Monday, January 5, 2009

Where in the West: Professor Valley

David B. Williams of Stories in Stone correctly identified the mystery area in the January-09 WITW as the Professor and Castle valleys, which are located along the Colorado River about 20 miles northeast of Moab, Utah, on backroad Route 128, which heads south from I-70 at exit 204, the westernmost of the Cisco exits. See the topographic map area here.

I've shown the original photo again, below, with major geologic units and contacts added to the duplicate photo below that. It turns out that the central portion of the area, which is the somewhat bowl-shaped Richardson Ampitheater, is underlain by the dark red Permian Cutler Formation, and that red and red-orange Triassic to Jurassic formations make up most of the rest of the picture back to about where I've drawn the Dakota Sandstone, which is Cretaceous.

no geo
geologyPlease note that the contacts between formations, especially between the Permian Cutler Formation and the Triassic Moenkopi Formation, are inexact. Additionally, the contacts between the Wingate Sandstone, Kayenta Formation, Navajo Sandstone, and Entrada Sandstone are inexact, possibly mislocated in some places on the photo, and more complex than shown. Generally speaking, I've left out the Kayenta Formation between the Wingate and Navajo formations, and have only shown a few formations above the Entrada Sandstone for some semblance of simplicity. Do not rely on my lines for any kind of mapping in the area other than crude, for-fun stuff; instead, go to the original sources!

For precise geologic details, please see the three geologic quadrangle maps of the area, the Fisher Towers quadrangle, the Big Bend quadrangle, and the Dewey quadrangle, also referenced below. Other nearby geologic maps can be found here. I noticed geologic explanations and descriptions of map units (map legends) only on the second and third of the above quadrangles. Another, smaller-scale map, covers the entire area, the geologic map of the Moab and eastern part of the San Rafael Desert 30' x 60' quadrangles. To follow along with the general stratigraphy of the area, see the strat column below for nearby Arches National Park.

Arches National Park Stratigraphy from the USGS.

If you go to the original strat column page linked to above, you can click on any formation to find out more - possibly more info than you ever wanted to know - with lots of references and some nice photos! Also check out the ongoing series on the Colorado Plateau at Geotripper.

towers And hey, now for some photos! Above you can see the famous Fisher Towers, with the semi-frozen Colorado River in the foreground and the La Sal Mountains in the background. The photo was taken from Route 128 looking almost directly south, before getting into Professor Valley and the Richardson Ampitheater. For another excellent and similar view of the towers - without snow - see this post at Geotripper, which also describes the Moenkopi Formation.
towersFisher Towers is an awesome place, in my opinion, located on the east side of the Richardson Ampitheater. The towers are capped by the lower part of the Triassic Moenkopi Formation above the Permian Cutler Formation, which forms almost everything you see in the above photo, from the Moenkopi cap down. This view of the towers was taken from the red-dirt access road to Fisher Towers, looking more-or-less to the east.

From the towers, you can look all around the area, with the cliffs and towers behind you, and a grand 180-degree plus view in every other direction.

mesasTo the southeast, looking in the direction of Moab, which you can't actually see, you will have a great view of some mesas and spires. The mesas and spires are formed in the Wingate Sandstone, above the slope-forming Chinle and Moenkopi Formations. This mesa, with its several spires or pillars, is part of a series of mesas that separate Professor Valley from Castle Valley (see topo map).
spiresA closeup of part of the mesa shows the unusual rock formations in more detail. The pillars to the right of the central Wingate Sandstone cliff are called the Priest and Nuns, with the large man-like figure presumably being the priest. The larger pillar to the left of the Wingate cliff is called Castle Rock, and sometimes called Castleton or Castleton Tower. Perry, of Robert Perry Hooker, provided a link to a fabulous panorama taken from the top of Castle Rock.

Also, as mentioned in earlier comments, Jon Bon Jovi shot a video from the central Wingate mesa seen in the previous photo (and from Castle Rock?). The video is for his song Blaze of Glory. Castle Rock, the Priest and Nuns, and Fisher Towers can occasionally be seen in the video, along with other panoramas of the area.

Some References:
Doelling, H. H., 1996, Geologic map of the Dewey quadrangle, Grand County: Utah Geological Survey, M-169, scale 1:24,000.

Doelling, H. H., and Ross, M. L., 1998, Geologic map of the Big Bend quadrangle, Grand County, Utah: Utah Geological Survey, M-171, scale 1:24,000.

Doelling, H. H., 2001, Geologic map of the Moab and eastern part of the San Rafael Desert 30' x 60' quadrangles, Grand and Emery Counties, Utah, and Mesa County, Colorado: Utah Geological Survey M-180, scale 1:100,000.

Doelling, H. H., 2002, Geologic map of the Fisher Towers quadrangle, Grand County, Utah: Utah Geological Survey, M-183, scale 1:24,000.

This post, and others, were submitted to the first Carnival of the Arid at Coyote Crossing.


Lockwood said...

I've visited many of the Colorado Plateau national parks, but spent little time just puttering around in the area, visiting the non-famous areas. Guess I'm missing out... that's stunning! Thanks!

BrianR said...

great post ... such a beautiful area ... nice touch w/ the Bon Jovi video too.

MJC Rocks said...

Well, that just figures...I've driven through there and even blogged about, but couldn't recognize it from the air. I kept trying to make it a place downstream of Moab, not upstream. Good contest!

Silver Fox said...

Geotripper, did you blog about it? I should link to your post - did I miss that one? Actually, David identified it rather rapidly, but I though you might!

Lockwood and Brian, it's a great area - one of my favorites - a great place to camp and spend some time, although usually I just pass through.

Silver Fox said...

I *will* link to your Fisher Tower post - I didn't miss it, I just forgot and lost it! Egads!

Marciepooh said...

Gee, I should have recognized the Chinle considering how much of it I brought home, in my socks, from field camp (mostly in NM). I like these 'Where in the West' posts.

Harold Asmis said...

Don't they do car ads on these things? Could you set up a cabin on one of them and declare your own country?

Silver Fox said...

Howard, how did you know? Here's a link to all/most things filmed in the Moab area including on Chevy, Miller Lite, and Exxon on Castle Rock.

I don't know about making your own country up there. You'd probably have to import most things, and the only thing to export would be red sand, which would make the country get smaller and smaller...

Silver Fox said...

Marciepooh, neat that you went to field camp near there. How *could* you forget the Chinle?! It does look a little different from place to place, though.

Silver Fox said...

Sorry, Harold, for typing your name wrong!