A memoir told in geology
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.
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.