Saturday, January 21, 2017

In Between the Snows: Highway 211 to Indian Creek

An overnight dusting of snow on Entrada Sandstone along Highway 211.
During the night our area in San Juan County, Utah received another few inches of snow at 7,000 feet. Quite a bit more was forecast for the following day and night. But for now it was a lull between relatively mild January snowstorms. Time to get out and about while the main roads were freshly cleared by the snow plow trucks.

In certain conditions overcast skies can be an advantage: soft light. One can use that to their advantage. Particularly in the case of a snowy landscape, which highlights details that one otherwise might miss.

Driving north from Monticello on US 191, I turned west onto Utah-211, a scenic back road and the highway to the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park.

Not far from Hwy. 191 there are outcrops of Entrada Sandstone rising above the sagebrush flats. They are always nice to look at, but this morning with new snow, a light coating, I could see all the waves, folds, and joints in what was left of these sand dunes that had eons ago been turned into rock.

An column of sandstone along the cliff face.
On the flat, the meadow grasses were blonde in their winter color, their season of germination and growth last spring long past. As the slope rose a bit the sagebrush appeared. And higher up, shrubs and Utah Juniper trees.

Highway 211 and eastern boundary of the BLM's Indian Creek Recreation Area.
Several miles in on 211 the road switchbacks down from the high flats to the upper Indian Creek canyon. Just before it does there is a sign announcing the edge of the Bureau of Land Management's Indian Creek Recreation Area. Beyond this sign the area is now part of the newly created Bears Ears National Monument, adjoining the boundary of Canyonlands National Park.

Fresh snow highlights the layers of the Kayenta Formation in Shay graben.
As Highway 211 descends from the upper flats, the geology changes immediately. Suddenly you're going down through a dark red layer of rock. What gives?

A geology guide to this scenic drive says that this spot is called Shay graben. A graben is where there are two parallel faults in the Earth's crust--breaks--and the block in between has downdropped because of them. The red layer is the Kayenta Formation, which the upper flats sit on. The highway is now dropping down through the graben to get down to Indian Creek canyon.

At any rate, I stop a couple of times to photograph the Juniper and Pinyon Pine dotted horizontal layers of the red Kayenta cliffs, set off by the snow coating.

Kayenta Formation red cliffs in Shay graben.
Below the graben the highway straightens out again, because it is following the stream course of upper Indian Creek. Soon after is Newspaper Rock, one of the best panels of petroglyphs (inscriptions pecked into the patina of the rock) in the Southwest.

Newspaper Rock archaeological site, Indian Creek at Highway 211.

Shortly after Newspaper Rock the elevation became too low for last night's snow to stick. So I turned around and headed back up to the flats.

Photo location: northern San Juan County, southeast Utah.

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© Copyright 2017 Stephen J. Krieg

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