the heat. Looks like it's rapidly warming up and I always suggest losing sleep to beat the heat. In other words, get on the trail as soon as you can.

A rather convoluted topography, wouldn't you say? (Thomas Wiewandt photo)

And here's a bizarre and enchanting place that truly fits its apt designate:

(Continues after the fold.)

Getting Started––The Waterpocket Fold Rim Overlook: The famed Waterpocket Fold is a major monocline of the Colorado Plateau. Its unique features were formed some 65 million years ago during the Laramide Orogeny (when the Rocky Mountains were created). This lengthy stretch of bent, tilted and broken rock creates a string of rugged sandstone cliffs that meander nearly 100 miles from Utah’s Thousand Lake Mountain to the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (Lake Powell country). Here in the heart of Capitol Reef NP the Fremont River cuts the largest canyon through the fold country.

The Rim Overlook hike begins 2 miles east from the park’s visitor center on Hwy. 24 between Hanksville and Torrey, Utah. (Keep in mind all milage is close, though sometimes may not be spot-on. Ergo, not always precise.) Turn left at the sign for the trailhead. This roundtrip trail is 4.5 miles and encompasses the lofty sandstone cliffs of the national park. The elevation is between 5,360 and 6,360 feet. The trail climbs high above the Fremont River and provides an outstanding panoramic view along the Waterpocket Fold. It follows the natural slope of the rocky topography and ever gets too steep nor strenuous. One of the highlights along the way is the Hickman Natural Bridge––a 130 foot span and 125 foot height.

NPS photo:

This moderate hike also shares the trailhead with the Hickman Bridge Trail and begins by climbing stone steps constructed along ledges above the Fremont River. The ledge-forming Kayenta Formation separates the massive cliffs of the Wingate Sandstone below from the glistening white Navajo Sandstone that adorns the top of Waterpocket Fold. At the top of a series of short switchbacks cutting through the ledges there’s a short spur trail to the right leading to a viewpoint of Navajo Dome. The park designate takes its name from such unique landforms. This particular erosional remnant is sculpted in the wind-blown sands of the Navajo Sandstone. The vertical lines in the rock face are fractures formed as the rock literally flexed and bent to form Waterpocket Fold’s terrain. (Reminder: There are lots of pictures and information on this subject matter, as well as the aforementioned Capitol Reef NP's diary/URL.)

A sample of Navajo Sandstone cross-bedding patterns caused by drifting winds and eventually creating petrified sand dunes:

The trail soon crosses a terrace mantled by round dark boulders of basalt. How these telltale boulders got here, and perched so high above the Fremont River, remains a puzzle to many hikers (see below for explanation). At .4 mile a sign points to the bridge where the trail splinters off to the left. This is a worthy side trip if one has the time and energy. Continuing to the right, the trail leads to the Rim Overlook. From this point the trail climbs gently and follows the notable tilt of the layers along Waterpocket Fold. The trail also traverses ledges in the Kayenta Formation for the entire length. At around the .75 mile mark the boulders disappear from the trail. These round black boulders of basalt are from the 21-million year old lava flows that cap Boulder and Thousand Lake Mountains. Both landmarks form a section of the High Plateaus that mark the western boundary of the Colorado Plateau. Since, as geologists figure, the lava flows more than likely never covered the Capitol Reef region they must have been transported from their source on Boulder Mountain some 30 miles. Thus catastrophic floods and debris flows washed the boulders down from the High Plateaus of this mountain when the Ice Age glaciers were melting. The aforementioned puzzle is therefore solved.

Note: The boulders are rounded from miles of rolling and tumbling in the water. These boulders also lie in terraces high above the present-day Fremont River. This suggests that the river has greatly deepened its channel since the boulders were deposited. It follows the river could not have placed these boulders where they are today, regardless how great the floods or debris flows.

Beyond the last basalt boulders the trail traverses slickrock marked by small cairns. At about the 1-mile point a sign points to the left and provides a view of Hickman Natural Bridge hidden in the canyon below. This span of rock was carved from sandstone layers in the Kayenta Formation. Yet it’s not a true natural bridge! Alas, it’s misnamed. Actually, Hickman is an arch carved from a fin of Kayenta Sandstone by two small washes running parallel to one another on the two sides of the so-called bridge. The washes cut into the sandstone and create a hole through the fin. Over time, it has widened into a majestic arch-like icon. Thus one gains two surprises as geologic knowledge; also some guessing when hiking the Rim Overlook Trail.

As in all hiking experiences, may yours be rewarding, safe, and mind-blowing. Up next, an entirely different terrain and geology. Some might even say this setting is the most attractive and spellbinding in the entire Southwest.

