Goosenecks of the Gods (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source Computing, Science, and Nature.

Fri, 22 Oct 2004

Goosenecks of the Gods

Our scenic loop to the Valley of the Gods began with cold, windy, overcast, drizzly skies. But as if to make up for the weather, we were greeted with a rainbow almost as soon as we hit highway 95. Or maybe that was to make up for the snow flurries we encountered a few miles later. Whatever.

We headed down highway 261, eschewing Natural Bridges National Monument. Been there, done that. We were headed for Muley Point, which turned out to be an unmarked dirt road turnoff just before the Moqui Dugway. Four miles of relatively good dirt road led us to two stunning viewpoints overlooking the sinuous San Juan river and points beyond, such as Monument Valley, Alhambra Peak, and Valley of the Gods. The wind was icy, but the view was worth it.

Returning to the highway, we headed down the Moqui Dugway (variously spelled Moki or Mokee, depending on which map you use; everyone seems to spell Dugway the same). This is a steep (11%) grade, gravel except on a few turns where pavement returns, winding 1100' down the side of Cedar Mesa to the bottom. Why it's gravel when the rest of the highway is paved isn't clear. But it's fun.

At the bottom of the Dugway, a BLM dirt road goes left into Valley of the Gods. But we decided to see the Goosenecks of the San Juan first.

At Goosenecks, the San Juan river travels over six river miles in the space of only a mile and a half. It's held up as one of the best examples anywhere of an entrenched meander, where a lazily meandering river on nearly-level terrain cuts a shallow channel, then rapid uplift of the area (in this case, the Colorado Plateau) causes the river to cut a deep canyon.

There are entrenched meanders all over the area -- such as Bowtie Bend and Dead Horse Point -- but nowhere are there so many, in such a short space. It's very impressive.

And that's all there is to Goosenecks of the San Juan State Park -- one amazing overlook. There's a trail somewhere (the Honaker Trail, namesake for the rocks comprising the upper two-thirds of the San Juan's canyon; the bottom third is the Paradox Formation, both Pennsylvanian layers of limestone and shale) but it's accessed from outside the park, and there's no information about it at the park.

We backtracked to the west end of Valley of the Gods Road and began our divine journey, following a guide we'd picked up at the visitor's center in Blanding. The first rock on the list was Balanced Rock -- I pointed it out. "No," said Dave, "that's got to be Lady in a Tub. That's exactly what it looks like." "Um, I don't see that on the list here." It turned out that this was an alternate name for the same rock, listed on the map but not in the guide. And indeed, it was a good name -- except that as we proceeded down the road, it became a Man in a Tub.

It's a while before the next Named Rock on the guide, but that's okay; there are fascinating rock formations everywhere. The light was difficult for photography, since it was still mostly overcast, but that made for dramatic light when the sun did come out.

And a few miles in, I spotted an even more interesting formation: a tarantula making its way across the road. We go tarantula spotting every year, but the season when the males go wandering aboveground in search of females is so short that we often miss it. This year we were sure we'd missed the season at home; so finding one here was serendipitous. This one appeared to have no inclination to get off the road, so we had plenty of time to shoot photos (including "tarantula walks over the camera" and "real tarantula completely ignores our rubber tarantula") while we gently tried to persuade him to walk by the side of the road and not in the middle.

We invented names for unnamed rock formations, like "Mohawk with Squirrel on Head" and the nearby "Organ Grinder's Monkey, with Drum". Rooster Butte should have been Senorita Butte -- a Spanish dancer with full flowing skirts. Occasionally the road became mildly technical, with rocks or gully crossings. "Chacoan speed bumps!" exclaimed Dave. Two painters had set up camp right in the middle of a wash, with their easels right by the road -- maybe dust is part of the art, and a flash flood just gives an artist more inspiration. Setting Hen Butte (its official name) has giant sandstone eggs all around it.

Too soon, we found ourselves at the other end of the road, and the highway. But before heading back to Blanding, we took a detour to Sand Island, near Bluff, to see what was there. What was there was petroglyphs -- a whole wall of them, comparable to the much more famous Newspaper Rock to the north near Monticello. Excellent rams and elk, snakes, and other figures. But what interested me most was all the Kokopelli-like figures. Kokopelli (the dancing flute-playing trickster) shows up in nearly every gift shop in the southwest. He's so prevalent that a mapmaker in Moab (Cheap is Real) comments on the back of each map that it is a "100% Kokopelli-free product"). Yet in the rock art I've seen, I have yet to see an actual Kokopelli -- until Sand Island. Sand Island is definitely not a Kokopelli-free zone. But it's a great set of petroglyphs.

Photos of Goosenecks, Valley of the Gods, the tarantula, and Sand Island Petroglyphs.

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[ 21:48 Oct 22, 2004    More travel/anasazi | permalink to this entry | comments ]
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