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Prologue: Welcome to the world's most famous entrenched meanders––goosenecks by the more common term. If you have ever rafted the typical slow and muddy water of the San Juan slipping through this vicinity, you cannot help but be blown away by these meanders rising high above you. Their bulwarks actually force the river to take a detour around the obstacles in their path. Then again, that's what meanders: they alter the course of a river and make impressive backdrop scenery. But there is more to the scene than this and all that will be explained in today's diary.

Location/Geography: Near the southern border of Utah, the closest town is Mexican Hat. Area: 10 acres (40 sq. km). Elevation: 4,949 feet.

Spotlight: World's greatest entrenched meanders, bar none. The muddy, slow San Juan River taking the so-called long way around (by way of the meanders it carved). Hiking. Focus: geology, hiking and classic desert country scenery.

Snapshot: Goosenecks SP overlooks a series deep and impressive bends of the San Juan River. These serpentine bends are considered the most classic entrenched meanders in the world. Here, downcutting by the river has uniquely dissected the crest of the Monument Uplift, which defines a broad dome that buckled during the Laramide Orogeny event some 66 million years ago (also the great uplifting of the Rocky Mountains, and soon thereafter the birthing of the Colorado Plateau). As a state park, however, Goosenecks is largely undeveloped. Primitive is another way to describe it. Nearby Mexican Hat is the major scenic hub and tourist hamlet, especially for boaters coming off the river. From the summit overlooking the meanders, clear views of Monument Valley are seen in the southeast. Closer, the Moki Dugout (sometimes spelled “Moqui”) leading to the summit of Cedar Mesa and the Raplee Anticline (a.k.a. the Navajo tapestry of colorful rocks) adds to the long, wide view. Muley Point and Valley of the Gods (see Destinations list) are all within 15 to 20 miles (24 to 32 km) of the goosenecks.

The awesome view from high, high above the meander formation folds
(Diary continues after the fold)

Rowing down the usually slow and muddy San Juan River!

Guided Tour Essentials: A major blueprint of change created this geography of diverse features. River gravels on higher ramparts, such as nearby Douglas Mesa, are geologic clues to just how much of a geophysical change occurred before and after a regional upwarp of the landmass. (An "upwarp" defines a broad anticline with gently sloping limbs formed as a result of differential uplift.) This crustal force defines the Monument Upwarp that fabricated the prominent vistas common in this sector. In the geologic scheme of things, it was some twenty million years ago when the San Juan River carved the initial outline of oxbows into the buried rock layers. These formations were later exposed, revealing the impressive site we see and admire today. Where the goosenecks formed, rocks at their upper surface level represent the Honaker Trail Formation, while older Pennsylvanian Hermosa Formation is exposed in the gorge where the silt laden river lazily flows some 1,000 feet below the summit. This is Mesozoic Era Comb Ridge country. Its colorful Triassic Period rocks form long lines of cuestas (denoting a ridge formed by gently tilted rock strata in a homoclinal structure) and hogbacks (denoting ridges formed from a monocline, such as Comb Ridge's remarkable landform and composed of steeply tilted strata of rock protruding from the landscape).

The unique and scalloped profile of the amazing and elongate Comb Ridge (with a rather daunting subject for a foreground image for the sake of perspective and thrills).

Combined, the sculpting process is due to large-scale differential erosion and weathering of the sedimentary materials. At the crest of the ridge is the cross-bedded Navajo Sandstone––he petrified sand accumulation from the Jurassic Period and much like the environs of a Sahara Desert. Here at the overlook the crested top of the goosenecks reveals its unique differential-erosion sloping facade of marine limestone.

Geology: The Goosenecks formations were some 300 million years in the making. The Honaker Formation comprise the upper sediments, the Pennsylvanian Hermosa Formation lies somewhat in the middle and the Paradox Formation forms the base. These distinct sedimentary deposits define the principle geology of this cleaved, wrinkled and folded topography.

