Thursday, January 20, 2011

Cottonwood Canyon Narrows

The slot canyons of the American Southwest possess incredible beauty and mystique that is available on an intimate scale unlike that of the larger canyons. The Southwest has thousands of scenic canyons, but most are relatively wide and often descend in steps through sedimentary rock layers of differing hardness. Slot canyons, in contrast, have winding vertical walls that may be hundreds of feet deep but only a few feet wide. The majority of slot canyons are remote, hidden and difficult to reach and explore, serving to enhance their special appeal.

Sunlight, shining down and reflecting along the slot canyons’ walls, gives them their special beauty. As the sun moves overhead, the shadows and colors change constantly. Slot canyons often have mystical pools, delicate waterfalls and narrow channels, making them even more fascinating to explore.

Also referred to as narrows, slot canyons form by the wear of water, carrying an abrasive load of rocks, while rushing through relatively soft rock, which is usually sandstone. They are found in many parts of the world but predominantly in areas of low rainfall. Utah has the largest concentration of slot canyons anywhere.

Hikers beware. Storms can cause dangerous flash flooding. It is wise to avoid slot canyons even if there is a hint of rain and that includes their watersheds as distant as 50 miles away. It can be many miles before a safe exit or rescue is possible. Flash floods carry logs and rocks traveling with enormous force, most frequently during the late summer months. Some slot canyons have quicksand as an additional hazard.

This is the short narrows of Cottonwood Canyon, found just off of the remote, unpaved and rugged road traveling in southernmost Utah in an area called the Cockscomb. The rock is the Navajo Sandstone, formed in an expansive desert 200 million years ago.

An artist-friend saw this photo and said that it reminded her of "a river in the sky."

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