Monday, November 30, 2009

Moab River Rendezvous - Snow on Geology

In November I traveled to Moab, Utah where I gave a lecture on "Ancient Landscapes of the Colorado Plateau." The lecture was given in conjunction with the 1st Annual River Rendezvous. This event was organized by my friends, Michael Smith and Tamsin McCormick, who run Plateau Restoration. About 60 southwestern river runners were in attendance and you can read all about the events at the River Rendezvous here.

On Sunday, November 15, a one-day float trip on the Moab "daily" was organized and about 20 folks participated. I had never before run this stretch of the Colorado River and I saw it in very unique conditions. Have a look!

This is what the weather looked like on Saturday morning near the Red Cliffs Lodge. A big storm was definitely moving in. Fortunately, it did not precipitate during the daytime while everyone was inside attending lectures. But we could tell that "something big" was moving in.

And this is what we woke up to on Sunday morning! It has snowed all night while we slept at the Lodge. Snow this time of the year is somewhat rare at this elevation.

A graceful cottonwood tree frames the red rock cliffs at Hittle Bottom

Here's Michael rigging his boat in the snow. I have rarely (if ever) run a river in such snowy conditions.

Once we put-in on the water it was fantastic scenery

This is a view towards the Fisher Towers, which always feature prominently in my lectures not only because of their scenic erosional forms, but also because of their stratigraphic significance as well. The cliff top is capped by Wingate Sandstone, with an apron of the Chinle Formation below it. The prominent break in the snow-covered slopes (center part of the photo) is composed of the Moenkopi Formation. This unit also caps the towers, which are composed mostly of the Cutler Group. Close-ups of this unit follow below.

Our flotilla of four boats passes a scenic bluff along the Colorado River. It is composed of the Cutler Group.

Loie and Buzz Belknap admire an excellent view of the Cutler rocks. Look for the coarse cobbles of granite in this outcrop, that document deposition in rivers and streams that were flowing out of the Ancestral Rocky Mountains about 290 Ma. These same strata pinch out just five miles to the east and against bedrock that is composed of the same granite. This is the evidence that the Ancestral Rockies once stood where the modern Rockies are today.

I climbed a small hill behind our lunch stop and took a picture of the snow-framed river. Note the red colored run-off on the far bank of the river - as the snow was melting, Onion Creek ran deep red with silt and sand.

Our group enjoying lunch in the warm sun

The La Sal Mountains (right) are a landscape icon in the Moab country. Red rock strata dominate the area but an occasional laccolith pokes through these strata. The stunning contrast between the snow-capped peaks and the snow-mantled strata was striking.

Paddlers floating by one of the local ranches with the Fisher Towers in the background.

A closer view of the scene above

This is the north side of a rock known as the Priest and Nuns, and Castleton Tower (Castle Rock). See the previous blog entry for photos of this same rock taken from the seat of a helicopter two weeks prior!

A view north to the Cache Valley fault. This may be associated with a salt dome in the area.

Close-up view of the thinly-bedded Moenkopi Formation just downstream from the Cache Valley fault. What a wonderful day this was and a hearty thanks to our hosts at Plateau Restoration! Check out their great work at


On the way back home to Flagstaff we saw this blinking sign north of Blanding. Sure enough, a deer ran into our car just a couple of miles beyond this sign. If you are driving between Monticello and Blanding, pay attention to the signs!


  1. Stunningly beautiful... I'm jealous.

  2. What an amazing way to see the river. The snow really highlights the stratigraphy.

  3. Those photos are stunning...I agree with Gaelyn..what a great way to see the river..Amazing. Hope you ended up with a lot of venison suasage! Cheers!

  4. fantastic scenery guys are sure having an early start to winter out there. Its snowing here too but then we expect that...


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