Millions of years ago, the Monument Upwarp (a wide, immense north-south anticline) forced the river to carve a series of incised meanders that deepened over time. This event simultaneously happened as the surrounding landscape slowly rose in elevation. Hence, without uplift of the terrain, downcutting by rivers would not have occurred. Eroded by water, wind, frost and gravity, the famed Goosenecks of the San Juan constitute a classic location for observing incised meanders.

The pronounced turns in the indolent river's course through this region meanders back and forth, flowing for more than 5 miles, while progressing forward for an amazing single linear mile. The resulting process (by erosion) works in tandem with the slope of the river. If the slope of a previously established meandering stream is suddenly increased, which took place in this locale, then it will resume its downward erosion. Thus, the base level of the stream is reduced.

From the satellite's extreme view. . .voila!

As the stream erodes downwards, its established meandering pattern will remain as a deep valley. This process is known as an incised meander, and sometimes called an entrenched meander.

An overview of the entrenched meander series

The San Juan River: This usually slow-moving body of water established its route westward and through this region sometime during the late Oligocene (some 23 million years ago) or early Miocene (some 15 million years ago). At the time, the river was forced to abandon its previous route toward the northwest, where it had cut across portions of southwestern (present-day) Colorado. Attempting to find the lowest spot between the Monument Upwarp to the north and the Defiance Plateau to the south (near Canyon de Chelly), the initial route in this vicinity was somewhat south of its current path. (Proof of this are the older river gravel deposits on the south side of Douglas Mesa are remnants from this former established route.) Once the river got past the western sector of the upwarp, this earlier version of the San Juan turned north, then headed toward a larger drainage (today's Colorado River).

Today’s San Juan is a major tributary of the Colorado River, measuring 400 miles long, with an average flow of 3,770 c.f.s. (cubic feet per second). The c.f.s. remarkably drops after the spring runoff and increases temporarily only during summer monsoonal rains. It's not what one would dub a whitewater river by any stretch of the imagination, though there are some decent rapids here and there (none higher than Class III) for part of the summer. What the San Juan lacks in whitewater (and more like brown water since it’s typically muddy) it more than makes up for with spectacular scenery. There are also scores of Ancestors ruins along its meandering course. Rising in southern Colorado along the southern slope of the San Juan Mountains, it flow down and to the west of the Continental Divide (in southwestern Colorado). From there it continues into New Mexico, briefly flowing across the southwestern corner of Colorado and Utah, eventually merging with Lake Powell. The San Juan River's most famous stretch is arguably the goosenecks.

Upstream from the goosenecks, the peaceful, and some say, idyllic, San Juan moseys on.

And to think how this indolent body of water did all of this. . .

A more dramatic B/W depiction beneath a dramatic sky!

Bonus Details: For those with the stamina, there's only one way down to the San Juan River from the Goosenecks overlook: the Honaker Trail. For a full description of this fairly strenuous trail, see tomorrow's diary. The description also includes a geologic explanation from top to bottom.

Parting shot:

The unique, colorful, bent, corrugated, incised, and heavily warped topography of the regional surroundings where the San Juan River does its lazy meandering thing!

Directions: Travel about 9 mile north of Mexican Hat on Hwy. 163 to Utah 261 (about 5 miles), then U-316 (smaller unpaved stretch) to the overlook.

A regional map, just in case you want to see more sites in this wide and far general vicinity of the Four Corners region:

Contact Information: Goosenecks of the San Juan State Park, P. O. Box 788, Blanding UT. 84511-0788 Phone: 435-678.2238. Fax and Email: non-listed.

And so, DKos community, we come to the end of another trail, another armchair tour. Join me tomorrow for special add-on tour to the Goosenecks, this time a hike to the San Juan River and a closer view of these stunning meanders. It's also going to be quite a 'hoof' for those who have the physical stamina. Then again, there's always the use of one's imagination by way of description about this hike.

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 or by dialing in this URL:

Note: If commenting on an older diary, please send an email to my profile account and I am sure to respond in a timely manner. Although all the diary material is extrapolated from a larger copyrighted main source (my own works-in-progress) feel free to “liberate” given anything that I have posted thus far. That being said, kindly site the original source. Gracias.

