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The Colorado Plateau is a region of the united states that includes parts of Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico. This region is centered around the area known as the four corners, which is the point at which all four states meet at one location. It is the only place in the united states where a citizen can stand in four states at the same time, hence the name Four Corners.
What makes this region so fascinating to geologists as well as visitors are the many natural wonders than can be found in this area. In fact this region of the united states contains the most national parks and protected lands than any other part of this country. It would be a monumental undertaking to describe all of the features and landscapes that can be viewed in this part of the country. Even with that talk complete, one would still never fully understand just how amazing this area of the country is. You have to see it with your own eyes. For my part I will describe the locations that I visited on my trip to this area. Keep in mind that we did not stick to just the Colorado Plateau region. In fact, for all that can be seen in this area, there are equally amazing landscapes to be found nearby as well.
Petrified Forrest National Park
I will start out by saying that collecting any sort of samples from this region is against the law, and for very good reason. When the park was opened it used to be common practice for visitors to leave with a sample of petrified wood. It did not take long before park managers began to realize that they were letting this national treasure be carted away, one tourist at a time. And yet the place is still amazing to see. Every where you looked there was a petrified tree lying on the ground near by. An entire forest made of rock. The rich colors represented in these rocks seemed to be unique to each tree. I should say the patterns were unique, not the colors. We did the traditional picture of us lying on one of the petrified logs.
Bring plenty of film with you or an extra memory card for the digital, because you are going to find yourself taking a bunch of photos. As I looked around at this amazing landscape I couldn’t help but wonder what it looked like in the beginning. Over the years many samples were lost from the park, so one can imagine just how much more amazing the site must have been back then. Driving in and out to this area, it becomes clear just how much was lost over time. I remember passing by one store that had hundreds of large samples of petrified trees sitting outside. All of these samples were of course for sale, if you had a few thousand dollars. The gift shop in the park does have small samples for sale, collected from the park. This is there way of managing the resource. The area is closed to collecting, but you can still leave with a souvenir.
Located between Flagstaff and Winslow Arizona lies the geologic feature known as Meteor Crater. It is the result of an impact of a 150 foot meteor impact roughly fifty thousand years ago. This was the second most breathtaking site on my journey, but the most interesting site to visit. All though the Grand Canyon is grander, meteor crater had my attention for what it represented. What took place at this site was a devastating event, and this was small scale. An object from space, traveling over twenty five thousand miles per hour, and slamming into the earth takes the cake in my book. I guess that is why this site remains my favorite. Start your self out slow by lounging around the visitor center. Take a gander at the largest fragment recovered of the meteor. It looks very much like you would expect. It is an iron nickel meteor, pitted, very smooth and silvery in color. There are all sorts of things to see in here, but the meteor fragment is the main draw.
They have a really neat video tour as well. Once you have let the anticipation build than it is time to head out and see this marvelous structure for yourself. The crater is over two miles in circumference, nearly a mile wide, and over five hundred feet deep. While I was there you could see a small plane that had crashed there at some point in the past. It should still be there today. If it is this object is very useful for gaging the actual scale of this feature. All around the rim you will notice layers of rock. If you pay close enough attention you can actually see how the rock layers were folded over from the impact. Beyond this it is difficult to put into words. You just have to stand there and take it all in. You can stand there outside of the visitor center on the platform, or you can be more daring and take a tour along the rim. Walking around it is fascinating. I highly recommend a trip to this area if you find yourself in this part of Arizona.
The Grand Canyon
No other geologic feature has been written about more than that of the grand canyon. I don’t know what else I can offer up about this location other than my own personal feelings about my visit. Everyone is quite familiar with the grand canyon through the media. Dozens of movies and television programs have been filmed in this region. Still, they do not do it justice. Seeing it on television and seeing it in person are two totally different things. It is truly a sight to behold. I spent my time there sitting on a bench at the top and just taking in the sight. The sheer scale of it is beyond words. You look down into the canyon, and if you are at the right angle, you may be able to see the canyon floor. Often times you will think you see the bottom, when in reality it still goes down farther. You can walk the switchbacks down into the canyon, but I would not recommend it unless you are in good shape and can deal with the heat.
At nine AM on the day that I was there the temperature in the canyon was well over a hundred degrees. I believe on that day the canyon temperature topped out at hundred and twenty degrees. Good physically condition and plenty of water is what it will take to make that trip. Not to mention the wild life you can run into on the way down. Some friends of mine had the pleasure of encountering a rattle snake on their journey into the canyon. There is of course other options for getting a good view of the canyon. They have mule rides there that you can ride down into the canyon. This takes some serious courage, because they go down, two at a time, along the switchbacks. They look wide enough until you see two mules standing on the path. Once you are up on one of them you are sitting up high, on the edge of a very long drop.
You don’t have to worry about the mules, they are very strong and sure footed. You have to be more concerned about your nerves. If you fall off, it won’t be pleasant. Granted it is not a sheer drop off. In reality the canyon walls taper gradually to the bottom. They drop a hundred or more feet to a ledge. Drop off again to another ledge, and it is like this all the way to the river basin. Miles of trails run all around the rim as well, for those of you that would rather walk up top. I never went down to the bottom while I was there so I cannot say what it looked like. I can imagine how big it would all look and how small you would feel. I can only say that nothing you will ever see in your life can compare to the sight of the grand canyon. The sheer scale of it is beyond compare. It makes me wish I could go to Mars and view the Marineris Canyon.
These were the big three features that we saw on our journey. There is, of course; so much more to see. Monument valley, Arches National Park, Glen Canyon, and Great Sand Dunes national park can all be visited nearby. Just driving down the road you can look out your window and see an amazing site. I had never seen a decent dust devil in my life until I made this trip. I got to view a really good one while standing on the rim of Meteor Crater. The landscape itself always has something for the eyes to see.
All of the butes and mesas, valleys and rivers, lava flows, volcanic plugs, the list goes on and on. We visited two remote extinct volcanoes in this area, both were right next to each other and yet both were very different types of volcanoes. One was an explosive volcano that left a massive crater with a gently sloping rim. The other had a very steep lava dome with lava flows that went on for miles. We also visited what used to be a lake, in what used to be a volcano. This area contained layers of rock containing fossils of fish. Cliff palace was a sight to see as well. Let us put it this way, I could go on forever and still miss listing something of importance.
There is so much to see on a trip in and around the Colorado Plateau. Even when you are not at one of the many national parks in the area, you are still seeing amazing landscapes. I would also recommend spending the night at Goosenecks state park. There is no shortage of camp sites and lodges, so finding a place to say should not be a problem. Keep in mind also that there are numerous gift shops, general stores, and markets along the way. Finding interesting souvenirs and gifts should not be a problem.
Mineral collectors will also find plenty of Mineral/Jewelry shops in the area. This area also has a strong Native American culture as well. Their shops contain hand crafted and unique gifts that you will not find anywhere else. If you are planning, or have ever planned a trip to this destination, than I highly recommend that you go. It will be everything you imagined it would be and more.
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write by Jarintzy Cardenas