Got Rocks? The enduring and spectacular natural beauty of the American Southwest

Got Rocks?  The enduring and spectacular natural beauty of the American Southwest

Hey everyone (and a hearty welcome to a few recent and new email followers of this blog),

My wife (loving wife that is)   😉   Lucy, recently suggested this topic for a blog essay.  It is a great subject to try to cover.  The unfortunate circumstance is that we do not possess a scanner (and this writer would very probably not be able to figure out how to use it correctly if we did).  In the late 1980s and the early 1990s, we took a number of automobile trips (vacations, or for Europeans “holidays”) in the southwest region of the USA.  Many very beautiful still shot color photographs were taken of the scenery we were privileged, really more at blessed, to be able to see.  The Minolta, and later Canon cameras produced many superior pictures that we still have in various photo albums.

The natural scenery of the American Southwest is so colorful, so stunning, and to a certain extent so unique, that it is difficult not to get good pictures (even for a novice photographer like me).  We are specifically referring here to the northern half of the state of Arizona, the southern half of its northern neighbor the state of Utah, and even the eastern and southernmost areas of the rather barren state of Nevada.  And, an honorable mention is due Big Bend National Park in southwest Texas, Guadalupe Mountains National Park that nearly straddles the border of Texas and New Mexico, and Carlsbad Caverns National Park in southern New Mexico.

Natural forces of sedimentation (occurring in geologically ancient shallow inland seas), followed by later geologic upthrusting and subsequent erosion (by water and wind) have formed this almost fairy tale region with its surreal rock formations.  The colorful rocks are principally sandstones and limestones, and their colors range from various shades of red through pink to orange to even a dull yellow or tan, and also white.  The differences in colors are due mainly to the different proportions of the various chemical elements in the rocks. Iron and manganese are present in many of the rock layers.

All these natural forces and processes have given us such famous places (the list is lengthy!!) as Bryce Canyon National Park (Utah), Zion National Park (Utah), Cedar Breaks National Monument (Utah), Capitol Reef National Park (Utah), Canyonlands National Park (Utah), Arches National Park (Utah), Dead Horse Point State Park (adjacent to Canyonlands),  the Goosenecks State Park (the incredible meanders and gorges of the San Juan River, Utah once again),  Grand Canyon N. P. (northern Arizona), Painted Desert region (Arizona), the Monument Valley region (shared by both Arizona and Utah), Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada, east of Las Vegas), and even tiny Cathedral Gorge State Park (near the small railroad town of Caliente in eastern Nevada along US highway 93).  Having personally visited all of these places except the Painted Desert, it is clear to me that no written or spoken words can do justice to the awe-inspiring beauty of each of these sites.

An important variable for the amateur photographer is the time of day when the photos are taken.  We found that early morning, within the first few hours of sunrise on a summer’s day, and the early evening before sunset, gave the best images. The low angle of the Sun at those times of day really enhances the colors of the rocks.  As well, if the sky is mostly clear at those times, the pictures have a crisper look to them when they are developed.  These desert regions generally have low humidity during the summer season and this also makes the colors in the pictures really stand out and catch your attention.  The sky is often a deep blue, and the reds, pinks and oranges of the rock are very vivid.

There are other parts of the world with similar stunning rock formation scenery.  One calls to mind parts of Australia, and parts of South Africa, where the geologic forces and their effects can be seen easily at the surface of the earth.  In South Africa, it is in the Karoo desert where one can see the red (oxidized) Permian era sandstone rock layers thrust up hundreds or thousands of feet above the valley floors.  The Karoo is also a favorite place for field work for the world’s paleontologists because of all the fossil remains of extinct species of earlier plant and animal life.

Before moving on to sharing some sample pictures and video clip links for your viewing enjoyment, we would like to recount this unrelated anecdote.  In August, 1988, we were staying in the eastern Nevada old mining town of Ely (on US highway 50).  There were my wife, son and me, and 2 of our son’s cousins (both girls, and sisters).  We ate dinner at a family restaurant in town.  The waitress who had taken our orders and served our dinners was at the cash register when I went up to pay for our meals.  She said to me, “You have such beautiful children.”  I politely thanked her and smiled to myself.  Later, I told Lucy this and we chuckled a bit as the 2 beautiful girls, Cindy (10) and Sylvia (age 7), were not our children but are nieces to Lucy.

There really is something about the desert.  The immensity, the remoteness from the hum and rapid pulse of modern civilization, the quiet, the peace.  It can be a very humbling experience to spend some time there.  Perhaps this is why many individuals have retreated to the desert for days at a time over the past few thousand years.  Native American youths would go out alone into the desert and fast for days on their “vision quest” rite of passage. 

Here are a few sample short video clips to give the reader some idea of the scenery we briefly discussed.  Feel free to do some armchair exploring of your own by searching for the various places listed above either on YouTube or on the Internet via search engine.  We’re sure that you will find many good video clips and pictures to enjoy.  (For those of you that may have slow connection speeds, we will include a few photos below.)

Valley of Fire State Park, NV (1:23 in length)

Valley of Fire Nevada State Park  (a little longer but only a few minutes, 3:53)

Canyonlands National Park Utah (4:43) – excellent sampling of this great park!  At 1:46, it is unearthly and surreal.

Monument Valley and Goosenecks State Park (A nice drive, nearly 6 minutes but done quite well.  Impressive Goosenecks starts at 2:00 in, and again at 4:00. Incredible vistas.)

Arches National Park, near Moab,Utah (2:33) – a recent video with excellent scenery!

Goosenecks State Park (100% on the state park, about 2 minutes long)

Goosenecks State Park, UT (similar to directly above, but apparently filmed by an Asian tourist to the US, and filmed at a different time of day, 2.12)

Bryce Canyon National Park Utah (nearly 8 minutes long) – Bryce is fairly high elevation at between 8,000 and 9,000 feet.

“only the Wave” Coyote Buttes north (Arizona)  Not familiar with this one, but you might like it – about one minute long.

Here are some photos.

This photo of Bryce Canyon is courtesy of  You can hike right down between the rocks, but the air is thin at high elevation.


This sunrise at Canyonlands is from


This view from Dead Horse Point  (below) is from


This photo a waterfall in Zion National Park is courtesy of



This photo of a part of Zion National Park is from  Note the different colors in the various layers of rock.


This photo of Delicate Arch (Arches National Park) is by courtesy of


This photo (below) from Arches N. P. is courtesy of



This pic of Valley of Fire State Park (Nevada) is courtesy of


This next photo of Valley of Fire is courtesy of



Valley of Fire arch and road (below) is by


Special bonus: Audio link to “Lucretia MacEvil” by Blood, Sweat and Tears on YouTube.

If more than 3 people “like” this video, we will write more.


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