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Learning New Things: The 3rd Annual Moab Geology Run At The 2017 Easter Jeep Safari

Posted in Moab Experience: 2017 on April 18, 2017
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Photographers: Trenton McGee

While most of us flock to Moab in order to hit the world-class trails and soak in the scenery, it doesn’t take a rocket doctor to figure out there’s a whole lot of interesting geological stuff going in and around Moab. From the highest concentration of natural arches in the world to the breathtaking red cliffs and canyons, there are a whole bunch of scientific reasons why Moab is so unique. John Mears is a licensed geologist that travels all over the world hunting minerals for many different entities, and he’s also a big-time off-road enthusiast who owns Lost River Off-Road. For the past three years, John has held a Geology Run, which is less about the off-road obstacles and more about teaching other enthusiasts about some of the many fascinating features in and around Moab. About 20 rigs and 40 people made the trip this year, which took about 6 hours and covered around 100 miles of mostly dirt roads.

The run’s first stop was the turnoff to Poison Spider Mesa, one of the better known trails in Moab. Though there were quite a few Moab veterans with 10 or more Jeep Safaris under their belt in attendance, few were aware that there are dinosaur tracks within sight of the staging area. John explained the rare conditions that had to exist in order for the tracks to be preserved and also explained why the lumpy topography to the east of Moab is very different from the sheer cliffs and plateaus to the west (different concentrations of materials, stresses, and much more). He also touched on what causes the distinctive layering visible in Moab cliffs as well as the desert varnish, or the darkened areas visible on most exposed stone faces that takes about 1,000 years to form. From there it was off to the outskirts of the Kane Creek Potash Mine, where potash is extracted from the ground, concentrated in huge ponds, and then shipped off to fertilizer plants around the world. John explained how the plant and therefore also the group was standing on top of an enormous potassium-rich salt dome that was slowly being pushed up from below by underground pressure. Sure enough the layers of rock visible in cliffs miles away in every direction were sloped downward, away from the operation. After a quick stop at a nearby spring that was extracting salt from the deposit naturally (we were warned not to taste the formed crystals, which would burn on contact) the group moved on to a breathtaking overlook of the Colorado River for lunch that was far enough off the beaten path to not be spoiled with a steady flow of tourists.

After lunch, the group ventured to the Shafer Switchbacks, a trail that was established as a shortcut between the mines and the rail line in Green River. The switchbacks alone took over a year to carve out of the steep cliffs using a World War II surplus bulldozer and a LOT of dynamite. It was here that the group learned about transgressional and regressional seas, which are terms that describe increasing and decreasing seas and how each is responsible for different types of erosion and rock formation (hint: those small ripples you often see in rocks around Moab are petrified versions of the exact same little ripples you see at a calm beach when the tide goes out). After climbing the switchbacks and making it to the shelf road, the group eventually reached Deadhorse Point and then traveled down through Indian Canyon and its iconic leaning rock. The road travels under the 1,000-ton rock before reaching the highway at Jug Handle arch.

Though very informal, John plans to highlight different geological topics each year and travel to different areas around Southeastern Utah. There is no charge to be a part of the run, and there was even a lunch sponsored by General Tire as well as a small raffle with Mac’s Custom Tie-Downs, Bug Out Rack, and other goodies. If you’re interested in being a part of a future run, keep an eye on Lost River Off-Road’s Facebook page (facebook.com/LostRiverOffroad/).

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