Hiking The Wave: This ultra popular sandstone country (read, sometimes crowded and permits are a must throughout most of the high tourist season) near the Utah and Arizona border is suitable named. The sandstone foundation of its riveting sandstone pavement is formed like a congealed wave frozen in time, complete with deformed pillars, cones, mushrooms, among other odd-shaped natural creations. Deposits of iron are responsible for the unique blending of colors swirled into the rock surface, somewhat like taffy. The visual effect instantly creates a dramatic array of yellows, pinks, reds and orange. These are the predominant tinctures. The first visceral reaction upon seeing this backdrop is usually open-mouthed, as in disbelief the scenery is even real. This is Paria Canyon country which contains the awesome Coyote Buttes Special Management Area. An assortment of sandstone buttes sit at the bottom of Utah’s famed Grand Staircase-Escalante NM and the upper section of Arizona’s Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness .

5.5 miles marks the hiking distance to The Wave and back. Another option is the 8-mile roundtrip hike from the Wire Pass parking lot. This route takes hikers to the famed Top Rock Arch alcove and Melody Arch sector. Allow at least a day’s hike for the trip to and from the Wave, with an additional couple hours to the arches, alcove, and dinosaur tracks imprinted in the sandstone in that region. Sticky, rubberized hiking shoes are highly recommended for hiking here; also lots of water (at least four liters per person in the hotter months). As mentioned, a permit is required because the trail is limited to just twenty people per day in the North Coyote Buttes region. Good navigation skills are a necessity, meaning knowing how to read a topographical map and use a compass.

Road Directions: The Wire Pass trailhead via House Rock Road is about 35 miles west of Page, Arizona and some 40 miles east of Kanab, Utah. The elevation gain is 325 feet with a starting elevation of 4,875 feet. Worth mentioning again is for hikers to consult regional topographical maps before entering this sector of the canyon country. Moreover, always check the weather before venturing into any canyon country sector.

Remember: only twenty hikers per day are permitted to hike here. Routing can also be tricky for novices (which means the larger portion of potential hikers is at least a given).

The important landmark en route is the Vertical Crack (a/k/a/ "the Notch"). The Wave formation is located beneath this conspicuous crack in the backdrop (between this wall of rock and the telltale fracture). It’s best to hike on the high route which, in some obvious sectors, requires wall-hugging sandstone slabs. Twin Buttes is the next featured landmark. Look for two noticeable and large butte formations about halfway through the hike. From there, and just across the wash, multicolored domes appear. To the right is The Wave sector. The area called Top Rock (toward the south end) is Navajo Sandstone, the prominent wan-tinctured formation so prominent in this part of Utah. This landmark (also conspicuous) divides North and South Coyote Buttes. On the northwest edge of Top Rock is a chasm. This marks the entryway leading to The Wave (about .4 mile south).

Typical sandstone country and scenery in this sector (so pay attention where you're walking and wanting to go):

For most hikers, The Wave is the final destination. However, Top Arch is another local spectacle to see. It also requires rock scrambling ability to get there (and can be approached from the backside of the mountain flank). Ergo, another reason to wear proper footwear.

Top Arch (photo by DeVane Webster):

Once there the easily distinguished red cones of South Coyote Butte are visible in the distance. Look also for pinkish dinosaur tracks on the other side of the wash which is just opposite The Wave. The tracks were likely made by a common carnivore dinosaur that once roamed this regional territory, coelophysis (about 10 feet). Perhaps it was a species called grallator (Megapnosaurus, meaning “big dead lizard”) from the Early Jurassic (roughly, 199 to 175 million years ago). You'll know this creature by these telltale prints:

Of course, if you should see this fellah run like hell. . .they ate just about anything:

For the other fellah, coelophysis (pronounced "see-lo-phy-sis"). . .this is what this one-ton meat eater looks like:

Here's what this rather aggressive dino's tracks look like (also, quite common in parts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico):

Enjoy the hike or hikes if you do visit this sector of Utah. There will be other featured hiking diaries, so stay tuned for a continuation in this series.

As always, your thoughtful commentaries are welcomed.


FYI: For a list of all diaries posted to date, please see the growing inventory by clicking on my profile. There are many “next” buttons to click in order to view the numerous titles. If commenting on an older diary, please send me an email to my profile account. That way I am sure to notice it and respond. Gracias.

Note: Under the "Fair Use" protocol, which is a limitation and exception to the exclusive right granted by copyright law to the author of a creative work, photographs, pictures and illustrations, including maps (that are not my own personal property), posted in my diaries provide for the legal, unlicensed citation or incorporation of copyrighted material in use of another author's work under a four-factor balancing test. Ergo, the diary posts are strictly for an educational purpose and are transformative (using an image in a broader story or educational presentation with text). In short, my diaries are promoting an educational presentation intended only to help Daily Kos community members learn more about the many topics my diaries feature.

Originally posted to richholtzin on Sun Mar 10, 2013 at 08:02 AM PDT.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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