The Colorado Plateau of southern Utah is a kaleidoscope of color. Here, you’ll find coral deserts, crimson canyons, orange spires, and white salt flats. The plateau is also a potpourri of topography. Much of the region seems like a different planet. Here are four ways this wondrous landscape resembles another world.
1. Mirror of Mars
In November 2011, NASA launched a robotic rover called “Curiosity.” Nine months later, in August 2012, the vehicle landed on Mars. Its mission is to assess whether the Martian environment is suitable for human exploration. Photographs taken by Curiosity show many similarities between Utah’s red deserts and the salmon landscape of Mars. Marjorie Chan, geology professor at the University of Utah, has compared the two terrains. In September 2012, Professor Chan gave a lecture at Clark Planetarium, highlighting how Utah mirrors Mars. The region with the keenest resemblance is Utah’s Toadstool Trail.
2. Mystical Windows
Copper stone arches form mystical windows. At Arches National Park, over 2,000 of these portholes frame panoramic vistas. The formation Landscape Arch spans 300 feet! Easy trails meander through the park, inviting delightful hikes.
Originally, the land was a sandstone coastal plain. As time passed, the sand was covered by debris and hardened. Then the land erupted, hurling layers of rock and casting them into domes. Wind and rain scoured the mounds, eventually creating windows. When the sun begins its afternoon descent, the arches reflect its radiance.
In 2014, Prague geologists studied how these intriguing sculptures form. Sand becomes strengthened by pressure exerted from above, forging into stone. Wind and water then fracture the stone, eroding it and carving shapes. Lead study author, Jiří Bruthans, explains, “It’s like each rock is inhabited by a spirit, controlling the erosion.”
3. Marching Minarets
The majestic rocks of Bryce Canyon form a kingdom of minarets. These narrow, sculpted spires (also known as hoodoos) are comprised of limestone, sandstone, and shale. When the morning sun beams upon them, they smile back with an orange glow. Minerals within the layers paint the pillars with stripes. The colors are also enchanting when bathed in soft moonlight. The rocks date back to a wet period roughly 40 million years ago. Standing 5 to 150 feet in height, some soar as tall as a 10-story building! Resembling elaborate chess pieces, they grant a regal aura to the land.
4. Royal Wave
The Wave is a curvaceous sandstone valley, rolling on the Colorado Plateau near the Arizona-Utah border. Its undulating path is embraced by layered, burnished cliffs. Two U-shaped troughs comprise the valley, eroded by wind and rain. A permit is required to hike there. The sandstone is soft and fragile, and hikers must tread lightly to avoid causing damage. The Bureau of Land Management restricts access by issuing 20 permits a day. Ten of them are available in advance through an online lottery, held four months before a prospective trip. The remaining 10 permits are issued by lottery the day before a planned hike.
Bryce Canyon National Park is among Utah’s “mighty five,” the most favored national parks in the state. Here, you’ll find natural bridges, towering walls known as “fins,” and the “hoodoos” or minarets mentioned above. Unique animal species make their home in the park, including mule deer, pronghorn, elk, and prairie dog.
Several types of Bryce Canyon lodging accommodations are available. Campgrounds offer close-up views of sandstone formations, glinting in the rising and setting sun. Seven motels provide a choice of cozy cabins, cottages, suites, and guest rooms. Nine eateries serve a range of cuisines. Bryce Canyon is a location you won’t forget.
Of the eight planets in our solar system, only Earth sustains human life. Among the 50 American states, Utah is unique in natural wonders. Visiting southern Utah is like exploring a different planet. How fortunate we are that this magical place is within the world we call home!