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Apr 28 2011

Sedimentary Sentiments

Right.  So, Callan Bentley’s pointed out that we in the geoblogosphere haven’t had a good meme in a while.  My Doc Holliday instincts kicked in.  “I’m your huckleberry.  That’s just my game.”  So let’s have a meme.  Love and sediments.  Give me a sedimentary rock or structure you’re sentimental about.

I’ll begin:

Sedona in miniature

That rock there is a microcosm of Sedona.  I’m not sure what formation it came from.  Could be the Schnebly Hill Formation, or a fragment of sandstone from the Supai Group.  I picked it out of a creek bed during that memorable physical geography field trip many years ago.  It delighted me because it looked like the contact between the deep red rocks of the Schnebly Hill Formation and the blazing white of the Coconino Sandstone.  More likely, that white bit at the top just represents a long soak in the creek, but still, a girl can dream.

It’s a piece of my history.  It represents scientific discovery, and childhood, and ancient worlds.  Just a tiny thing, fits in the palm of your hand, but it stands for something enormous.

This is the place I once called home:

My Valley

If you look to the left, down in the dip, you’ll see the red tile roof peeking through the trees.  That’s my old house on Mountain Shadows Drive.  We didn’t have much of a view down there, but if you walk up the hill a bit, opposite the steep bit where my idiot dog slept in the road one night and ended up at our friend the vet’s office with my dad and the vet sewing her up while drinking beer (true story), you’ll find yourself facing a panorama that has made many a photographer scream for joy.

That little round mound in the foreground is Sugarloaf, a lump of the Schnebly Hill Formation that looks a bit like a flying saucer landed in the middle of the West Sedona suburbs.  UFOs are big in Sedona, but for some reason, the UFO freaks didn’t hang round Sugarloaf.  They all thought the aliens lived in Bell Rock instead.

The enormous mass on the left is Grayback, imaginatively named because the back of it is mostly gray, or so I’ve been told – I’ve never actually seen the back of it.  To the right is Coffee Pot Rock, which looks remarkably like one of those old coffee percolators.  I spent a good amount of my time in the shadow of those rocks, scrabbling around at the base of Sugarloaf, sliding down the loose and crumbly walls of a deep gully cut in the shales and mudstones of the Hermit Formation, upon which Sedona is built.  Where I’d grown up, in Flagstaff, dirt was tan or brown.  Down here, it was a deep, dark red, so very red that it could stain white clothes rust.  I’d come home coated in the stuff.

Those rocks were the only solid thing in my world back then.  We’d just moved down from Flagstaff, where I’d spent the vast majority of my young life.  My parents had almost gotten divorced, and while we were there, my mom had her first bouts with bipolar disorder.  I had very few friends.  I was surrounded by people even stranger than my mother (at least she had the excuse of an actual psychiatric disorder).  Little wonder, then, that I spent so much time alone in the wilderness, sometimes with my friend Crystal in tow, exploring every nook and cranny of those old red rocks with their white Coconino Sandstone hats.

They were alien to me, in a way: I identified with the volcanic peaks of the San Francisco Volcanic Field, where I’d spent the happiest years of my life to that date.  There was something almost too beautiful, too surreal, about those magnificent red rocks.  I didn’t know what they were back then.  Didn’t know I was surrounded by ancient beaches and dune fields and floodplains.  But I knew they were something special.  Sometimes, they were even friendly.  Their texture, slightly rough, gave my sneakers good purchase as I scrambled up steep cliffs on impossibly narrow ledges.  Some of the finer-grained sandstones made for good nail files in the field, for those times when I broke a fingernail climbing.

Those red rocks loomed.  They were solid, stolid, and steady, and yet could change in an instant: in the angle of the sun, in a passing cloud, in a dusting of snow or a soaking of rain.  Their colors shifted through a million shades.  I don’t know how to describe the intensity of that color, how it’s never quite the same from one moment to the next.  It doesn’t feel like a human setting.  It’s something primal and almost painful.  You are this drab little thing among it, until the colors soak in to you, and it makes you a part of it, some little wild thing scurrying in the shadow of monoliths.

Some people got interested in geology, living there.  Some people turned to crystal magic.  And some got obsessed with UFOs.  It can be hard to tell whether the local business folk are laughing at or with the UFO nuts, but they do take full advantage:

Moi avec UFO fountain at the diner

Holding that little lump of stone in my hand brings it all back: the taste of Permian dust in my mouth, gritty on my skin.  The deep red earth, in turns silty-soft and sandy.  The ancient-world smell of wet slickrock after a high desert rain.  So many long drives down from the Rim, watching as gray basalts turn to cream-colored sandstones and finally, dramatically, to rusty-hued sand and siltstones.  The coolness of that crack in the earth, tracing the Oak Creek fault, as the creek ran alongside the road, soft sound of wind and water through the open window, and the scent of all that boisterous green life – something you don’t get in many places in Arizona.  Blackberry brambles and sycamores and ferns, earthy and sweet, demanding you fill your lungs to the bursting again, again, again.  And under it all, the slightly-sharp, hot, impossibly old smell of lithified landscapes.

Sentimental?  Yes, I should think so.  How could I not be?

There’s one word for landscapes like this, and it’s the name of
a road in Sedona:

Inspirational Drive

Those are some of the sediments that I love.  What are yours?

4 comments

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  1. 1
    Ryan

    I never really thought about my favorite sediment. Maybe limestone because it fizzes when you drop acid on it. Yes, I'm easily amused… :)

  2. 2
    Brian Romans

    Oh man, not sure I can go down this rabbit hole … the past 10 years of my life have been devoted to sediments. But your post is a good one and gives me some ideas.

  3. 3
    Anonymous

    Have you ever seen the Desi and Lucy movie, The Long Long Trailer? It's an absolute must for a rock collector :)

  4. 4
    Silver Fox

    Cross-Bedded.

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