Friday, July 6, 2012

Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock Canyon is a beautiful park in the Mojave Desert off California State Highway 14.    Only "mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the noonday sun", but since we had the entire park to ourselves two weeks ago, maybe we weren't so "mad" after all.  Unfortunately, due to California's budget crisis, the visitor's center is closed for the summer.  Even so, we were able to drive the loop, park our van at the camp sites and scramble among the rock formations.  This place is a geologist's dream!

Six hundred million years ago, Red Rock Canyon was at the bottom of an ocean.  As the earth's crusts began to shift, the sea bed rose.  Mud, sand and silt flowed into the ocean via streams and formed shale and sandstone.  Exposure to the atmosphere caused oxidation, creating the red and orange colored rocks that we see today.

This is a good place for us amateurs to see first hand what geologists call "thrust faults" and "cross beds."  I missed a ranger's in-depth explanation (California--please get your act together!) but about 180 million years ago,  the ocean was long gone and this area was now part of a vast desert that reached all the way to Colorado.  Sand dunes were blown this way and that, piled up and then hardened.  At Red Rock, the cemented sand is called "Aztec sandstone."

What I loved most was the Gaudi-esque spires of Gothic rock.  I looked up at a cathedral made by nature. Erosion from wind, rain and ice created this enchanting set of cliffs.  Isolated camp sites were tucked beneath them, and we vowed to return when the temperature cools.

The most significant geologic formation in the park  is the Keystone Thrust Fault.  This occurred about 65 million years ago when the crustal plates collided and one was driven over the other, resulting in older layers of rocks on top of younger ones.  You can see the gray carbonate rocks from the ancient ocean sitting on top of the younger tan and red sandstone.  It's actually pretty rare, but absolutely incredible.  So glad we stopped here despite the one hundred degree heat!

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