The Wind-Swept Nautilus, Enigmatic Clastic Pipes, and Toadstool Landforms: Geologic Features of the Paria Plateau
The Colorado Plateau occupies much of the southwestern United States including portions of Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico. This region presents unobstructed views from mesa tops, beautifully colored soils, lone standing buttes, and canyons cut thousands of feet deep. The Colorado Plateau represents a well-preserved window into the Earth’s history. Today, the rocks of the Colorado Plateau lie roughly horizontally, as they were deposited hundreds of millions of years ago. The Plateau’s rise has motivated rivers, in their downhill progress, to carve innumerable canyons. These river canyons allow any nature-lover the opportunity to gaze at 100s of millions of years of geologic history. Within the larger Colorado Plateau, the Paria Plateau straddles the Utah and Arizona borders, and includes the Vermilion Cliff s National Monument, the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness Area, and the southern extent of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (GSENM; pre-2018 boundaries). The Paria Plateau is best known for spectacularly colored, wind-sculpted features such as Coyote Buttes and “The Wave,” where vivid colors accent cross-strata resembling a cresting ocean wave. The Plateau is also recognized for the geologically notable Vermilion Cliff s, Buckskin Gulch slot canyon, White Pocket area, and the Paria River Canyon. Although only two, dual-lane highways circumvent the plateau, several wash-boarded gravel and deeply mud-rutted roads allow access to its interior. From these dirt roads, a few sandy, four-wheel drive paths diminish as they extend and branch into the plateau’s interior. Overall, the Paria Plateau is a relatively quiet and little-visited wilderness.
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