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Cathedral Gorge – Natural Wonder – Nevada

Cathedral Gorge - Nevada

Cathedral Gorge

Google Maps: Find It

Tucked away in the south east corner of Nevada, this gem of a state park offers geologic wonders that any landscape photographer  would love. The park offers an interesting geologic mix, from ash and pumice deposits, to the sediment of an ancient lake that are slowly eroding away in the dry desert climate that now exists.

If you have ever seen photographs of the place, the size of what you see can be very deceiving in photographs. Everything looks much larger than it really is. But don’t let this deter you from visiting. You’ll have numerous opportunities to explore the different erosion features, from cave like passageways carved out of the ash deposits, to ruggedly sculptured rock faces, and stone pillars.

The best time to provide visit is at sunrise and sunset, both of which will add a bit of magic to the place, especially with a color-filled sky.

The closet town is Panaca, NV, which is about 2 1/2 hours from Las Vegas, and 5 hours from Salt Lake City.

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Videos:

Cathedral Gorge 4k

Suggested Reading:

Roadside Geology of Nevada – Frank DeCourten and Norma Biggar

 

Chaco Canyon National Monument – Ancient Wonder – New Mexico

Chaco - Pueblo Bonito

Chaco Canyon is a historic national park located in the northwest corner of New Mexico. Along with Mesa Verde to the north, it represents one of the crown jewels of what remains architecturally of the Anasazi culture of the American Southwest. Also known as the Ancestral Puebloans, the Anasazi, and their predecessors inhabited the greater four corners region from about 7500 B.C. until 1300 A.D. The tribes of the region started out as Pleistocene big game hunters, but over time their lifestyle morphed from that of the hunter-gatherer  to mostly sedentary farmers that relied on the planting of maize, squash and beans. Their development over the centuries has been defined in part by what they left behind. At first it was the implements they used to store food, from simple baskets in the beginning to elaborate clay pots in later centuries. In later eras it was their housing that changed significantly, from pit houses, to the elaborate multi-story, multi-roomed mud and stone buildings they are known for today.

Based on numerous studies, scientists speculate that Chaco might have been more of a spiritual or cultural gathering center, rather than a place of permanent habitation. The way many of its buildings seem to align with important solar events,  hints at a possible astronomical significance, that would have required scientific observation of the moon, sun and stars over many generations.

Between, 1100-1300 A.D. the Anasazi began to abandon much of region they inhabited, with Chaco seeing the last inhabitants about 1150. Many theories have been presented regarding their migration away from the region, but one thing is fairly clear, that the climate had become unreliable in later years, making their settled agricultural lifestyle harder and harder to maintain. In Chaco, evidence of a 50 year drought occurring during the period it was finally abandoned, is one of many example. Increasing strife and warfare is another possibility they faced.

While the Anasazi may have moved away, they did not really disappear. Their ancestors include the Hopi of Arizona and the Zuni of New Mexico.

Suggested Reading:

Archeoastronomy of the Chacoan Pueblo (PDF)
House of Rain: Tracking a Vanished Civilization Across the American Southwest – Craig Childs
The Lost World of the Old Ones: Discoveries in the Ancient Southwest – David Roberts
Non-Technical Canyon Hiking Guide to the Colorado Plateau – Mike Kelsey
Grand Gulch, Cedar Mesa Plateau Maps – National Geographic Trails Illustrated Maps

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Bonneville Salt Flats – Natural Wonder – Utah

Bonneville Salt Flats Sunset

Located near Utah’s northwestern border with Nevada, the Bonneville Salt Flats are a geologic remnant of a much wetter time in Utah and the Great Basin. They along with the Great Salt Lake, Sevier Lake, and Utah Lake, were formed by Lake Bonneville, which at its greatest extent was more than 900 ft deep, and covered more than 19,000 square miles. Roughly the size of Lake Michigan. Lake Bonneville existed in one form or other for more than 12 million years, and lasted until 14,500 years ago. Though technically, since the lake has receded and grown dozens of times over its existence, one might be inclined to consider the present just one of those many phases, with the Great Salt Lake the largest remaining component.

One of the most recent causes for the lake’s decline, was the breaking of an earthen dam (created by two converging alluvial fans) at Red Rock Pass, ID. This event led to a massive flood that emptied into the Snake and Columbia Rivers, and made the lake drop more than 300 ft. Ironically this wasn’t the only massive flood the Columbia River would experience during this rapid period of change, as another massive lake, Lake Missoula was undergoing similar cycles of decline and resurgence, as multiple glacial ice dams broke and reformed along the edge of the Pleistocene ice sheets to the north.

Because of the uniform nature of the salt pan that covers the Bonneville Salt Flats it has become a world renowned location for racing high speed vehicles. Some have reached speeds has high as 400 mph.

And for photographers, a section of the salt flats along I-80, offers a natural wonder to behold, especially at sunrise and sunset.  There are really two different photographic opportunities here, and they generally come during different months of the year.  The first which is fairly easy to get, is when the salt flats are dry, and the polygonal salt formation is at its height.  Considering Utah’s climate, most anytime outside of winter will work.

The other opportunity, is to photograph the salt flats in late winter when they are normally covered in water. The combination of lower temperatures, and increased moisture at that time of year tends to raise the salt flat’s shallow water table above the ground surface. The wetter the year, the bigger the window of opportunity, with the best months probably being January and February. As long as you are able to time your visit with windless conditions, it will be a magical experience to behold.

Suggested Reading:

Roadside Geology of Utah – Felicie Williams, Halka Chronic, and Lucy Chronic
On the Trail of the Ice Age Floods: A Geological Field Guide to the Mid-Columbia – Bruce Bjornstad