Friday, July 30, 2010

Geology Festival at Bryce Canyon

Towering cumulonimbus clouds and summer monsoon rains provide the perfect backdrop to the first ever Geology Festival held at Bryce Canyon National Park July 30 and 31. The festival celebrates the geologic heritage on display in one of our nations most endearing national landscapes - Bryce Canyon. It is here that hoodoos are carved in the relatively young Claron Formation, a freshwater lake deposit about 45 to 50 million years old. Although most visitors are captivated by the hoodoos strange shapes and brilliant color, geologists also see a past landscape recorded in colorful layers that stretch from the Basin and Range in western Utah to the high Table Cliff Plateau above Escalante, Utah.

I am one of the keynote speakers at this event along with renown paleontologist Dr. David Gillette. Our hosts are the interpretation team at BCNP and employees of the non-profit Bryce Canyon Natural History Association. We have been treated to fantastic field trips, tantalizing hikes, informative lectures, and a gracious sense of welcoming by all here. We are hopeful that other parks on the Colorado Plateau will see this festival as a way to highlight their own geologic story, for while most people think that the parks were preserved for their scenic values, these same values are derived ultimately from their geologic origin. Here are a few pictures from this mornings field trip to Rainbow Point.

The magnificent landscape at Bryce Canyon, Utah is the setting of the 1st-ever Geology Festival at this world class national park. The Claron Formation was deposited across a broad swath of southwestern Utah in freshwater lakes and by streams that originated in Nevada and Arizona. More recent erosion has sculpted this deposit into interesting hoodoos.

My wife Helen with Gayle Pollock, the director of the Bryce Canyon Natural History Association at the entrance to the parks visitor center. The banner proudly announces the festival to all visitors. At my 1:00 lecture today, there were over 100 people in attendance, many of them hearing of the geologic heritage of this region for the first time. We hope that other parks in this area will make more profound attempts to get their geologic stories out to the general public.

Marilyn Blukley (Education coordinator for the BCNHA) and Dan Ng (Chief of Interpretation for BCNP) pose at Bryce Point for a photo. Everyone here has been so welcoming and accommodating. The festival is a roaring success and plans are already underway for the next festival in 2011.

Janet and Dave Gillette pose at Yovimpa Point on this mornings bus tour. Both are trained as geologists and work at the Museum of Northern Arizona. Dave is a world-renown paleontologist who has dug dinosaurs all over the southwest and worldwide. His lecture topic at the festival is about a dig he completed near Lake Powell on a creature called Therizinosaur. Check it out. Dave is an accomplished researcher and a great speaker.

An example of an ammonite from the Tropic Shale in Bryce Canyon National Park. Most visitors do not know that the park harbors vast paleontological specimens from the Cretaceous time period.

View of the Natural Bridge at an overlook in Bryce. It is one of the most photographed rocks in the park. A natural bridge is different from an arch or window in that it has a stream running through the opening. The bridge here may be misnamed although water does run through it during heavy rains.

Gayle Pollock in a teachable moment at Bryce Point. Gayle is an articulate and accomplished speaker who shares his knowledge in an easy and comfortable way. I first met Gayle about 12 years ago when we both were employed in lecturing to groups traveling on private trains and jets in the southwest.

An example of extreme hoodoo formation at Bryce Canyon. Note the upper two hoodoos with a thin cap of white limestone "holding up" the softer pink beds below them. There are perhaps more hoodoos here than at any other single place on planet earth.

Part of our group listens to Gayle at Far View Point.

Summer in the southwest is dynamic with respect to its skies. Cloud free mornings soon see the buildup of immense clouds that release their load of rain to the parched ground below. This has been an especially active monsoon season and Helen and I saw many streams, normally dry, that were full of water.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

National Weather Service Report on the Flagstaff Floods

This blog reported on the huge Schultz fire in late June on the east side of the San Francisco Peaks. Now, a strong monsoon pattern has developed over northern Arizona and strong tropical moisture is dousing the forests in our state. While this is great for the pine greenery here, the severely burned area on the Peaks cannot hold the runoff from this rain. The National Weather Service has made an excellent summary of the flooding events here in Flastaff. Look at the National Weather Service site to see what's happening.