A memoir told in geology

By Carol / March 18, 2013 /
Bryce Canyon, Utah, Hoodoos

Bryce Canyon, Utah, Hoodoos

A drive through the southwest United States invariably inspires my interest in geology. The seismic power of uplifts reveals sheer walls of stone. The layers of red, white, green rock tell of eons of floods, the arrival of shell fish, the retreat of water. The progress of the earth’s development is stripped bare and we see both pain and beauty in this brilliant and honest memoir.

In the past few days, I’ve visited the canyons of southern Utah, where wind and water have created some of the most amazing land formations one is likely to see on earth. Even the pictures I’d seen hadn’t prepared me for the Hoodoos of Bryce Canyon.

Hoodoos are columns of weathered rock shaped by the wind and rain over thousands of years. Layers of softer and harder sedimentary rock cause the erosion to shape the spires into infinitely varied shapes limited only by your imagination. You might see Abraham Lincoln, Medieval castles, Cleopatra on her throne, or Casper the Friendly Ghost. An overlook called Inspiration Point provided a view of thousands of hoodoos in tight formation reminding me of the soldiers in the famous Terracotta Army in China.

The alluvial fan on the left is beginning to birth new hoodoos.

The alluvial fan on the left is beginning to birth new hoodoos.

A park ranger shared pictures of some of the hoodoos taken 60 years ago and pictures of those same hoodoos taken in the past year. Erosion has taken its toll. Eventually the spires will be too weak to support themselves and they’ll crumple to dust. The erosion is steady and significant. The rim of the canyon erodes at the rate of 1 to 4 feet each 100 years.

This made me a little sad, as reading memoirs sometimes does. What would be here for future generations, I wondered.  The ranger offered hope. As the erosion continues, new hoodoos emerge out of the alluvial fans.  If you look closely at the left side of the picture, you can see it happening. Today’s hoodoo soldiers will fade away to be replaced by the new recruits of the future.

Subscribe below for blog updates

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Posted in , ,



  1. Sue Mitchell on March 18, 2013 at 10:48 am

    Carol, I love the idea of geologic formations being a form of memoir. Even though it is especially well demonstrated in the canyon country, it would be fun anywhere to walk around outside and look for the stories that the landscape tells.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on March 18, 2013 at 11:49 am

      You’re right, Sue, the canyon country brings the story right up in our faces. As I wrote this post, I also thought about the landscape of my home state, Iowa. There are many stories but they would be exceedingly different stories.

  2. Belinda Nicoll on March 18, 2013 at 12:42 pm

    Ooh, I’ve been there – beautiful landscape…well-weathered, like our lives.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on March 18, 2013 at 1:01 pm

      Yes! The comparisons to be made between the landscape and our lives are countless. The landscape shows the scars of a full life, just as we do.

  3. David Lawlor on March 19, 2013 at 1:24 am

    Nice post, Carol. I’d love to go there. I like the cyclical nature of the eroding rock being replaced over time. You;re right, it’s very much a metaphor for our weathered selves.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on March 19, 2013 at 10:05 am

      The new rocks emerging was very encouraging to me, David. If you ever have a chance to get to the U.S., you wouldn’t be disappointed in any time you could spend in Bryce.

  4. Sharon Lippincott on March 19, 2013 at 4:49 am

    This area is on my bucket list, and your account is moving it higher. Thanks a bunch. Your trip sounds spectacular.

    • Carol Bodensteiner on March 19, 2013 at 10:07 am

      The United States offers endless variety, Sharon. The bucket list can be very long! This has been an amazing grip, reconnecting with old friends (both human and geologic), seeing new and unexpectedly stunning places, and moving my writing forward, too. It’s all good!

  5. Grace Peterson on March 19, 2013 at 4:51 pm

    The illustration of the hoodoos is so apt for memoir–the fluidity of life, the constant change and new perspectives. So interesting. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Mary Gottschalk on March 19, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    A wonderful snapshot of how our country’s story is told. I agree that the ancient hoodoos are breathtaking, but what was most impressive was seeing the new, immeasurably small hoodoos coming up out of eroding hillsides. A bit like being present at the creation!

    • Carol Bodensteiner on March 19, 2013 at 9:09 pm

      That wasn’t called Inspiration Point for nothing! Thanks, Mary.

Leave a Comment