Photos used in diaries: Unless otherwise indicated, all photos posted in my diary series are “Fair Use” and strictly educational in purpose and intent. See “Attributed” slot for photo identity source (usually Creative Commons non-commercial use only and Public Domain sources).

Originally posted to richholtzin on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 09:26 AM PDT.

Also republished by DK GreenRoots and National Parks and Wildlife Refuges.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Love this place. (4+ / 0-)

    Used to camp above the Goosenecks on BLM land above Mexican Hat. Above meant going up a series of switchbacks, in a 34' RV with family, to reach a fantastic viewpoint of the Goosenecks & the Navajo Nation to the south.

    "You are what you write, not what you look like."

    by PHScott on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 09:48:59 AM PDT

    •  and if you haven't been to the bottom. . . (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Thinking Fella, RiveroftheWest

      and looking up, PHScott, that view and depiction follows in tomorrow's sort of sequel. Truly singular and gorgeous and engaging country in this vicinity of Comb Ridge. Thanks for posting your comments. Many people don't even realize the Goosenecks are the most famous in the world. But you do, I'm betting.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 10:16:53 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  We've stopped there... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Thinking Fella, RiveroftheWest

    ...a couple of times but unfortunately have never done any hiking.  However, the view from the top is just spectacular.  There aren't many folks around either.  We had the viewpoint to ourselves.    

    I'm not always political, but when I am I vote Democratic. Stay Democratic, my friends. -The Most Interesting Man in the World

    by boran2 on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 09:50:23 AM PDT

    •  and the same below. . . (3+ / 0-)

      given the look straight up at those lovely natural beauties. I used to row thru here, running trips on ye olde San Yawn, as the river is sometimes called when it's barely trickling 1,100 c.f.s., but that's what makes the trip thru this region so engaging: lots of time to drift by, like a slow-moving water bug, just ogling the scenery, taxing the old neck muscles, because the view is mostly straight up, and of course, the San Juan in this vicinity has loads of archeological ruins, and just about everyone of 'em inviting passerbys to drop by and get their heads and bodies into prehistoric history. Thanks for posting your comment. See you on tomorrow's diary, since that'll be the hike you likely never got around to taking, so you can hitch a ride on my pack as I get my head below the rim and describe the hike in detail.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 10:20:50 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It's been too long since I've been to this (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Thinking Fella, Polly Syllabic

    part of the country. Thanks for another wonderful diary.

    Fry, don't be a hero! It's not covered by our health plan!

    by elfling on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 10:16:28 AM PDT

    •  So. . .what's keeping you. . . (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      elfling, RiveroftheWest

      elfling from returning? And if you do we're all going to expect a diary from you and your adventures. So there! I mean, now you're on the hook. Meanwhile, thanks for posting your comment.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 11:11:57 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  My Home river! (3+ / 0-)

    from wiki:
    "The largest tributary of the San Juan is the Animas River, followed by the Piedra and Los Pinos rivers. The tributaries of the San Juan River that are located in Colorado also flow from the San Juan Mountains, including the Animas River, the La Plata River, the Los Pinos River, the Navajo River and the Piedra River."

    The Animas River sustains Durango, CO(which is in La Plata County), and I've been tons of places along it. The Los Pinos, also known as The Pine River, flows within 3 or 4 miles of me, and is the focal point of both Bayfield & Ignacio, CO--my neighboring communities. Ahh, but the Piedra River, he says dreamily. The Piedra flows from way, way up on high on the Continetal Divide. It is a wild & free river, although not by official designation. It sustains a ton of wildlife and forest, and is a beautiful spot for hiking, camping, and hot spring soaking. There are even hot springs IN the river near Chimney Rock Nat monument. I LOVE the Piedra! The Piedra spills into, and fills, Navajo Lake/Dam, and when the water leaves the dam, it is known then as The San Juan River. The San Juan is often cited as one of the best fly fishing rivers in the US. I was just there yesterday, hiking in Simon Canyon, a place with unadvertised Native American 'ruins'--in this case, a stone lookout built by the Utes to keep a watch for the Navajo. Built around 1700, it still stands on top of a GIANT boulder, and affords great views up & down the washes that add to the San Juan...
    A great, great place, rarely visited.

