The color palette of southern Utah’s arid plateau is limited almost entirely to reds, oranges, browns, and beiges. Yes, there’s the huge, uninterrupted span of cerulean blue for the sky, spikes of drab green for the rugged plant life, and a pair of shiny black dots for the requisite resident ravens wherever you visit. But otherwise, those warm tones were all our patient, primeval artist had to render this stark, startling space.
That was all they needed.
As much as I’ve gazed at the landscape over the past several weeks, the immensity and impossibility of the geology combined with the sheer vastness and silence of the space resist description without drifting into hyperbole. Along with the mind-boggling masses of sundered stone, the place is cluttered with the broken remains of rules for what earth should look like.
Thanks to Ranger Paul’s use of cooking metaphors to make geology more accessible, I’ve noticed the descriptions get easier for me if I translate the colors to flavors. In particular, I imagine what each type of geological confection might taste like. Southern Utah conjures cocoa, cinnamon, maple, vanilla, and more.
For example, looking up from below, that 1000-foot vertical brown-red cliff wall of Wingate Sandstone looks like a jumbled collection of chocolate chunks tempting sweetniks from behind a glass display case. Striations of desert varnish on the stone hint at the smoky, tannic undertones that cut through the richness. The tray bottom is littered with smaller shards and dust remaining from the chocolatier’s efforts to split the massive slab into portions that are still too big to share without feeling pangs of gluttonous shame.
Above that, the Navajo Formation tantalizes us with its twisted, gooey swirls of maple-flavored and pecan-dotted nougat. Pulled, stretched, and plopped into cones, minarets, and sugar-dusted domes that echo those of the Russian Orthodox churches half a planet away.
Some of them resemble servings of frozen yogurt – this one vanilla, that one chocolate. Over there, one with a twist of butterscotch and the seasonally appropriate pumpkin spice, its frozen swirled form slumped in the heat of the high desert sun.
It goes on and on. Sheets of of gingerbread, toffee, vanilla wafer, peanut butter, and butter brickle layered together with the Carmel Formation. Cocoa powder, sugar, and nuts dust every exotic concoction.
And just when you think you have the flavor palette figured out, like the complexity of some Mexican chocolate, this place delights you with the warmth of cinnamon – and a surprise bite of volcanic pepper.
After a while, one tires of sweets – no matter how decadent and delicious they might be.
Seems we should have saved room for more. Like an overstuffed diner asked by the waitron whether they want to see the dessert menu, we are too full to appreciate the indulgence.
“My eyes are full,” we say to each other as we look at yet another stunning vista and try to reawaken our worn-out wonder.
Our palate is dulled, saturated with the too-sweet confections of this rock candy land.
Between Moab and Capitol Reef National Park we’ve enjoyed so much this lovely state has to offer, yet we’ve barely scratched the surface. While so very dry and dusty (one local said it hadn’t rained her for seven months!) this land’s austere beauty would be diminished without those harsh limitations.
Over the next few days, we’ll post some photo-logs of some of the adventures we’ve had here.