Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Deer Creek Canyon

Last year's cottonwood leaf, bleached and papery

Our third day-hike in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in southern Utah took us to Deer Creek Canyon, a short drive east of our lodging in Boulder, Utah, along the Burr Trail Road. Because it is a national monument and not a national park, and because they wanted to ruffle as few feathers as they could when they established the national monument by presidential proclamation, President Clinton and the Interior Department allowed considerable flexibility in land use within the monument--including continued grazing. Deer Creek Canyon is a poster child for overgrazing in the West. Though we actually never saw a live steer during our walk (we did see two carcasses), all edible vegetation had been nibbled to within an inch of its life, the landscape was strewn with cow pies, and countless cattle trails obscured the sandy, unmarked hiking trail. Deer Creek itself, in contrast to Calf Creek (our previous day's hike), is visibly more turbid and less appealing from cattle wallowing and runoff.

Nevertheless, the walk still offered some very pleasant scenery and some good opportunities for capturing images.
Natural desert gardens

A view upstream in the Deer Creek Canyon. Once the creek begins downcutting through the sandstone slickrock, it is confined to a deep ravine with a very narrow riparian corridor.

The view downstream as Deer Creek heads into its deep canyon en route to the Escalante River a few miles away. Deer Creek is one of the famous Escalanate Canyons "protected" in the national monument.

One of the features I found most interesting in the national monument (and adjacent Capitol Reef National Park) was the presence of what I later learned were glacial erratics. Boulder Mountain, to the north and west of the monument, contains a layer of volcanic basalt. During the Pleistocene glaciations, Boulder Mountain was topped with glaciers that flowed outward in all directions--including into the area currently occupied by the national monument. The glaciers carried volcanic boulders and deposited them on the desert landscape as the glaciers retreated. It's so incongruous to see rounded black boulders strewn over the stark, tawny sandstone slickrock.
Dead wood is carried onto the slickrock by summer storms, too.
This was the only rainy day during our eight-day stay in southern Utah. It provided for some interesting backgrounds. Sixty miles away, in Bryce Canyon National Park, it snowed!

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