Nothing much yesterday except the herd of bighorn sheep grazing by the side of the road as we left Moab. (We had planned to stay in Moab for a few days, but the weather turned sour.) The drive through the San Rafael Swell is always impressive, but I've written about that already.
Today, first, a quick stop by Kolob Canyons, a small branch of Zion National Park accessed right off I-15. It's marvelous: a very short road loop with stunning views, and three hikes of varying lengths. We didn't do any hikes due to weather and health issues, but we'll be back!
After leaving St George and Utah and before entering Nevada, I-15 briefly passes through Arizona in the impressive Virgin River Gorge. Arizona doesn't bother with trivialities like nice roadside view areas like Utah and Colorado do.
But there's a BLM area flaking the north side of the gorge, with a dirt road: the Beaver Dam Mountains Wilderness Area. We went a little way up the road; we didn't find views of the gorge from there, either (perhaps farther up?) but the rocks were quite interesting, evidently a mixture of rhyolite and basalt with some bits of tuff and river cobbles (did the Virgin make it up this high before the area was uplifted, or are the cobblers from streams which used to run from higher still?) We'll be back to explore further (with a BLM map, I hope).
Returning to I-15 and crossing into Nevada, we chose a detour: instead of following the interstate through the rush-hour traffic of Las Vegas, we swung left onto a little highway that cuts down by Lake Mead, marked as "scenic" on the map?
Getting through the tiny town of Overton took longer than we expected; its "so ridiculously excessively low as to be obviously a speed trap" speed limit zone went on forever. But we finally emerged out the other side, passing the Lost City Museum (curiously, just last week we'd read an article in the LA Times about an old town near there which had been buried for most of last century by Lake Mead, but which had re-emerged in the last few weeks due to record low water levels, creating great interest among historians). The scenery began to get interesting right away. It offers very little in the way of views of the lake (unless you drive down the side roads leading to the lake itself), but the area is "painted desert" of bentonite or a similar ash, punctuated by jagged peaks of volcanic rock. Most of the land is part of the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Numerous parking areas are located at small oases named This-or-that Spring. Some of the springs are visible from some distance as a grove of palm trees. Are any palm trees actually native to the American southwest, or were they all introduced by settlers?
Update: Apparently the origin of these palms is a point of dispute, but there's quite a bit of evidence arguing for their being native to the area. William Spencer sent me a link to a page discussing the issue and the fight to save the palms.
This goes on for miles, and then gradually bits of brighter color begin to appear, in the shape of red sandstone. We stopped at a parking area on the left, and found a true jewel: Redstone, a little rest stop with a trail of maybe a mile which goes out around the vividly red rocks, with occasional interpretive signs which are interesting and not patronizing. The rock is Aztec Sandstone, formed from dunes which covered the area some 130 million years ago, with wonderful cross-bedding and weathered textures, and nearby mountains of black basalt to provide contrasting color.
After taking the Redstone hike, we continued on the highway, stopping at some of the pullouts, including one which included an interpretive sign describing the "bowl of fire", resulting from a layer of Aztec sandstone which swelled into a domed shape, then eroded from the top, leaving an outer ring. The fiery red ring is easy to see among the darker layers surrounding it.
Presumably the nearby Valley of Fire state park is also Aztec sandstone sculptures; it looks like it from a distance. We wished we'd taken that route, and will next time.
The scenic highway ends in Henderson, leaving us to fight our way through yet more heavy traffic (no matter which way you approach Las Vegas, or at what hour, or how hard you try to bypass the center of town, somehow you always end up in a traffic jam!) to return to I-15 and head down to our destination of Primm, musing on the long, gradual talus slopes so typical of the Mojave desert, and how superficially similar they look to a shield volcano like Mauna Koa. I wonder how the angles of repose compare? (Alas, there's no internet in Primm, so that's a question for a later time.)
[ 21:23 Oct 25, 2004 More travel/anasazi | permalink to this entry | ]