Other-Worldly Landscapes in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona
The biggest draw to our part of Utah is the mind-blowing variety of unique scenery and cool rocks. Within a 160-km (100-mile) radius of Kanab, encompassing the Grand Staircase and the Grand Canyon, visitors can see two billion years of Earth’s geological history on display. Considering that our planet is about 4.5 billion years old, nearly half the Earth’s history can be seen in Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. No other place in the world can claim this.
Here, two billion years is broken down into 27 distinct layers. These layers stretch a vertical 2.5 km (1.5 miles) from the Pink limestone cliffs of Bryce Canyon National Park, at 2,740 metres (9,000 feet) elevation to the Vishnu Basement Rocks at about 300 metres (1,000 feet) above the sea in the deepest depths of the Grand Canyon. Each of these layers represents an era, each with its own circumstances and environment. These include mountains, foothills, vast sand dune deserts, marshes and estuaries, shallow seas and deep oceans. Each layer looks different in form and color, because of the different chemical composition and rates of erosion.
In most places on Earth, these layers are deep underground, but here the combination of uplifting and erosion has made them visible to humans, who happen to be extreme latecomers in terms of geological time. To put things in perspective, if all of the Earth’s history were represented by a 12-hour clock, humans would arrive less than one second before 12.
People have an incredible, innate fascination with this vivid landscape. Perhaps it’s the age, the size and the beauty of the rocks that makes us feel awestruck and diminutive. Maybe this is the correct feeling, the correct order of things. When visiting this area, we may for the first time in our lives understand visceral, non-human truth. It’s an opportunity to leave our own self-important realities for a while. I believe gaining a better perspective on our existence can be therapeutic.
Every day, I get the opportunity to help visitors leave the city behind and see some amazing landscapes that they might not otherwise get to see. Visiting this area is a truly memorable experience whether you come for a day or overnight tour to connect with this fascinating lesson in Earth’s history.
– Will James
Will James is owner of Dreamland Safari Tours in Kanab, Utah. Working as a tour guide as well as for the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service has given him an intimate knowledge of the backcountry of southern Utah and northern Arizona.