    Also, for you CT is said that a UFO crashed nearby a few years after Roswell. Aztec, NM is the nearest town. There is a cool mountain bike route there, named 'Alien Run'. Fwiw, I've been all over there and seen no signs of aliens or UFO crashes...  :)

    Thanks for another fine diary, Rich. Double bonus for it being the closest to my hut as yet!

    The better I know people, the more I like my dog.

    by Thinking Fella on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 10:23:42 AM PDT

    •  about your luminous posting. . . (3+ / 0-)

      Thinking Fellah, I'm thinking if you don't write a diary on this stuff, expanded of course, a lot of DKos community members, including myself, will be missing out on something exceptional. WELL? In the meantime, I think you know your subject and area well and what you related to really does add to the San Juan country's exceptional topography and the importance of all the drainage in this sector. Thank you so much for the comment. I am very indebted to you for having done so. Give us more (your own diary, of course)!!!

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 11:10:49 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Oh pa-shaw! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        I'm just relating what I know from stumbling around my general neighborhood!

        Your diaries are lush, rich, informative, educational, and a treat to read.

        I owe dkos a snowshoeing diary-which I'll do this summer, when folks might want to read about snow. Right now everyone is DONE with snow--me included. I also said I'd write another diary for my local State Rep, Mike McLachlin, who is facing a recall over his CO gun votes... I am kicking around a series of diaries during my summer of travel this year. We'll see how it goes. Thanks for the suggestion I wrote more!

        The better I know people, the more I like my dog.

        by Thinking Fella on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 11:28:44 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  SURPRISE! on Ut-261S on way to Goosenecks... (3+ / 0-)

    As astonishing as the convoluted set of tight, consecutive horseshoe bends at Goosnecks State Part are, if you approach the park from the north along Utah 216-South (which junctions off scenic Utah 95 near Natural Bridges National of the most dramatic surprises of your entire road-trip life awaits you just over twenty miles down the road.  After traveling through broad, rolling semiarid plateau country with long-distance vistas over a decent, paved two-lane road, with little visible warning you come to the edge of a thousand-foot near-sheer which the road narrows, turns to gravel and ABRUPTLY drops down the face of in the most vertigo-inducing series of tight switchbacks you could ever imagine.  See the sixth picture from the above essay, with a description beginning "The unique and scalloped profile of the amazing and elongate Comb Ridge..."...well, that's the kind of cliff-face UT-261 drops off of.

    The Goosenecks State Park views are hardly any letdown once you complete the journey there along the route described, but OTOH, it's fair to say the drive down the clifface on UT-261 is a unique, at least equal adventure unto itself.  DON'T TRY THE UT-261 ROUTE DRIVING AN RV OR PULLING ANY SORT OF TRAILER; the road and switchbacks are too narrow, tight, and steep!!!

    •  been there, done that. . . (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, Leftcandid, dewtx

      wish I hadn't (HA!), but you're right, cmoreNC...don't you dare try this stunt in an RV or pulling a trailer (though I am sure you already know folks have done same. . .and some that didn't quite make it). Never mind. But thanks for posting the advertisement, because this entire region has such stunning scenery, superb landmarks, that you need to spend a long time here just to get it on in. Comb Ridge, like Comb Wash below, is also one of my very favorite places to hike and enjoy quite an adventure. Always. Thanks for posting your telling and daring comments.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 02:49:41 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  This road? Looks dangerous in monsoon season. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cmoreNC, dewtx, RiveroftheWest

      look for my eSci diary series Thursday evening.

      by FishOutofWater on Tue Apr 23, 2013 at 12:38:08 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  ah yes, the infamous dugway... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dewtx, RiveroftheWest

        I never tackled it during the monsoon but did manage to skirt up its steep incline during a light snow (which somehow gave the 15-pax Ford van better traction (although the Elderhostlers with me were rather skirmish in their seats...ha). And I have seen videos of this road, both fair and clement weather, and now I have this one to scare folks with (well, not really). I take it you were behind the lens??? Thanks for posting, FishOutofWater. Come the monsoon season this year I expect to see another video with you going up or down the Moqui hell bent for leather. Nothing less'll do.

        Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

        by richholtzin on Tue Apr 23, 2013 at 01:46:14 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, that one! Going down is scarier... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ...even going up, you can see how abruptly quick, steep, and deep the dropoff is off the downhill side of the road - there isn't even any shoulder between the road-edge and dropoff.  And that 18-wheel trucker going shown driving down the dropoff on Ut-261 was absolutely insane to do that - I'm not sure it's even legal for trucks like that to go on the dropoff part of that route. Even though I understand the motivation to save the extra 40 miles longer to go around via Ut-95/191/163, it won't do the trucker nor any cars he forces off the edge any good to fall off and get killed.

        •  that incident... (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          of the trucker. . .not as rare as you'd think. I never met one coming up or down, but I have heard from others how they got the mess scared out of 'em when encountering such beats. But the road is open to any and all who can negotiate. So far as I know, there's never been an 18-wheeler going over the side, or pushing others in such a direction, though I am pretty sure folks stop when the trucks pass and pray to the saints the debris in the dust doesn't launch small pebbles that are bound to break a car's windows. Ergo, never follow too close; given those big rigs a long leadway, and understand coming down that way (from Natural Bridges) also cuts off mileage, though it's sure as hell hard on the brakes. Of course, those dudes use the Jake break all the way down. Rather noisy, that. Great video FishOutofWater sent. That's a keeper. I'm ready for someone sending me one while driving in a monsoon! Or snowstorm!

          Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

          by richholtzin on Tue Apr 23, 2013 at 04:15:22 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

  •  Captivating place. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Even looking at the pictures, it seems magical.  Thank You!

    -7.62, -7.28 "Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." -Langston Hughes

    by luckylizard on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 01:04:36 PM PDT

    •  entralling, magical, stupendous... (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, luckylizard, dewtx

      lots of adjectives can be used for such an awe-inspiring scheme of the river having to work so hard to get a little mileage just to get to where it's going (in this case, Lake Powell, whereas before it was headed directly for the Colorado River. Anyway, magical will do and thanks for posting your comment.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 02:46:17 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Goosenecks (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RiveroftheWest, dewtx

    Again, I got here later this evening. Never heard of this one either! Would it be possible to kayak down this river or would it be too hard to just go part way? I need to investigate this one - it looks so intriguing.

    •  that's the best way. . . (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      RiveroftheWest, dewtx

      and so is a canoe. Hardly anything more than a Class 2 rapid, unless there's a lot of c.f.s. pumping thru, in which case a Class 3 is tops. But otherwise. . .you have the right idea to see and experience the Gooses, wynative. So...when are you packing and headed down stream as it were? Thanks for posting, as always. You sure do have a huge appetite for the outdoors! Good on you having such.

      Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

      by richholtzin on Mon Apr 22, 2013 at 05:53:02 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Thanks for the memories! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        The San Juan river trip two years ago was a memorable one.  We took extra time to explore places you can't get to except via the river.

        Great pictures of the Goosenecks, great extra information.

        There are several outfitters that will take you down the San Juan.

        And here I thought "Dugway" was the guy responsible for the "Dugway Proving Grounds" :-)

        Just to be is a blessing; just to live is holy -- Abraham J. Heschel

        by jotter on Tue Apr 23, 2013 at 07:06:55 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  the ruins places. . . (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          those kind of out of the way places is what accentuates floating down this river so very special. Some folks might not like the slow passage thru this area, but for most boatmen interested in archeological history. . .it's ideal for making a living working the oars. Sure worked for me. Anyway, thank you so much, jotter, for your comments. And, like you, I thought "Dugway" was a guy, until I found out his last name was Moquie, and then I got lost in all that ancient anthropology stuff. Oh sell, we were both fooled, huh?

          Treat the world (yourself, and others) as part of a living organism. Everyone and everything will benefit.

          by richholtzin on Tue Apr 23, 2013 at 07:50:29 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

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