Sunday, April 16, 2017

The Sand Hills - Not Just Another Pretty Place

Although there is growing recognition of the features contained within and around the Vermilion Cliffs National Monument, most people simply overlook the area as a whole because it is large, remote, and can be difficult to access.

Additionally, the few relatively well known places (The Wave and South Coyote Buttes) receive the majority of the attention but are subject to strict limitations on the number of daily visitors.

But what most people miss is literally the big picture.  The Paria Plateau (aka the Sand Hills) is big, and has a variety of beautiful and seldom seen sandstone formations scattered throughout the area.  The challenge of course is having a suitable vehicle to reach more isolated sections, and then having the time, ability, and desire to explore large ridges and bluffs on foot to discover these hidden gems.

The pictures here are from a day trip to an area known as Kid Pen Valley, named in reference to the early pioneer days when Mormon ranchers brought goats to the Plateau to graze on the semi-arid desert shrubs and grasses.  I spent several hours walking around a single outcropping of Navajo sandstone, and barely saw the half of it.

Rock pillars exist in abundance


Toadstools resulting from preferential erosion

Cross bedded sandstone twisted by soft sediment deformation and striking forms created by preferential erosion dominate the landscape.  Vibrant reddish orange colors resulting from iron and manganese saturated water percolating down through the sediments provide contrast and color, adding another dimension to the scene.



Cross bedded sandstone captures ancient dunes



Mineral rich waters seeped into sand layers from prehistoric seas






Moki marbles and iron rich concretions surround hardy plant life

Miniature arch



Getting permits to visit the Wave and South Coyote Buttes is difficult at best, but there are countless other alternatives available with comparable scenery.  Of course driving in the Sand Hills requires an appropriate vehicle and a willingness to explore off the beaten path.  For me that in and of itself is really what it's all about anyway.